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Honoursmodule: Nature ? in the Anthropocene


 J.J.W Buis

Entry requirements 

This course is accessible for 2nd and 3rd year honoursstudents.

Learning objectives:

By completing the course the student is able to:

  • give an account of some important historical paradigm shifts relating to nature and culture.
  • Show notion of the different definitions of the Anthropocene.
  • Name the most important reasons behind the coining of the term ‘Anthropocene’, mainly as discussed within natural sciences and its consequences for the humanities.
  • Show awareness of the extreme complexity of the discussion surrounding the consequences of living in the Anthropocene, for our own attitude, worldview, and non-humans. Mainly as discussed in the humanities in conjunction with the natural sciences.
  • Show understanding of macro-trends and future scenarios in society, relating to the latter.
  • Form his or her own opinion on the latter.
  • Show understanding in the importance of radically different modes of ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ nature and culture.
  • To consider, prepare, word and write down opinions and views on an individual basis and working towards a communal group result.


Programme information:

In the year 2000 the Dutch Nobel prize winner Crutzen coined the term ‘Anthropocene’. As a chemist he observed man’s ever increasing influence on earth’s biosphere, atmosphere and natural resources. In recent years more and more scientists, as well as a broader public, are embracing the idea that humans have a defining impact on the planet (even so much that millions of years from now, traces of today’s activities may still be seen in geological records and rock formations). In other words, man’s relation to nature has changed dramatically in a very short period of time and our everyday world becomes increasingly aware of the complexity that exists between nature and culture. This shows a need to develop a new understanding of the natural and man-made world both personally and professionally. Where economics, land use, natural resources and climate are all controlled by humans, this instrumental vision on nature dominates our metropolitan and rural areas, landscape, water, air, earth, plants and animals, even planets beyond the Earth. That forces us to scrutinize our own position. The Anthropocene as the new geological era presents us with an urgent and comprehensive inquiry into our limits and possibilities. That positioning brings great uncertainty and is accompanied by a search for what life, living systems and nature in this world mean and indeed what human culture means. An uncertainty that concerns both the future of the Earth as a living system as our own deeply personal position. May nature represent intrinsic values? If bio-emancipation is based on the equality of everything that lives on Earth and argues that nature has rights too, what does that mean for us personally, for our culture, and our dealings with nature? What does it mean to be fully human in all our actions? Is our identity complete without insight into our relationship to nature? When nature increasingly becomes culture, as many contend, does that mean a human world without nature, an artificial world in which there exists a one-sided relationship to other beings? Or does it mean that where nature and culture more and more merge and become hybrids, nature in that process will change culture, will just like culture become an agent and catalyst for change, provided that we give her an equal footing? These contemporary questions have to do with our accountability of the world: have not our knowledge, our science and our individual awareness become instrumental and patchy too, within existing knowledge worlds? How may we intrinsically shape our insight and understanding so we may find a better answer to the complex questions that face society and the individual? And will this ultimately lead us to embrace, resist or redesign man’s current earth-changing trajectory?

Key words:

Anthropocene, nature, culture, the hybrid,  life, change, post humanism, decolonization; ethics, religion. Instrumental, intrinsic, rereading history, role of humanities, role of art and biology, man and ecology; the city, the landscape, new challenges, different modes of thinking; our own thinking and assumptions; empathy, biophilia, rights of nature; storytelling; empowerment.


The assessment of this course consists of i) weekly individual (research) assignments, leading to an ii) individual manifesto (paper or video or…..) of the research; and iii) a group assignment. There is a minimum grade for the individual research presentation (paper or video) (5.5) and the shared manifesto through peer assessment. The final grade of the course should be higher than 5.5. There is a re-sit for the individual research presentation (maximum grade: 6). There is no re-sit for all other assignments.

Study material:

All literature and other study materials will be made available before and during the course.

Min/max participants:



Check Datanose (schedule may change)

The series will take place in the ARTIS Library, ARTIS Zoo, Science Park and Jungle Amsterdam-Oost. Mostly on Thursdays between 17.30 and 19.30.


Registration is possible for 2nd year (of higher) students participating in an Honours programme from  June 6, 2019 10.00 till 11 June 11, 2019 23.00 through the online registration form that will appear on Honoursmodules IIS.

Placement will be at random. If there are still spots open after the application deadline, students will still be able to register.

For questions: please contact Honours-iis@uva.nl 

Honoursmodule: Nature ? in the Anthropocene
Vorm Honoursonderwijs
Studielast 6 EC,
Voertaal Engels
Start September