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The US in the Anthropocene


Admission requirements

Admission to the North American Studies MA, the History MA or the International Studies MA is sufficient. This course is part of the MA North American Studies and MA History: Politics, Culture and National Identities. Students from within the aforementioned two programmes the course belongs to have right of way. Please inform with the study adviser whether there are still places available.


In the last decades, an abundant and interdisciplinary scholarship has contributed to shedding new light on the scale and nature of the wide variety of (imperial) practices that have determined the transformation of the United States into a global power throughout the twentieth century. In so doing, historians have been able to re-assess the role that the US has played in the world and have disentangled the multifaceted relationship between the US and the world. At times, they ended up by interpreting the US as the world. Only recently, however, such a scholarship is starting to gauge the overall impact that the US – with its overwhelming economic power, its military-industrial predominance, and its increasing cultural hegemony – has had on the world, in the sense of the global environment. This course invites students to engage with this growing discussion in creative and innovative ways.
This course wants to reconnect American history with studies on the Anthropocene and on the so-called “great acceleration,” a seemingly irreversible, unprecedented, and, as a matter of fact, largely US-shaped process of sweeping changes that has completely altered the socio-economic and biophysical spheres of the Earth. What have, thus, the building of the US as a modern nation and the irresistible projection of its power abroad meant for the global environment? How have both these processes contributed to reshuffling human geographies and landscapes? How has the US affected the consumption, depletion, and exploitation or, by converse, the conservation, restoration and preservation of natural resources and raw materials throughout the globe? How has American power impinged on world’s waters? How has the US adapted and forced adaptation to energy crises and transitions? Which kind of socio-ecological developments has the US fostered on a global scale?
Firmly rooted in historical analysis and research, this course will allow students to gain a better understanding of US and global environmental history. It will also enable them to engage with timely issues and contemporary debates about climate crises and ecological injustice. Given its interdisciplinary nature, the course is reading-intensive and requires students’ preparation and active participation at any class. Classes will have the structure of seminars where, with the help of the instructor, students will present the arguments of a series of readings, will elaborate on them, and will provide original solutions to present-day environmental challenges that confront the United States. In addition, students will have to produce, in small groups, a podcast based on an interview with scholars or activists working on pertinent subjects of topical interest. Finally, students will have to write an original research paper based on a clearly identifiable historical case study.

Course objectives

This course will give students an opportunity to explore the multifaceted impact that the rise of the United States as a world power has had on the global environment. Through a multidisciplinary approach, students will be able to:

  • Identify the most important ecological challenges that confront the contemporary United States;

  • Gain knowledge and insight into major issues in US and global environmental history, as well as the main scholarly and theoretical debates about these issues;

  • Develop a critical understanding of theories of US exceptionalism and its connections with the rising of our contemporary environmental crises;

  • Critically analyze American historical and literary texts and place them in a cultural and historical context;

  • Explore the theoretical and methodological overlaps between American Studies and Environmental Humanities;

  • Conduct independent multidisciplinary research;

  • Identify and collect primary and secondary sources for their own research project;

  • Develop the ability to apply knowledge of North American history, literature and culture to contemporary social, political, literary and cultural developments;

  • Develop the ability to critically assess and utilize primary and secondary sources to construct an extended argument in their research papers;

  • Develop the ability to judge the relative merits of academic opinions and arguments about contemporary developments in North American Studies and their connections with environmental themes;

  • Improve their ability to orally present and defend the result of individual research in a group context;

  • Develop tema working and digital media skills through grop assignments;

  • Improve their ability to effectively communicate research results in written English in various formats.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Participation in class discussions: 20%
Podcast: 20%
Written paper (5000 words): 60%


See assessment.


If the written paper essay receives an insufficient grade, it may be rewritten

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • John R. McNeill, The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene Since 1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).

  • Mark Fiege, The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013)

  • Ian Tyrrell, Crisis of the Wasteful Nation, Empire and Conservation in Theodore Roosevelt’s America (Chicago: The University of Chiocago Press, 2015)
    Further readings will be provided by the instructor weekly.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


Not applicable