Fall 2023 - HIST 377 D100

Environmental History (4)

Class Number: 3578

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Wed, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 7, 2023
    Thu, 11:59–11:59 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units, including six units of lower division history.



Examines the reciprocal influences between humans and nature through time. Topics may include settlement, agriculture, technology, politics, urbanization, science, and conservation. Students with credit for GEOG 377 may not take this course for further credit.



Photo: Joan Oliver and guide Chris Hasler near Lake Louise, Alberta, 1936. WJ Oliver fonds, CU1128964. Glenbow Library and Archives Collection, University of Calgary Libraries. 

We live, it has been said, in a country with too much geography and not enough history. Yet no corner of Canada remains pristine, or untouched by people. Even the most remote places bear traces of human activity throughout time.

This course explores Canada’s geography and history through the lens of environmental history, an interdisciplinary field that studies the reciprocal relationships between humans and the non-human world in the past. We will consider three overarching questions:

  • How have non-human actors (plants, animals, microbes) and factors (topography, climate) shaped human affairs in the northern half of North America?
  • How have different Indigenous and settler communities understood and represented Canadian environments through science and art?
  • How and why have people in what is today Canada made changes, both accidental and deliberate, in the lands around them—and with what consequences?

We’ll also discuss some historiographical and methodological issues central to the field. These will include the relationship between environmental history and environmental activism, the unfortunate tendency of environmental history to depress rather than inspire its readers, and the possibility of writing critical, but “hopeful” environmental histories instead.

This course is designed to complement HIST/GEOG 432, which I am also teaching in fall 2023. 377 focuses on the environmental history of Canada—that is, it uses historical case studies to analyze reciprocal relationships between humans and the non-human world in what is presently Canada. 432 scrutinizes the field of Canadian environmental history. It considers what topics, voices, and debates have shaped research and teaching about this subject in 21st-century Canada, and what these might tell us about this community of historians and body of historical scholarship as a whole. 377 is not a prerequisite to 432. You can take both courses simultaneously and get two totally different perspectives on environmental history in Canada.


By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Assess how human and non-human actors and factors have altered Canadian environments over time, and with what consequences
  • Analyze how social and cultural interpretations of Canadian environments have changed over time, and situate these in appropriate historical and cultural contexts
  • Discuss key historiographical and methodological issues in the field of environmental history with reference to course content
  • Practice and hone the skills of interpreting, evaluating, and synthesizing primary and secondary sources in various formats.


  • Participation 15%
  • Ecological imperialism paper 20%
  • Place “biography” 32.5%
  • Final exam 32.5%



All readings will be made available on, or will be linked to from the course’s Canvas website.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.