Christof Mauch (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität)


Course Description
Humans have transformed the Earth so much so that some scientists, most notably the chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, have called for the designation of a new epoch in the history of the planet, our epoch, the “age of humans,” the “Anthropocene.” This term expresses the assumption that recent human activity in the natural world has affected the Earth’s crust more significantly than volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes. What is intriguing about this concept is the currency it has gained within a short time, in culture, politics, and across almost every academic discipline and sub-discipline. No other creature on this earth has been more successful in the competition for habitat and resources than humans, but we are now starting to realize that our success has come at a high price: vulnerability, global climate change, species extinction etc.
The Anthropocene is a concept in flux and therefore any approach to it will be exploratory. This class will discuss the value of the Anthropocene concept, assess what defines it and when it began. Some have dated its beginning to Hiroshima, some to the onset of industrialization, and a few to the agricultural revolution ca. 8000 years ago. The course will consider contemporary environmental issues from a long-term perspective, situate local, regional and environmental issues in a global context, and it will identify primary sources useful in answering a set of focused research questions.
Venice can be seen as an ‘Anthropocene City’ par excellence. Alongside slow natural sinking, human-induced climate change, the dramatic exploitation of water resources and fallout from industries, threaten to submerge the “Queen of the Adriatic” and its many iconic sites. The lagoon can be seen as an “organic machine” (a term once used by Richard White for the Colorado River).
A couple of field trips will be part of this seminar. The idea of field trips through Venice is based on a summer school titled Water-Culture-History that I convened in 2011. Students back then explored the Venetian hydropolis by visiting such places as the Arsenale, the Punto Laguna museum, the islands of Burano, Sant’Erasmo, San Francesco del Deserto and some small unoccupied islands of the salt marsh. I am hoping to approach geologists like Dontatella de Rita and water historians like David Gentilcore to accompany us on these explorations. Field trips will help in understanding the diversity of land usage within the lagoon, the deterioration of the islands due to erosion, and the technological and ecological solutions that have addressed specific challenges of the Anthropocene.
The Anthropocene Campus 2021 produced a map of special places in Venice that reveal interesting ‘anthropocenic’ interrelations between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. This seminar will (re)visit some of these places and explore new places. The idea is to expand the original Anthropocene map and produce a student exhibition based on research and observation.



1 Defining the Human Planet
2 An Early Anthropocene?
3 Time and Space and a view from Venice
4 Energy Transitions
5 Slow Violence and The Making of the Third World
6 Shrinking the Earth
7 The Discovery of Climate Change
8 Capitalism and War
9 Agriculture and Food
10 Extinction
11 The Future of the Anthropocene: Hope or Nope?
12 Exhibiting the Venetian Anthropocene

Learning Outcomes
By the end of the course, students will be able to discuss the concept of the Anthropocene, explain what defines it and how it has been dated. They will be able to critically assess the explanatory value of the Anthropocene within the broader field of the Environmental Humanities. They will moreover be able to think with the Anthropocene. They will pose questions that cannot be answered with the help of Wikipedia. Discussing the Anthropocene requires taking into account both micro and macro worlds, biology and physics, human and more-than-human worlds, the history of humankind and the history of the planet. Students will be able to talk intelligently about changes to the Earth’s environment, long-term trends and human-induced ruptures, about the Great Acceleration, the Seventh Extinction, and planetary boundaries. An understanding of the Anthropocene has two functions: it shows how we got to where we are today; and it shows how we might be able to deflect some of the worst impacts that humanity has on the globe.
Throughout the course students will be acquainted with theoretical perspectives from a variety of different disciplines. They will learn skills for analytical reading and discussion, and apply theoretical insights to their own research. They will learn to consider contemporary environmental issues from a long-term perspective, and to situate local issues in a global context.
Through their writing, curatorial and video assignments they will improve their skills in communicating ideas and arguments to their peers and a broader public.

Teaching and Evaluation
Students will learn about the Anthropocene through ‘documents of culture’ and ‘documents of nature’, through global analysis and local observation, through readings and field trips. Classroom discussion - in groups or in the plenary - will be absolutely central. Students will be required to formulate mini responses to the readings and write a short synthetic essay. They will also produce an exhibit (photo, video) and do background research on this.

Weekly Mini-Reponses (20 % 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.

Synthetic Essay (20%)/ Students will write a think piece on a topic such as the “good Anthropocene” that brings together some of the major themes of the course.

Proposal with short research bibliography (20% of grade)/ Students will identify a site or object in Venice that for them exemplifies the Anthropocene. They will submit a short explanation of why this site or object is suited for a exhibition about the Venetian Anthropocene. They will also submit documents and a bibliography (ca. 6 titles)

Photo exhibit or video accompanied by final research paper 40%/ Students will produce a short footnoted research paper that documents the story of their site or object. They will produce a photo exhibit with labels (no more than 500 words) or a thee minute video.

I am planning to provide students with readings (30 pages obligatory per week) from among the literature below. However, because the amount of literature on the Anthropocene is currently exploding, I will likely exchange some of the articles and books for more recent ones.

Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System 2016, 137-151
Karl Appuhn, A Forest on the Sea: Environmental Expertise in Renaissance Venice, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009
W.J. Autin, “Is the Anthropocene an Issue of Stratigraphy or Pop Culture?”, in: GSA Today (2012), 60-61
A.D. Barnovsky, and E. Hadley, Tipping Point for Planet Earth: How Close are we to the Edge?, London 2016
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
Kate Brown, „The Wardian Case 2.0“, in: Springs: The Rachel Carson Center Review 2022 (will be published in May 2022)
Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene,’” Global Change Newsletter 41 (2000), 17-18
Robert Emmett and Thomas Lekan, eds.”Whose Anthropocene? Revisiting Dipesh Chakrabarty’s ‘Four Theses,’ ” RCC Perspectives: Transformations in Environment and Society 2016, no. 2.
Donna Harraway, “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene”, e-flux journal, Issue #75, September 2016
Ursula Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meaning of Threatened Species, Chicago 2016
Mike Hulme “The Challenges of Development” from Why we disagree about Climate Change (Cambridge UP 2009)
E. Kohn, How Forests Think: A Cultural Anthropology beyond the Human, Berkeley 2013
Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, New York 2014
Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, “Anthropocene Blues: Abundance, Energy, Limits.” In: The Imagination of Limits: Exploring Scarcity and Abundance, edited by Frederike Felcht and Katie Ritson, RCC Perspectives 2015, no. 2, 55–63
Bruno Latour, “Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene”, in: M. Brightman and J. Lewis, eds., The Anthropology of Sustainability, London 2017
Marc Levinson, “The World the Box Made,” The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (2006), 1-15
Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin. “Defining the Anthropocene.” Nature 519, no. 7542 (2015): 171–80
Andreas Malm and Alf Hornborg, “The Geology of Mankind? A Critique of the Anthropocene Narrative,” The Anthropocene Review 1:1 (2014): 62-9
“’To Halt Climate Change, We Need an Ecological Leninism’ – An Interview with Andreas Malm,” Jacobin Magazine, June 2020
Kyla Mandel, “This Woman Fundamentally Changed Climate Science – and You’ve Probably Never Heard of Her,”, 18 May 2018
Christof Mauch, Slow Hope: Rethinking Ecologies of Crisis and Fear, Munich: RCC Perspectives: Transformations in Environment and Society 2019
Christof Mauch, The Growth of Trees: A Historical Perspective on Sustainability, Munich: Oekom 2014 (Chapter on Venice)
John McNeill and P. Engelke, The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945, Cambridge 2016
Gregg Mitman et al., eds., Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene, 2018
William Ruddiman, “The Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis: Challenges and Responses.” Reviews of Geophysics 45, no. 4 (2007
Jeffrey D, Sachs, “Introduction to Sustainable Development” and “Planetary Boundaries,” The Age of Sustainable Development (2015), 1-44 and 181-218.
Vaclav Smil, “Nitrogen Cycle and World Food Production,” World Agriculture 2 (2011), 9-13
Julia Adeney Thomas, and Jan Zalasiewicz. “Strata and Three Stories,” RCC Perspectives: Transformations in Environment and Society 2020, no. 3.
Helmuth Trischler, (ed.), “Anthropocene: Exploring the Future of the Age of Humans,” RCC Perspectives 2013, no 3.
Richard W. Unger, ed., “Energy Transitions in History: Global Cases of Continuity and Change,” RCC Perspectives 2013, no 2.
David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming (Tim Duggan Books 2019)
Spencer Weart, “How Could Climate Change?” and “Discovering a Possibility,” The Discovery of Global Warming (2003), 1-38 and 209-10.
Tony Weis, The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock (Zed Books 2013)
Donald Worster, Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of Natural Abundance (Oxford UP 2016)


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
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