RHI-50806 Sustainability and Resilience in History


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Individual Paper1
Independent study0
Course coordinator(s)dr P de Zwart
Lecturer(s)dr P de Zwart
prof. dr. EHP Frankema
Examiner(s)prof. dr. EHP Frankema
dr P de Zwart

Language of instruction:



How did the Maya civilization collapse? Why did the bubonic plague kill over one third of 14th century European population? How long can current rates of global population be continued? This course introduces students to the fascinating field of environmental history, focusing on the tensions between economic growth, resource scarcity and environmental degradation in the distant past as well as in present-day societies. The course pays ample attention to the transition from pre-industrial to industrial modes of production and the environmental consequences thereof - the making of the anthropocene. We draw analogies from the collapse of ancient civilizations to contemporary environmental problems, such as global warming and mineral resource depletion. The course also specifically addresses the various strategies that historical civilizations have developed in order to survive climate change, deforestation, soil erosion or other ecological threats to human livelihood. Finally, the course addresses the emergence of present-day environmental consciousness in the wake of modern urbanization, industrialization and unprecedented demographic growth.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- understand the core themes of environmental history;
- recognize and critically reflect upon the long-term relationship between economic growth, resource scarcity and environmental damage;
- assess contemporary environmental problems in a long-term historical perspective and understand the critical distinction between pre-industrial and industrial modes of production;
- understand the core issues in recent public debates on the limits and opportunities of global economic growth in the 21st century;
- report on an independent scientific investigation.


- lectures;
- tutorials and independent study;
- students will have to read the relevant literature for the lectures and tutorials.
- they are expected to actively participate in class discussions.
- students also have to write and present a paper.


The learning objectives are assessed in two parts. First, students will write and present a paper in which they demonstrate their ability to report on a basic scientific investigation. Second, students will conduct a written exam (essay questions) based on the lectures and mandatory literature. The final grade consists of 50% for the paper (including the paper presentation) and 50% for the concluding exam. Students will have to obtain a minimum of 5.5. for both parts in order to pass.


Diamond, Collapse (2011). How societies choose to fail or survive. Penguin Books; Revised edition. 608p. ISBN-10: 0143117009; ISBN-13: 978-0143117001.McNeill, J.R.. (2001). Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World. New York: W. W. Norton, 416p. ISSN: 0147-8257.