Timothy Cooper (University of Exeter)


From 16:30
to 18:00
From 16:30
to 18:00

Course description
Global warming is neither a scientific nor a technological problem, it is a historical one. Taking up Bruno Latour’s observation of the difference between ‘matters-of-fact’ and ‘matters-of-concern’, course proposes that it is primarily history, social, political, technological, economic and environmental, that makes human-induced warming a matter of concern. There is both a past dimension to this (i.e., the question of how we came to our current situation) and a future perspective (i.e., whether we can any longer imagine a future history beyond our present crisis-ridden system). At every-level ‘concern’ with climate change engages with these historical questions. To study climate change without reference to history is meaningless.
In this course we investigate the troubling history of climate science and climatological thinking, and why it is that, despite more than a century of discussion of anthropogenic climate change, it is only recently that we have been able to see such change as an existential problem for all humans. The course offers a route for students well-versed in the humanities to address their expertise to understanding scientific and social issues on familiar historical and cultural ground, but it is also an opportunity for students of the social and natural sciences to explore the value of humanistic perspectives in comprehending the political limits of scientific representations of global issues. The course will be taught primarily through seminar discussion groups that focus on a key controversial reading for the week, either a key chapter of a book or a primary source.

Course structure
The course is divided into two parts:
Part 1 (first six weeks) In the first part of the course student will study the history of thinking about climate change and the historical roots of anthropogenic global warming. We will explore how it even became possible to think of climates as mutable and what implications were taken from this before looking at the geo-physical transformations that have accompanied industrialisation and globalisation.
Part 2 (second six weeks) After the mid-semester break the course will shift perspective to look to the future. How did people in the past imagine their futures to look and what role does history have in futuristic thinking. Can historical knowledge be brought to bear to construct hopeful images of the future? What from the past must we leave behind?


Learning outcomes
After studying this course students will be able to:
• Understand and explain the fundamental historical context to anthropogenic climate change.
• Demonstrate how historical perspectives modify the contemporary debate around global warming.
• Mobilise historical knowledge to explore what a different global future might look like.

Evaluation method
Evaluation will be by:
1. The work of the part 1 of this module will be assessed through a study diary (2000 words, 50%) which will assess engagement with the historical background, as well as overall engagement and participation in the course.
2. The second part of the module will be assessed through an examination paper (2hrs, 50%) that will encourage students to use their experience of thinking historically to write a creatively focussed answer to a question on how to use historical understanding to think hopefully about the future.



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 or [required] text indicated.
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.

Part 1

Week 1. What Kind of Problem is Climate Change?
• M. Hulme, Why we Disagree About Climate Change (2009, 2013), esp preface, chp. 1. ‘The Social Meanings of Climate’ [required]

Week 2. Discovering Climate Can Change
• S. Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming (Harvard, 2003,2008), esp chps 1 and 2. [required]
• See also Weart’s website at:
• D. Coen, Climate in Motion (Chicago 2018), esp. introduction, ‘Climate and Empire’[further reading]

Week 3. History and Climate
• E. Le Roy Ladurie, Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate since the Year 1000 (1988), esp. chp. 1 ‘The Historical Study of Climate’ [required]

Week 4. Global Cooling
• W. Behringer, A Global History of Climate (Polity, 2010) chps 3 and 4. ‘Global Cooling: The Little Ice Age [required]
• J.L. Brooke, Climate Change and the Course of Global History (Cambridge, 2014) chp 10. ‘Climate, Demography, Economy’ [further reading]
• B. Liebermann and E. Gordon, Climate Change and Human History (Bloomsbury, 2018), chp 5. ‘The Little Ice Age’ [further reading]

Week 5. Capital, Class, and Global Warming
• A. Malm, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (Verso, 2016) esp. chp. 8 ‘A Force to Count On’[required]
• A. Malm, ‘Fleeing the Flowing Commons: Robert Thom, Water Reservoir Schemes, and the Shift to Steam Power in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain’, Environmental History, 19, 1 (2014) [further reading]
• T. Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (Verso, 2011), esp. chp. 1 ‘Machines of Democracy’ [further reading]
• Timothy Mitchell, Carbon democracy, Economy and Society, 38, 3 (2009) 399-432 [further reading]

Week 6. Accelerations and Anthropocenes
• C. Bonneuil and J-B Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene (Verso, 2016), esp. chp. 5. ‘Thermocene: A Political History of CO2’. [required]
• J.R. McNeill and P. Engelke, The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (Harvard, 2014), esp. chp. 2 ‘Climate and Biological Diversity’ [further reading]
• J.W. Moore, ‘The Rise of Cheap Nature’, in J.W. Moore (ed.) Anthropocene or Capitalocene? (Oakland, 2016) [further reading]


Midterm Break

Part 2

Week 7. Controlling the Weather
• K.C. Harper, Make it Rain: State Control of the Atmosphere in Twentieth-century America (Chicago, 2017) esp. chp. 2. ‘Weather in an Icebox’[required]
• J.R. Fleming, Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control (New York, 2010) esp. chp. 8, ‘The Climate Engineers’[further reading]

Week 8. Energy Futures 1: Renewables
• F.T. Kryza, The Power of Light: The Epic Story of Man’s Quest to Harness the Sun (New York, 2003) esp. chp. 1. ‘Philadelphia’s Solar Wizard’. [required]
• D. Barber, A House in the Sun (Oxford, 2016), esp. chp. 1. ‘The Modern Solar House.’ [further reading]

Week 9. Energy Futures 2: Nuclear
• H. Hutner, ‘Fighting through the Fallout: Maternal and Feminist Resistance and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster’ in S. Sloan and M. Cave, Oral History and the Environment: Global Perspectives (Oxford, 2022), chp. 6. [required]
• Svetlana Alexievich, Chernobyl Prayer: Voices from Chernobyl (London, 2016 edn.) [further reading]
• A.W. Crosby, Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity’s Unappeasable Appetite for Energy (new York, 2006) esp. chp. 7, ‘Fission’

Week 10. Political Ecologies of Extreme Weather
• M. Davis, Late-Victorian Holocausts (Verso, 2001) chp. 1 ‘Victoria’s Ghosts’[required]
• M.M. Smith, Camille 1969 (Georgia, 2011), esp. chp 2. ‘Desegregating Camille’[further reading]

Week 11. People and Precipitation
• P. Friederici, ‘Private Memories of Public Precipitation: Gathering and Assessing Ecological Oral Histories in an Era of Climate Change’ in D. Lee and K. Newfont, The Land Speaks: New Voices at the Intersection of Oral and Environmental History (Oxford, 2017), chp. 1. [required]
• D. Andersen, ‘Hearing the Legacy in the Forecast: Living with Stories of the Australian Climate’, in K. Holmes and H. Goodall, Telling Environmental Histories: Intersections of Memory, Narrative and Environment (Basingstoke, 2017) [further reading]
• D. Andersen, Endurance: Australian Stories of Drought (Collingwood, 2014) [further reading]

Week 12. Planetary Futures?
• D. Chakrabarty, The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (Chicago, 2021) esp. ‘Introduction’ [required]


Last updated: 17 January, 2023


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