024 - 002: Freshman Seminar

How Humans Changed the Earth: Human Palaeoecology from Prehistory to the Present

Instructor: Lisa Maher

Term: Spring 2019

Time: W 10:00am - 10:59am

Units: 1

Course Number: 26535

"Global change" has become one of the most urgently debated topics of our time. Climate warming, the greenhouse effect, the rapid destruction of tropical and temperate rainforests, aquatic and marine pollution, the biodiversity crisis and species extinctions: all of these are tied at least in part to the actions and behavior of Homo sapiens. But is global change primarily a new phenomenon, a consequence of the industrial revolution and of modern capitalist and totalitarian states? Or have humans been active agents of environmental and landscape change over longer periods of time? Even before the rise of agriculturally-based societies and associated population expansion during the early Holocene, humans have had cumulative and often irreversible impacts to natural landscapes and biotic resources worldwide. The extent of such changes has prompted some scientists to call for the definition of a new geological era, the Anthropocene. Drawing upon case studies from North America, Mesoamerica, the Mediterranean, Near East, and the Pacific Islands, the diversity of prehistoric human-induced environmental change will be assessed by examining empirical evidence from the interface between archaeology, ecology, geography, environmental studies, geomorphology, and many other disciplines. The geographic scope is global, and over time the course will range from the Pleistocene-Holocene transition up to the contemporary era (the Anthropocene).