AFRIG004 - African Historical Ecologies c. AD 1800 - Present
Value: 15 credits
Tutor: Dr Matthew Davies
Assessment: 1 x 1,500 word essay; 1 x 2,500 word project paper
We often view Africa as on the cusp of change, whether that be the ‘modernisation’ of economies and infrastructure, or ‘impending crises’ of degradation, conflict and climate change. Emphasising both hope and doom, these polarised perspectives are not new, nor do they do justice to the long history of human-environment relations in Africa. This course seeks to explore the complexity of African human-environment relationsa across time and in a range of overlapping spheres (climate change, development, conservation, farming). It draws on the interdisciplinary approach of Historical Ecology which views contemporary environments and contemporary environmental concerns as the product of historical entanglements which must be studied from a range of biophysical and humanistic perspectives across temporal, spatial and social scales.
The course explicitly challenges dualisms such as nature/culture, tradition/modernity, local/global instead focussing on the networks which construct and link such ideals and how these recursively inform contemporary environmental discourse and practice. Key ideas are explored including ‘the Anthropocene’, ‘sustainability’, ‘resilience’, ‘modernisation’ and ‘development’. The course explicitly draws on and integrates a wide range of sources from climate and environmental science, history, archaeology, social anthropology, human geography and political ecology. The final two seminars will explore major current/topical issues and will vary from year to year.
The course is taught through ten two-hour lecture/seminars on a range of thematic topics. The seminars will begin with a c. 45 minute lecture summarising the topic by the chair, followed by discussion and short case-study presentations prepared in rotation by two students each week.
1. Challenging the received
wisdom: An introduction to Historical Ecology in Africa
2. Landscape, time, and practice: Approaches to Historical Ecology in Africa
3. Predicting the unpredictable: Climate, ecology and crisis
4. Finding a niche: Ecological strategies and managing change
5. ‘Modernising’ African Environments: Legacies of colonial land-management
6. Enacting change: Political ecology and development narratives
7. Making nature pay: Historical Ecology and conservation
8. Cultivating success: Historical Ecologies of African farming
9. Current Topic 1. Dammed if you do: Infrastructural development and environmental change
10. Current Topic 2. Relationships to nature: Indigeneity, ontology and conflicts of interest.
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- Balée, William. 2006. The research program of historical ecology. Annual Review of Anthropology 35: 75-98.
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