The 2006 tsunami, New Orleans, Burma, Haiti. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tidal waves, pandemies. Is our world becoming a more dangerous place to live in? Why does there seem to be a growing interest in risks, crises and catastrophes? Because of the global warming? Because of food shortage? Because of threatening oil shortage and risk for growing conflicts over resources?
Many questions. One way to deal with them is to explore them historically. Did there use to be as many catastrophes in the past? What is humanity responsible for, and what is the effect of natural forces?
The public attention directed on risks and threats reflects that the importance of environmental issues has increased. In this course, we will among others learn to understand how environment and global survival became a political question during the second half of the 20th century. At the same time, the environment also became a scientific and technological challenge (what should the new solutions be like?) and an economic issue of growth and “green” competitiveness.
This course addresses questions in environmental history, but also emphasizes issues about landscape, risk and infrastructure, and addresses the technology and politics that set the frame for how people build and shape the environment. The geographical range is global, but uses many examples from Sweden.
A fundamental idea in this course is that what we call “environment” is a historical concept whose meaning and significance vary. In the present times, the environment has received much social attention. Environment is discussed in the media and in politics; it is the object of investigations in a large range of scientific fields. This is a new situation – the long-term effects of which are unknown. On the other hand, this does not imply that the natural environment was not meaningful in earlier societies. But there was no “discourse” on environment, which was understood and interpreted through religion, myths, ethics and art. Qualified knowledge about external natural conditions existed.
The emphasis of this course is placed on modern times and on the attempts to influence the environment by means of politics, science and technology, but the course also orientates the reader in older periods, cultures and societies.