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Planet in Peril: Exploring Human Relations with Nature


Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Master Honours Class aimed at talented Master’s students. Admission will be based on academic background, GPA and motivation.


In the recent Netflix nature documentary ‘Our Planet’ world-famous British naturalist Sir David Attenborough alarmingly declares: ‘Never has it been more important to understand how the natural world works, and how to help it.’ We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, we must look at ways to address complex environmental challenges such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution at a grand scale. In order to tackle these complex issues, people have often solely looked to natural scientists and engineers for solutions. But what if it is not enough to understand the inner workings of the natural world? Besides understanding how the world works we should also investigate how we view, talk and make sense of world we inhabit. This is where the humanities come into play. The humanities in the broadest sense, from history to literature studies and including political philosophy and law, are well placed to contribute to the debate. Throughout history humans have made sense the world surrounding them through manifold narratives. In this course we will examine the narratives around human relation with nature. We will explore how nature was and is framed and represented in the past and today, and try to imagine alternative narratives for the future. The Darwinian understanding of man’s relation to nature (evolution) f.e. differs significantly from the Biblical one (creationism). At the start of the course students will be introduced to multiple positions about climate change and learn to view nature and environmental issues from different perspectives. Bringing insight from multiple disciplinary backgrounds (history, theology, geography, archeology, education, philosophy, eco-literacy, law) lecturers will take turns to challenge students in their thinking and help them shape a narrative about their own relationship to nature. We will work around four themes: criticicing, historicising, imagining, representing. There will be a mix of lectures, seminars (workshop) and excursions to enable students to work through this challenging and creative process.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • be able to identify different perspectives on environmental issues

  • be able to describe and reflect on own attitude in relation to Nature

  • show sophistication in their judgement and analyses of environmental issues


Week 10, Tuesday 3 March, 18:00-21:00 hrs
Week 11, Tuesday 10 March, 18:00-21:00 hrs
Week 12, Tuesday 17 March, 18:00-21:00 hrs
Week 13, Tuesday 24 March, 18:00-21:00 hrs
Week 14, Tuesday 31 March, 18:00-21:00 hrs
Week 15, Tuesday 7 April, 18:00-21:00 hrs
Week 16, Tuesday 14 April, 18:00-21:00 hrs
Week 17, Tuesday 21 April, 18:00-21:00 hrs
Week 18, Tuesday 28 April, 18:00-21:00 hrs


Kamerlingh Onnes Building, room B032 (except for 14 & 21 April: room A028).


Students will attend a mix of lectures, workshops and at least one organised group excursion/visit to a Natural History Collection or Museum (tba). Each taught session (10 evenings) will have elements of theory and practice in which the students work together to develop their own narratives concerning nature/human relationships. The course will address the four themes: Historising, Criticising, Imagining and Representing from multi-disciplinary perspectives. To ensure cohesion and encourage interdisciplinary thinking, each teaching session will be introduced by one of the course coordinators. In their own time, students are expected to read recommended literature around the themes (see indicative reading list) , explore other resources such as documentaries, museums, collections etc., attend debates and, depending on the intended output, experiment with materials, text, images etc. All these activities may be used as evidence of research for their portfolio.

Course load

This course is worth 5 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.


The assessment methods will look as follows:

  • 10% Participation assessed continually through participation in seminars

  • 10% Presentation of idea to peer group

  • 60% Portfolio of work including research rapport

  • 20% A final output/ artwork/product

Students could only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard page one weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Master Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading list

  • Aldrich, R. (2010) Education for survival: an historical perspective, History of Education, 39(1), pp. 1-14.

  • Barral, V. (2012) Sustainable Development in International Law: Nature and Operation of an Evolutive Legal Norm, The European Journal of International Law, 23(2).

  • Koerner, L., (1999) Linnaeus: Nature and Nation, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.), pp. 14-32.

  • Latour, B. (2004) Politics of Nature-How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy.

  • Macfarlane, R. (2019) What lies beneath: Robert Macfarlane travels 'Underland'. Available at:

  • Norton, C. & Hulme, M. (2018) Telling one story, or many? An ecolinguistic analysis of climate change stories in UK national newspaper editorials. Geoforum Web.

  • Perrow, C. (2010) Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction, and Opportunity. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews 39(1), pp. 46-47.

  • Worster, D., (1994) Nature’s Economy – A History of Ecological Ideas (second edition), Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 130-140.

  • Wulf, A., (2015) The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Other possible literature will be announced in class or via Blackboard.


Enrolling in this course is possible from 3 up to and including 16 February 2020 through the Honours Academy. The registration link will be posted on the student website of the Honours Academy.


Norbert Peeters