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An Inconvenient Truth: Climate & Capitalism in the Modern World - HIS00120I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Venus Bivar
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

In recent years we have witnessed a marked uptick in climate-change related events: category-five hurricanes; unprecedented wildfire seasons in Australia and California; deadly monsoons in South Asia; and the rapid melting of polar ice. Through primary and secondary source analysis, we will examine the human history of climate change since the Industrial Revolution. We will consider how political power, economic interest, and human behaviour have contributed over time to our current predicament, and in using lessons from the past, will discuss how our understanding of climate change as an historical phenomenon can help us to negotiate the increasingly urgent needs of the present. Primary source materials might include the writings of nineteenth-century scientists, internal memoranda of oil and gas companies, as well as newspaper articles across both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Topics covered by secondary readings might include: glacier melt in the Peruvian Andes, industrial pollution in Britain, weather-induced famines in colonial India, and the rise of popular environmentalism.

Secondarily, this course will introduce students to the field of environmental history and will explore how the methods of this field of inquiry challenge traditional historical categories. For example: What happens when time is no longer bounded by the written word and is understood in geological terms? How does history play out when the actors driving the action of the story are non-human? And how might historians geographically frame their narratives when the subject matter is rarely bounded by the political borders of human communities?

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23 to Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • Gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project

Module content

Teaching Programme:

This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. The Origins of the Anthropocene

  2. Using the Past to Imagine the Future

  3. Slow Violence and Racial Injustice

  4. Imperialism and the Politics of Famine

  5. The Infrastructure of Trust

  6. Manufacturing Doubt

  7. Disaster Capitalism

  8. The Discovery of Global Warming

  9. Thinking the Unthinkable

One of the aims of this course is to learn how to draw on our understanding of climate change as an historical phenomenon to help us negotiate the increasingly urgent needs of the present and future. To that end, in small groups students will use historical sources to analyse contemporary news media. Taking care not to read anachronistically, students will draw on the language and concerns of historical actors, as well as the knowledge they've accumulated through seminars and secondary reading, to complicate and deepen their reading of contemporary debates surrounding climate change and the environment. Each group will produce a 3,000 word piece of analysis. N.B. While climate is the primary focus of our seminars, students are free to explore related aspects of environmental history with their research: e.g. industrial pollution, public health, environmental activism, species extinction.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - An Inconvenient Truth
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - An Inconvenient Truth
8 hours 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their discussion groups and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work with their tutor (or module convenor) during student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Mike Davis. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso Books, 2001.

Amitav Ghosh. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Bloomsbury, 2010.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.