Christof Mauch (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität)


Course Description
Humanities scholars from different disciplines and countries have noted the need for radically new methodological approaches in view of the unprecedented destruction of the planet, its natural resources, and its species. The rise of the Environmental Humanities is a response by the Academy to this insight. What brings scholars and students together is an interest in confronting environmental change as both a natural and a cultural phenomenon, and an intent to inhabit, in the words of eco-critic Ursula Heise, a “space of simultaneous critique and action”—something that lies beyond the university’s traditional structure.
One of the key features of the new field of environmental humanities is that it recognizes the limitations of particular disciplines. As a result, it encourages us to explore areas beyond our own expertise, from a wide variety of disciplines and also from outside academia.
This course introduces students to a broad spectrum of methods for studying past environmental change and the human cultural contexts within which it occurs. It serves as a one-of-a kind gateway into the various disciplines and approaches (textual and non-textual) that help us understand environmental change over time: from geology to ecology and from history to environmental anthropology. We will learn how scholars from different disciplines study and analyze the relationship between nature and culture, environment and society, what questions they ask and how they construct narratives and arguments.
Special exploratory assignments for the seminar are designed to cultivate curiosity, research skills and methods. Students will bring to class primary documents, images, interviews, maps etc. in order to show what these sources can tell about the relationship between humans and the environment, and to explore the disparate forms of evidence that can be used to reconstruct past environmental change and its human meanings.
Students will learn about different research methods and approaches through a set of readings but also through museum visits and guided walks. They will be asked to explore the streets and canals of Venice and/or one of the Venetian museums (e.g. Museo Storico Navale, Museo civico di storia naturale di Venezia, Museo Correr) and study a specific site (ideally related to the Venetian lagoon and issues of time) from different angles and academic disciplines.

1 Navigating the Crossroads of Disciplines
2 Capital, Commodities, and Narratives of History
3 Sedimentary Archives and Geological Time
4 Writing Nature - Nature Writing
5 Seeing Environments through Maps
6 Walking as a Research Method
7 Soundscapes
8 Animal Agency
9 Studying History through Food
10 Ecocriticiscm
11 Blue Humanities (and Plastic Oceans)
12 Digital Modeling

Learning Outcomes
In this class, students will learn what it means to be an inter- and multidisciplinary scholar in the field of the Environmental Humanities. They will learn what different skills one needs for reading different kinds of scholarly communication. And they will gain an understanding of how a scientific article, for instance, differs from an article in a humanities discipline like history or literature. At the end of the course, students will have answers to some of the following questions: : What is evidence, and what constitutes forms of evidence in different disciplinary domains? What are the differences between quantitative and qualitative information, and how are they used differently across scholarly domains? How do we tell stories, and what are the opportunities and hazards of narrative as a rhetorical form?
We will define the meaning of discipline, and ask how we know that we are in one. We will ask how one can find one's bearings both within and between disciplinary spaces. Altogether we will define and learn how we can become effective researchers and communicators in the new field of Environmental Humanities.
Upon completion of the course, students will have a better understanding of how they can best communicate their scholarly and scientific insights beyond the boundaries of their discipline, both to peers from other fields and to the larger public. They will be able to employ a range of critical methods, conceptual models and theoretical approaches to the global environmental humanities; articulate an awareness of place through investigation, observation and engagement with local ecologies. They will also reflect upon how found objects, texts, images and experiences have affected them as readers, observers, and researchers.
In working on their research paper they will learn what constitutes an interesting and important research question--and what shapes our judgment in deciding whether or not a question is "significant". In presenting their research paper (both orally and in writing) they will learn how to synthesize different analytical insights and different forms of knowledge to produce a unified argument.
Students will identify the specific contribution of the humanities in the exploration of environments. Scientists who work on big data and computer modelling can tell us something quantitatively about where we are heading; biotechnologists and engineers who plan interventions in natural processes and earth systems have grand plans to move us forward. But neither environmental science nor engineering give us a true sense and understanding of where we are coming from as humans and where we should be heading.

Teaching and evaluation methods
Discussion of texts is the heart of this course. It provides an opportunity for each student to examine the major issues in a critical light, to move beyond just reading “comprehension” to a deeper level of understanding. I will occasionally give short lectures to provide more context or to explore a particular issue in greater depth. At times I will bring in maps, historical documents, or focused projects that students will work on in small groups. Besides reading and discussing texts, this class strives to incorporate local observation and field elements

Evaluations will be based on mini responses, classroom participation, a short synthetic essay and an original research-based essay:
Weekly Mini-Reponses and participation in classroom discussion (30 % of grade)/ For each of the class readings students will need to come up with two questions of clarification or curiosity. Full credit will be given to responses that are thoughtful and provocative; and to students who take an active part in the classroom discussion.
Short Synthetic Essay (20%)/ For this assignment, students will craft a short think piece (5 pages), synthesizing the course readings and other content as a whole. They will pick one or two overarching themes, questions, or debates that they have identified throughout several of the readings. I would like for them to consider whether these broader course concepts will have any influence upon or added benefit for their own major, field or study, or career.
Original research-based essay (50%)/ For this essay students will need to write a 800 word interpretative essay that takes a found object, document or site —a postcard, a sound, a photograph etc.- to tell a story from an interdisciplinary perspective. Before submitting the final version of their essay, students will need to circulate drafts of their essay and be prepared to discuss and critique it in class. The essay needs to be research-based and accompanied by an appendix that documents the methodology and contains a short research bibliography. Depending on the theme the appendix should include further data or primary documents, such as illustrations or maps.

I will provide a Reader with short excerpts (up to about 30 pages of reading per week) from some of the articles and books listed below (and likely from a few others as well). Wayne Booth’s classic serves as a primer for doing meaningful research, and Alexandra Franklin’s recent book on co-creativity and engaged scholarship provides case studies of innovative research - from arts-based co-creative practices to visual analysis and deep mapping.

Cristina Baldacci, “Re-Enacting Ecosystems: Jakob Kudsk Steensen’s Environmental Storytelling in Virtual and Augmented Reality”, in: p i a n o b . arteculturevisive 6 (2021)
Eleanor Barnett, “Food and Religious Identities in the Venetian Inquisition, ca. 1560–ca. 1640”, Renaissance Quarterly 74 (Spring 2021), 181 - 214
Richard Page Beacham “The Digital Revolution and Modeling Time and Change in Historic Buildings and Cities: The Case of Visualizing Venice”, in: Digital cities: Between history and archaeology / edited by Maurizio Forte and Helena Murteira, New York 2020
Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research (University of Chicago Press, 3rd edition, 2008)
Aldino Bondesan, “Geomorphological Processes and Landscape Evolution of the Lagoon of Venice”, in: Landscapes and Landforms of Italy, edited by Mauro Soldati, Mauro Marchetti, eds. Cham: Springer 2017
Tilman Brück and Marco d’Errico, “Food Security and Violent Conflict,” World Development 117, May 2019, 145-149
Rachel Carson, “Under Sea”, The Marginal World (1955)
Clark. “Environmental Justice and the Move ‘Beyond Nature Writing.’” in: The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011: 87-95.
Peter A. Coates, “The Strange Stillness of the Past: Toward an Environmental History of Sound and Noise.” Environmental History 10.4 (2005): 636–65.
Ray Craib, “A Nationalist Metaphysics: State Fixations, National Maps, and the Geo-Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Mexico” Hispanic American Historical Review (February 2002), 33-68.
Sule Emmanuel Egya. “The Poor Woods of Northern Nigeria”, in: Springs: The Rachel Carson Center Magazine May 2022
Joanne Marie Ferraro, Venice: History of the Floating City, New York : Cambridge University Press 2012
Alexandra Franklin, ed., Co-Creativity and Engaged Scholarship: Transformative Methods in Social Sustainability Research, London: Palgrave Macmillan 2022
George F. Grattan, “Climbing Back into the Tree: Art, Nature, and Theology in A River Runs Through It.” Reading Under the Sign of Nature: New Essays in Ecocriticism. Ed. John Tallmadge and Henry Harrington. Salt Lake City: U of Utah Press, 2000: 231-242.
Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), pp. 42-68, 301-303.
Gregg Mitman, “Where Ecology, Nature, and Politics Meet: Reclaiming The Death of Nature,” Isis 97 (2006): 496-504.
Serenella Iovino, Ecocriticism and Italy Ecology, Resistance, and Liberation, 2017, 1-12
Listen, “Robin Wall Kimmerer, The Intelligence of Plants,” On Being with Krista Tippet, 20 August 2020,
Neil Maher, Seeing Nature: An Environmental Humanities Field Guide to Visual Culture. Rachel Carson Center Lunchtime Colloquium on Thursday, July 11, 2019. Watch on the RCC’s youtube channel.
Raj Patel and Jason Moore, “Cheap Nature”, in: 7 Cheap Things
Kristen Reynolds and Julian Agyeman, “Food Studies is Not as Frivolous as you Might Think,” Zocalo: Public Square, Nov. 4 2019
Sally Spector, Venice and Food (Arsenale 2006)
Jacob Smith, "Green Discs," from Eco-Sonic Media (Oakland, California: University of California, Press, 2015), 13-41.
Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, 2007
James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.
Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” (1851)
Rachel Mundy, “Birdsong and the Image of Evolution.” Society & Animals 17.3 (June 2009), 206–23.


Last updated: March 7, 2024



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