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You are here Undergraduate > Single Honors History > HI1222 Climate in the Ancient & Medieval Worlds

HIU12032: Climate and Environment in the Premodern World

Climate history is a rapidly evolving field of study that aims (1) to reconstruct climate conditions over past centuries and millennia and (2) understand how societies perceived and responded to changing climates and extreme weather.
  • Module Coordinator:
    • Professor Poul Holm
  • Duration:
    • Hilary term 
  • Contact Hours:
    • 1 lecture per week and 4 tutorials over the course of the term
  • Weighting:
    • 5 ECTS
  • Assessment:
    • 20% essay, 80% examination
These aims can be best achieved by combining evidence from both natural and human archives. In this module we will examine the historical development of natural archives such as tree-rings and ice-cores and introduce how they can be used to reveal climate variations in the past. We will then examine how this information can be combined with evidence from human archives, including written and archaeological records, to understand the social impacts of climate change and extreme weather. In doing so, we will draw upon case studies of major episodes of climate change from the ancient and medieval eras. These case studies will bring us from ancient Egypt and Babylonia to the ancient American Southwest, and from there to Medieval Ireland, Japan, China and beyond. In these places we will examine the role that explosive volcanic eruptions and rapid changes in the Sun’s output of energy played in causing extreme weather that was often accompanied by major human impacts such as famine, disease and conflict, before studying the ways in which ancient and medieval societies attempted to cope with these impacts and adapt to changing climates.

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

  • Situate climate history within the broader field of environmental history
  • Be able to source and interpret historical climate information from human and natural archives
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of human and natural archives, and the means by which their information may be integrated
  • Characterize the range of potential impacts that climatic changes and extreme weather had on ancient and medieval societies, as well as the coping strategies employed to mitigate these impacts
  • Understand the pitfalls associated with overly simplistic attempts to integrate a role for climate in human history (e.g. environmental determinism)