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Lecturer and Course Co-ordinator:


Paul D’Arcy

Old Kirk, Room 426

Victoria University of Wellington

E-mail: paul.darcy@vuw.ac.nz


Office hours: Mon. 3-4, Tues. 4-5, Thurs. 12-1.  Other times can be arranged by appointment.


Additional Information:


Is available from the Course Coordinator. General notices will be advised in the Monday lecture. Formal notices containing course information will be posted on the main History Department noticeboard, 4th floor Old Kirk Building.


Class times and rooms:


Second trimester 1998, weekly lecture on Monday from 11-11.50 am in Easterfield EA 206. The class will meet in three groups for a two-hour seminar each week beginning in the second week. The seminar times for the course are Mon. 1.10-3pm (OK 403), Tues. 2.10-4pm (OK 406), and Thurs. 10-10.50 am (OK 403).



Course content and aims:


Concerns about the impact of human activities upon the natural environment have reached unprecedented levels in the last few decades.  One result of this has been an upsurge in interest in Environmental History as a sub-discipline in its own right.  Research in the field has indicated that human attitudes towards, and use of, the environment vary dramatically, both between cultures and through time.


This course investigates the varied ways in which human societies have interacted with the variety of landscapes and seascapes found in our region throughout history.  The focus will be on the extent to which humans both mould, and are moulded by, the natural environment.  Given the diversity of cultures inhabiting the region, the course will also explore the historical ramifications of contrasting attitudes towards the natural environment.


The course will begin by reviewing the various approaches that have been used by environmental historians to explore human-environment relations.  Broadly speaking these approaches fall into three categories; those focussing on environmental features, those concentrating on the ability of humans to utilise and alter the environment for their own benefit, and those that focus on cultural perceptions of environmental features.


The main body of the course, however, concentrates on the environmental history of Australasia and Oceania.  We will first examine historical records of climatic and geological processes to show that the region’s environment is dynamic rather that static.  Human perceptions of, and adaptation to, the variety of environments in the region are surveyed, before moving onto large-scale European settlement of the area.  Conflict between cultures over the control and use of resources is then discussed against a background of increasing rates of resource exploitation brought about by expanded populations and technological advances.  The course’s regional perspective is designed to provide a sense of comparison for current debates within New Zealand over resource management in a multi-cultural setting.


Course work:


The assessment for the course is designed to promote the achievement of the course objectives.  Students will be required to give two seminar presentations and then write up one of these as a 1000 word paper, actively participate in at least 8 of the 11 seminar discussions, and write two essays.  The seminar paper is due two weeks after the seminar presentation. The other two assignments are an essay of between 2000-2500 words, and a research essay of 3000 words.  Elements of all the objectives are contained in all pieces of assessment.  However, seminar presentations and papers are designed particularly with objective 4 in mind, while the research essay is written with objectives 1, 4, and 6 in mind.





The relative weighting of the assessment is as follows;


·        The seminar paper, due 2 weeks after the seminar presentation, is worth 15% of the final grade


·        The first essay is worth 35% of the final grade


  • The research essay is worth 50% of the final grade






The course is organised around 12 themes. Each week is devoted to a different theme, although one of the objectives of the course is to seek connections between themes. The Monday lecture will provide a general introduction to the theme for the week by discussing how historians have approached the subject under review by focusing on studies of an aspect of the topic not discussed in the week’s seminar readings. However, seminar readings and student-led discussions are intended as the main vehicles for investigating the themes in detail outside of the assessment exercises.


Trimester outline


Week 1)         

Theme: Sources and methodology

Lecture: Course organization/ Landscapes as historical texts



Week 2)         

Theme: The dynamic earth

Lecture: The impact of typhoons, tsunamis and climate change

Seminar: Sources and methodology for environmental studies


Week 3)         

Theme: Culture versus nature

Lecture: The “Yapese Empire”- ecologically or culturally determined ?

Seminar: Malaria and settlement patterns in Melanesia


Week 4)         

Theme: Cultural landscapes

Lecture: Cultural constructions of the sea and its creatures

Seminar: Cultural and historical landscapes in Oceania


Week 5)         

Theme: The power to define

Lecture: Cultural concepts of time and space

Seminar: Defining space as a cultural assertion of power


Week 6)         

Theme: Disease and power

Lecture: Western medicine and colonial power

Seminar: Explaining Hawai’i’s 19th century population decline




Theme: Technological and biological imperialism

Lecture: The impact of introduced flora and fauna

Seminar: Technology and western expansion


Week 8)         

Theme: Indigenous peoples in colonial contexts

Lecture: Changes to land tenure and land use in Oceania

Seminar: European colonisation of the South Australian landscape


Week 9)         

Theme: Forests and deforestation

Lecture: The political economy of logging in contemporary Melanesia

Seminar: Polynesian and European attitudes to trees in the 19th century


Week 10)       

Theme: Mining the land

Lecture: Nauru as a mining colony of Australasia

Seminar: Resolving conflicts over mining in Papua New Guinea


Week 11)       

Theme: Seascapes and maritime resource use

Lecture: The evolution of maritime tenure in Hawai’i

Seminar: Indigenous fisheries and the modern fishing economy


Week 12)       

Theme: Sustainable futures ?

Lecture: The political economy of sustainable land use

Seminar: Tourism as the economic salvation of Oceania ?




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