Legacy of Humans and their Environment
Legacy - HNRS 1120

Instructor(s): Lizabeth Johnson

Course Description

Since the beginning of recorded human history, human beings have had a close, but often adversarial, relationship with their environment. The early myths of Near Eastern and European society demonstrate that Babylonians, Egyptians, and Israelites recognized that they were dependent upon their environment for survival, but at the same time they feared the power of their environment. Beginning with the Greeks and Romans, however, humans began to control and dominate their environment through agricultural practices and the technology that they used to subjugate the environment to their needs. Medieval Europeans inherited this more dominant relationship with the environment, but medieval society’s inability to control the environment became evident with the beginning of the Little Ice Age in the early 1300s. By the end of the middle ages, however, the discovery of new scientific techniques and tools, as well as new lands, led to a re-imagining of European society’s relationship with the environment.  When Europeans arrived in the Americas in particular, they began to dominate the land once again, much as the Greeks and Romans had once done, which included seizing land which was regarded as sacred from Native Americans. In North America, the belief in Manifest Destiny led to a particularly American understanding of the environment and its potential uses, including the burgeoning industries of logging, mining, grazing, and drilling for oil. But in the 20th century, the cost of Manifest Destiny became apparent both to government officials whose job was to ensure the continuation of these industries and to conservationists who feared that the environment itself, on a local and global scale, would be harmed by the rapid and continual growth of these industries. In this class, we’ll examine sources from these different periods in the complex relationship between humans and their environment, with a particular focus on 20th and 21st century American debates over land use and conservation, climate change, and environmental racism. 


  • The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by N.K. Sandars, Penguin Classics, 1960 revised edition. ISBN 978-0140441000. 
  • Students will also have to buy a copy packet of readings for class. 


  • Active participation in class discussions 
  • Two analytical papers (800-1000 words) on class readings  
  • One synthesis paper (1600-1800 words) on class readings 
  • Participation in a group project and presentation 

About the Instructor(s): Lizabeth Johnson

Dr. Lizabeth Johnson has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History.  Her particular focus in history is Medieval Britain, and she has published articles on domestic violence, prostitution, and women’s activity in the courts of Medieval Wales.  Her early work in biology was focused on ecology and environmental science.