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A Timely Look at Environmental History

March 20, 2019

Portrait of Zozan Pehlivan.

Portrait of Zozan Pehlivan.
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student

With a new year comes new classes and this semester, Professor Zozan Pehlivan is teaching “Global Environmental History,” the first environmental history course taught at the University of Minnesota. The course begins with the domestication of fire, plants, and animals and how these processes affected the direction of world history. Professor Pehlivan has constructed the course to focus on human-animal relations though the time as well as the role of climatic anomalies in the making of human history.

In addition to traditional historical materials the course shows how scientific studies of climatologists, data chronologists, and epidemiologists could be essential sources for constructing and writing history. Professor Pehlivan provides the tools for students to investigate climatically driven transformations of the past and extrapolate how it will affect contemporary society. The major assignment of the course asks students to create an environmentally driven problem in the future by drawing on lessons from the past. The goal of this assignment is to help students consider why environmental history is important, not just for understanding the past, but also the present and the future. As a subfield of history, environmental history not only shows us the past but helps guide us for the future.

The current global climate changes—the growing climate change, the problem of sustainability, limited natural resources—make the discourse that students have in the class particularly timely. Certainly, the especially challenging winter has served as ample demonstration of the environments capability to affect our lives. Professor Pehlivan demonstrates to students how climatic changes influenced societies and their economic resources, as well as the ways in which people responded to those crises from past to present. This insight may give us some clues regarding how to deal with the current climate crisis.