Spring 2008

People and Pollution, 1760 to Present

Listed in: History, as HIST-28


Jill R. Payne (Section 01)


What do we mean by 'pollution'? In what ways has pollution shaped society since the onset of the Industrial Revolution? This course considers pollution-related problems that have arisen over the course of the last 250 years. Crises of 'pollution' can be chemical (smog, toxic waste) and aesthetic (electricity pylons, suburban sprawl); many current 'pollutants' were originally invoked as crisis responses: napalm and 'Agent Orange' as weapons of war, insecticides as weapons against dirt and disease in the home. Our approach will be dual. We shall explore the physical impact of rapid social and industrial development on rivers, oceans, air, land, and people. We shall also analyze ways in which societies have chosen to manage pollution dilemmas, ranging from sanitation solutions in eighteenth century Edinburgh (where open street sewers drained into the loch below the city) to the twentieth-century burial of nuclear waste, proposals to project waste into outer space, and recycling. Second semester. Visiting Professor Payne.