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The modern world is facing unprecedented anthropogenic environmental change. Understanding the dynamic interplay between humans and our environment is of paramount importance if we are to successfully navigate this period of major environmental upheaval. Climate and environmental change have played a key role in shaping the biological, cultural, and geographic evolution of our species. What can an understanding of the past teach us about dealing with environmental change in the future?
This subject investigates the interrelationship between humans and their natural environments through time using evidence from physical and human geography, archaeology, palaeoanthropology, palaeoclimatology and palaeoecology. We will take a deep-time perspective, journeying from the emergence of humankind 6 million years ago to the present day. We will draw on case studies from around the word and across many different time periods, exploring how changing environments have influenced important transitions including the first migration of humans out of Africa, the emergence of symbolic behaviour, the beginning of agriculture and animal domestication, and resilience and collapse of complex societies. We will explore questions such as: Did environmental complexity shape brain development? Why did all other Homo species go extinct while Homo sapiens became dominant? Did humans play a role in the extinction of megafauna? Was the emergence of agriculture and domestication linked to changing environments? Is there a correlation between environmental change and the collapse of complex societies? How have human subsistence strategies and resource use impacted vegetation, animal species, soils and climate? How will anthropogenic climate change affect the future of our species?
The subject will include a 2-day fieldtrip to the World Heritage-nominated Budj Bim National Park in Victoria to learn about the long-term and continuing relationship that the Gunditjmara people have with their natural environment, and the ways in which they have both driven and adapted to environmental change. The field trip will take place during mid-Semester break.
Intended learning outcomes
At the completion of this subject, students will have achieved the following objectives:
- Explain climate and environmental change over long and short-term timescales during the last 6 million years
- Analyse how key transitions in human biological and cultural evolution were shaped by environmental change, and explain how humans have shaped their environment
- Identify and interpret manifestations of long term environmental change and human-environment interaction in the contemporary landscape.
- Analyse the key literature and current debates on human evolution, environmental change and human-environment interaction.
- Outline the key techniques for reconstructing past environmental changes and human behavioural changes, and know how to apply them in different circumstances.
- Reading, writing and speaking in theoretically-aware and comparative ways
- Digital literacy: conducting online and library searches for relevant, critical literatures
- Ability to comprehend and critique some of the current debates in the field
- Using a case study approach to explore processes and problems situated in particular contexts
Last updated: 6 December 2019