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Urban Environmental History




Admission Requirements



In the introduction to their groundbreaking volume City and Environment Boone and Modarres succinctly establish the foundation for this course in urban environmental history. Cities encapsulate within their geographic extent most elements of everyday human life from the home, to the market, to the workplace and spaces for leisure. What makes a place urban is a fascinating question on its own, and one that we will discuss. These questions become even more fascinating when we consider the cyclical relationship between cities (and their concentrations of population, buildings, and economic activities) and the natural environment. Much of the literature on this subject focuses upon the usually negative impacts of urban landscapes on the environment, but we can also (and will) consider the impact of nature on the city itself. The environment influences the shape, size, and character of cities. Soil type, access to water, and topography all have an effect on cities often creating feedback loops that then allow the city to alter the environment, making it more amenable to housing large numbers of residents but maybe not particularly sustainable in the long term. While this course will take a historical approach to the topic of urban environments, possible more so than in other contexts this is also a chance to think about past as prologue. Past changes to the natural environment in a city have a daily impact on urban life today and moving into the future.

Course Objectives

  • To understand the complexity of the relationship between cities and the natural environment and vice versa.

  • Student will be able to apply spatial and historical thinking in different contexts.

  • Students will improve their understanding of how historical scholarship informs modern problems.

  • Students will be able to write for a public audience on key themes in urban environmental scholarship

Mode of Instruction

This course will primarily follow a seminar format with short lectures, discussion of the assigned readings and other course materials. Students will prepare for time in-class by reading the assigned material and responding to that reading through webpostings submitted to Blackboard.


I. Class participation (20% of final grade)
This includes web postings (submitted before every class, for 10 of the 13 sessions when we have reading. Please read (and, if you like, respond to) your peers’ postings before coming to class.

  • Tuesday web postings are due by 7 a.m.

  • Thursday web postings are due by 9 a.m.

II. 10-12 minute presentation connecting the historical to the present (15%)

III. Short essays addressing key relationships in the field (25%)

  • due via Blackboard on Thursday September 12th by 23:59hrs.

IV. Final research project: Proposing Sustainable solutions for the urban environment (40%)

  • due Thursday, October 17th by 23:59hrs.


Readings will be made available digitally.

Contact Information

Dr. Sarah E. Hinman:

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Big Concepts: Where is the city? What is natural? Urban morphology
Week 2: Feeding Cities: Markets, Agriculture, and where our food comes from
Week 3: Health and the “natural” environment
Week 4: Drinking water
Week 5: Waste management
Week 6: Parks and Green Space
Week 7: Environmental Justice

Preparation for first session