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Honoursmodule: History of Environmentalism

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Mathijs Boom and Tim Verlaan

Entry requirements 

The course is open to 2nd-year-and-beyond honours students. We also encourage students with backgrounds in history, anthropology and the environmental sciences to apply for entry.

Recommended prior knowledge


Learning Objectives

After taking this course, students will be able to:

  • Critically analyse and interpret concepts and discourses in environmentalism from a historical perspective.
  • Understand how to use secondary literature when evaluating primary sources.
  • Critically reflect on your own achievements and the work of your peers.
  • Present your findings verbally and in written form.


Environmentalism is the only new major political ideology to emerge from 20th-century thought. In particular during the second half of the century, ever more people grew concerned over the faith of charismatic animals, the protection of wilderness, and worldwide climate change. This history of environmentalism is impossible to disentangle from that of ecological thought and natural science. Our ideas about the environment, ecosystems, biodiversity, climate, and even nature itself, have been defined by scientific experts as well as by public debate. But how did these often-technical concepts come to define green politics and a serious chunk of our current political debate? 

During this course, we will delve into the history of environmentalism and ecological thought, ranging from the 19th-century works of Alexander von Humboldt until present debates on climate policy. We will draw on texts that helped to define modern-day environmentalism, and on the wealth of recent literature on the subject published in recent years. Thus, at the end of this course students will be able to critically reflect on current debates about the environment from a historical perspective, helping us to understand where we come from and where we might be going.

Class contents

  • Seminars
  • Fieldwork/excursion
  • Selfstudy
  • Work independently on project / thesis
  • Guidance/feedback moments


  1. 500-word summaries (pass/fail)

To improve close reading and develop a better understanding of both primary sources and literature, students will hand in three comprehensive summaries of articles and/or chapters on our reading list.

  1. Excursion findings (30%)

As part of the course, we will visit Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden. Students will write an essay in couples reviewing and historicizing the perspectives on environmentalism presented at Naturalis.

  1. 3000-word essay (70%)

Students will write an annotated essay on a topic of choice within the history of environmentalism. You may examine historical debates, or contemporary debates in historical context

Min/max participants



Check Datanose for the exact information.

Study material

Digital reader will be provided through file sharing. Bringing your reader to class is obligatory. We strongly urge students to bring a printed copy to class, instead of laptops or other electronic devices. Open screens distract from focused reading and lively discussion – the best aspects of a great seminar.


Registration is possible for students participating in an Honours programme via an online registration form which will be made available on December 1, 10 am till December 5, 11 pm on this website. 

Placement will be at random and within two weeks students will hear whether they are placed for a course. 

There is NO guarantee for placement if you register after December 5, so make sure you register on time! 

For questions about registration please email to: Honours-iis@uva.nl 



The course load amounts to 6 ECTS, which equals 168 hours of studying. Roughly a third of this time you will spend in class, the remainder will be spent on self-study. Attendance and active participation are obligatory. Missing two meetings usually means removal from the course. Students who are guilty of plagiarism or commit academic fraud in any other way will be removed from the course and reported to the board of examiners. The course will be evaluated in person as well as anonymously in writing.

Facts & Figures
Mode Honours programme
Credits 6 ECTS,
Language of instruction English
Starts in February