Earth Dynamics: People, Place, Technology, and History

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Winter 2018 quarter

Taught by

American studies
physics, math, astrophysics

Human activity shapes the environment. Earth warmed out of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, enabling our species to develop stable societies and transform the experience of being alive. Agricultural activity emitted greenhouse gases that changed Earth’s air, water, and land. People changed, too, improving technologies and creating written and artistic records of their ideas and histories. Today, we understand our impacts on the environment in ways incomprehensible to our ancestors, and we are challenged to mitigate those impacts with knowledge, skill, and political will.

This program will examine changes in the Earth system, human understanding of those changes, and the history of technological efforts to enhance human flourishing and shape our impacts on the environment. We'll study multiple drivers of climate change such as Sun-Earth interactions, volcanoes, industry, consumption, and greenhouse gases. We’ll consider the changing role of science in providing the understanding required for people and planet to thrive together. Students will learn about the history of technology, from the wheel to the internet, and particularly how technological advances shaped values and habits of everyday life in the United States over the last 200 years. We will ask whether and how modern consumer societies are uniquely positioned to hasten and/or slow the rate at which resource use drives the ecosystem. Is global warming simply a disaster, or does it also present an opportunity for global cooperation? How do we adapt in the face of the most dramatic change to the Earth system in recorded history? How can we develop skills and language to think in creative and effective ways about these dynamics, and share what we learn with others? Scientific methods and historical studies will inform each other and provide new tools for thinking about and taking action in our own historical moment.

Our work will include lectures, discussions, workshops, labs, quantitative homework, expository essays, writing workshops, and teamwork. Field trips will enable us to learn about sustainability efforts in our region. Students will do hands-on research related to our topics and learn how to analyze and write about everyday technologies in order to teach others how climate impacts intersect with widely held cultural values. Students will have the opportunity to contribute to a published anthology of student research. Credit will be awarded in the natural sciences and the humanities.

Research Opportunities

Students will research climate-change science and the history of technology.

Program Details

Fields of Study

american studies history philosophy of science sustainability studies writing

Preparatory For

sustainability, environmental studies, journalism, writing, and history


Winter Open

Location and Schedule

Final Schedule and Room Assignment

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online


2017-11-27Fee removed.