Timothy Cooper (University of Exeter)


From 13:30
to 15:00
From 13:30
to 15:00

Course description
This course explores historical and contemporary connections between everyday life and environmental change. In public discourses, environmental change is typically discussed, either through scientific perspectives on ecology, or through political paradigms, such as ‘sustainability’. Often, these approaches take hierarchical, top-down, approaches to understanding of environmental change, in which the ‘environment’ is seen as an object of understanding for experts. The main limitation with such ‘top-down’ perspectives is that they do not take enough account of lived experience. For most of us, most of the time, the ‘environment’ is not an ecological concept, but something much more concrete. It surrounds us. It is the air we breathe, the land we move upon, the food we eat, and the seas we fish. It is the very stuff of everyday life.
This course will challenge students from both scientific and humanities backgrounds to think more deeply about the environment as both an object and concept. To access and understand everyday environments we must pay attention to different ways of knowing and encountering our surroundings. This course therefore focuses on stories of the environment told through sensory experience, oral histories, life histories, and place-based memories. Students will be asked to explore and understand stories of environmental change ‘from below’ and encouraged to rethink what we even mean by ‘environment’, as well as to reconsider the importance of ‘environments’ as the places in which we make and remake our everyday lives.

Course structure
The course will be divided into two parts:
Part 1 (first six weeks) This will be taught primarily through reading some of the key secondary literature on the environment and everyday life in preparation for more critical analytical work in the second half of term.
This part is assessed through a study diary.
Part 2 (last six weeks) This part is taught primarily with original sources. These materials will be partly based on the convenor’s own research in the field and will represent a range of archival materials and oral histories that enable us to understand the encounter with the environment in normal everyday life.


Learning outcomes
At the end of this course students will be able to:
• Assess the utility of the ‘everyday’ as a site of environmental experience and understanding.
• Mobilise historical and literary sources as routes into understanding people diverse environmental experiences.
• Explain and interrogate the ways in which thinking about the everyday might change how we respond to environmental and climate crisis.


Evaluation method
Evaluation will be by:
1. Submission at the end of week 6 of a study diary (2000 words, 50%) which will assess class participation and overall understanding of the material studied first half of the semester. A study diary offers an opportunity to record and reflect on your initial encounters with this topic and emphasizes completion of reading and study both in and out of class.
2. An end of semester examination (2 hours, 50%) This will focus on the primary sources studied in the second half of semester and ask students to provide short commentaries on a selection of extracts from primary sources covered.


Course Syllabus
Part 1

Please note that during this part of semester each week’s learning is divided into a reading discussion class [RDC] for 1.5 hours for which one reading is set that is compulsory and that will be discussed in class. There will also be some further readings available, though these are not compulsory.
Before the RDC you must prepare by reading and making written notes (no more than 500 words, or one side of A4 paper) on the set text.
The second class is a group-work class [GWC] running for 1.5 hours in which a further text, document or problem will be set for study groups to work/present on. This may introduce new material in the class itself for further work/analysis or you may be asked to bring your own material/experience to this class.


Week 1: What is ‘Everyday Life’?
RDC: You need to read the introduction the Everyday Life reader below and make notes:
• Ben Highmore, The Everyday Life Reader (Routledge, 2002), esp. Introduction. [required]

GWC: We will discuss the aims of the groupwork classes and put together groups. We will discuss the study diary assignment.


Week 2: Localizing Everyday Environments
RDC: You need to read chapter eight in A History of Environmentalism below and make notes.
• Marco Armiero and Lise Sedrez, A History of Environmentalism: Local Struggles, Global Histories (Bloomsbury, 2014), Chapter 8, ‘Garbage under the Volcano’. [required]
• Timothy Cooper, Waste and ‘Everyday Environmentalism’ in Modern Britain. Open Library of Humanities, 3(2), 2017[further reading]

GWC: Think about refuse/waste/garbage in your own cultural and historical context. Think about the following questions. Discuss in your groups.
1. How is ‘waste’ disposed of in your own country/locality/city?
2. What are the similarities/differences?
3. What do you know about the historical development of waste disposal in your context?
4. How do different/similar methods of disposal affect differences of culture/society/everyday experience.
At the end of the class there will be time for you to draft a study diary entry.


Week 3: Embodying the Everyday Environment
RDC: Read chapter four in Sensing Changes and make notes.
• J. Parr. Sensing Changes: Technologies, Environments and the Everyday, 1953-2003 (UBC Press, 2010), Chapter 4, ‘A Walking Village Remade’. [required]
• Megaprojects New Media Site [further reading]

GWC: Think about your own normal sensory experience of the environment in the context of the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing.
• Are you able to describe that experience of each of the senses?
• Is anything different for you about those normal experiences in Venice?
• What you feel about that?
Write this down for each of the senses.
At the end of the class there will be time for you to draft a study diary entry.


Week 4: The Toxic Everyday
RDC: Read chapter 2 of Love Canal Revisited and make notes
• Elizabeth Blum, Love Canal Revisited: Race, Class and Gender in Environmental Activism (Kansas, 2008), Chapter 2, ‘Gender at Love Canal’ [required]
• Daniela Koleva, ‘Narrating Nature: Perceptions of the Environment and Attitudes Towards it in Life Stories’, in Stephen Hussey and Paul Thompson, The Roots of Environmental Consciousness (Routledge, 2000) [further reading]

GWC: Think about an everyday environmental problem from your own experience. Discuss it in groups. Think about ways in which race, class or gender play a role in in that problem.
At the end of the class there will be time for you to draft a study diary entry.


Week 5: Environmental Disasters and Everyday Life
RDC: Read chapter four of Surviving Bhopal and make notes.
• Suroopa Mukherjee, Surviving Bhopal: Dancing Bodies, Written Texts, and Oral Testimonies of Women in the Wake of an Industrial Disaster (Palgrave, 2010), Chapter 4, ‘Women as Bread Earners’ [required]
• Mark M. Smith, Camille: Histories of a Hurricane (Georgia, 2011) chapter 1, ‘The Sensory History of a Natural Disaster’. [further reading]

GWC: Try to think of a particularly important or well-known environmental disaster in the history of your own country.
• Is it something recent or part of the more distant past?
• How far does it continue to affect people or nature today?
• In what ways?
• How does this story fit within your country’s history as it is usually told?
At the end of the class there will be time for you to draft a study diary entry.


Week 6 Environmental Justice in Everyday Life
RDC: Read chapter six of A People’s History of Environmentalism and make notes.
• Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (Continuum, 2011), Chapter 6, ‘To Stir up Dissent: Inventing Environmental Justice’ [required]
• Alex Loftus, Everyday Environmentalism: Creating an Urban Political Ecology (Minnesota, 2012), Introduction. [further reading]

GWC: In groups and together we will discuss your study diary assignment. You will need to bring your draft diaries to class.
• What have you written down?
• How will you use the diary?
• What is different about each of your diaries?


Midterm Break

Part 2
Primary Sources

Week 7: Extreme Weather and Everyday Life
RDC: Explore the TEMPEST database below. Find three weather events that you think throws particular light on how weather affects ordinary people in everyday life. Take notes on them.
• The TEMPEST database

GWC: Group exercise on using and writing about primary sources.
• What are primary sources?
• Why do they matter to historians?
• How do we read them?

Week 8: Animals in Everyday Life

RDC: You will be allocated in groups ONE of the primary sources below. They all tell stories about wildlife rescue in twentieth century Britain. Read them, make notes. Come to class prepared to discuss the primary sources and what they tell us about human-animal relations in modern Britain.

• K. Jones, Orphans of the Sea: The Story of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary (1970, 1972), esp. chp 4. Sally – A Victim of the Torrey Canyon
• D. Yglesias, The Cry of a Bird (London, 1962, vrs. edns.) esp. chp. 1. ‘The involuntary hospital’.
• J. Hughes, The Animals Came In (London, 1970), esp. chp 19. ‘To be an Animal Man’
• E.-V Coltman, Birds of the Storm (London, 1963)x, esp. chp. 1.
• A. Bryant, A Second Chance: The Story of New Quay Bird hospital (London, 1982), esp. chp. 10 ‘The ignorance of Man’
• D. Yglesias, In Answer to the Cry (London, 1978), esp. chp. 9 ‘The Torrey Canyon’

GWC: Before the class write a brief 500-word commentary on one of the above primary sources. In class we will discuss your commentaries.

Week 9: Energy, Waste and Everyday Life
RDC: Take a look at ONE of the transcripts of the Endres undertook as part of their Nuclear Technology in the American West Oral History Project and make notes.
• Danielle Endres, Nuclear West Oral Histories
• Allesandro Portelli, They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History (Oxford, 2011), chapter 15, ‘Staying Alive’. [Further reading]

GWC: Before the class write up your thoughts and observations on the oral history interview you chose for the previous class. No more than 500 words.

Week 10 Oil and Water
RDC: Choose an interview from the collections below. What does it tell us about the impact of oil spills on communities?
• Sharon Bushell and Stan Jones, The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster (Epicenter Press, 2009), Part 3, Impact.
• NOAA Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster Oral Histories,
• Anna Green and Timothy Cooper, ‘Fragmentary Time: Memory and Politics in the Wake of the Torrey Canyon’, in Stephen Sloan and Mark Cave, eds., Oral History and the Environment (Oxford, 2022), Chapter 3. [Further reading]

GWC: Before the class write up your thoughts from the previous class as a commentary on the interview that you chose to listen to. No more than 500 words.

Week 11
RDC: Before the class read Hudson’s thoughts on bird life and community in early twentieth century community. What ideas/thoughts does it inspire for you. Write them down bring them with you.
• W.H. Hudson, The Land’s End: A Naturalist’s Impressions in West Cornwall (1926, vrs edns), esp. chp. 14. ‘Winter Aspects’ [required]
• W.H. Hudson, Birds in London (1898, 1968, vrs edns), chp. 1. ‘The Birds and the Book’ [further reading]

GWC: In class you will be allocated further primary sources to explore.

Week 12
RDC: Before class look over all the written material and notes you have made this term.
• Guidance to reading and commenting on primary sources in exam to be supplied.
GWC: We will consider why thinking about everyday life matters if we want to understand attitudes towards nature and the environment.




Last updated: 17 January, 2023


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