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Slow Violence: History and Political Ecology - Semester 2 - HIS00150H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Venus Bivar
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

While hurricanes and forest fires serve as spectacular symbols for an ecosystem gone wrong, it is the pervasive slow violence of the unspectacular, the invisible, that seeps into the daily lives of millions across the globe. From toxic waste deposits and cancer clusters to coastal erosion and climate refugees, the environmental consequences of economic growth are inscribed on the bodies of the poor and in the slow and steady devastation of the landscape. Chronologically, this module will focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Geographically, we will roam widely. Case studies may include: glacier melt in the Peruvian Andes; drought-induced famine in colonial India; Monsanto’s manufacturing of toxic chemicals in the United States; and global efforts to mainstream climate science.

This module is a combination of the related fields of political ecology and environmental history. Students will learn how to use the tools of political economy and historical inquiry to understand how environmental change and conflict are informed by political, economic, and social dimensions. Students will also explore how the methods of these two fields 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? Primary source materials include: newspaper articles, diaries, parliamentary debates, scientific reports, and business records.

Related modules

Students taking this module must also take the first part in Semester 1.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Students will attend a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 2. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all. A one-to-one meeting between tutor and students will also be held to discuss assessments.

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

  1. How to Calculate the Value of a Whale
  2. Toxic Landscapes and Contaminated Bodies
  3. The Discovery of Global Warming
  4. The Politics of Denial
  5. The Tragedy of the Commons?
  6. Feeding the Planet
  7. Extinction Rebellion
  8. Science Fiction and the Unthinkable


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students submit an essay draft of 2000-words.

For summative assessment, students complete a 4000-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This comprises 100% of the overall module mark. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive a one-to-one meeting with the tutor to discuss the essay and their plans for the assessed essay.

Work will be returned to students with written comments in their tutorial and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to make use of their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester 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:

  • Chatterjee, Elizabeth. “The Asian Anthropocene: Electricity and Fossil Developmentalism”. The Journal of Asian Studies 79, no. 1 (February 2020): 3-24.
  • Demuth, Bathsheba. Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. New York: W.W. Norton, 2019.
  • Ghosh, Amitav. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

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.