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School of Environment, Education and Development

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BSc Geography
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BSc Geography / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Environmental Change and the Human Past

Unit code GEOG20302
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Overview

The course considers key questions and ideas about environmental change during the Holocene.  The human-environment relationship is explored, thinking not only about how humans have altered their environments, but also how environmental change has altered human activity.  The main topics covered are listed below. There is a one-day field class, where key field skills will be taught.  This is followed by a series of laboratory practicals which will cover sediment description and pollen analysis.  Sediments, fossils and the archaeological and historical records will be considered as archives of environmental change, with case studies drawn from the British Isles, the rest of north-west Europe, the islands of the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific Islands.    

Aims

  • To introduce key ideas about environmental change and human activity during the Holocene, the last 11,500 years or so.
  • To explore the ways in which humans have had an impact on their environments, and in turn, how environmental change has impacted on human behaviour.   
  • To introduce new field and laboratory skills and provide basic training for palaeoecology dissertations.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, you should be able to:

  • Understand some of the key ideas of environmental change and the methods of environmental reconstruction.
  • Begin to understand the complex interplay of climatological, ecological, geomorphological and anthropogenic factors in shaping the natural environment during the Holocene. 
  • Design and conduct research exploring environmental change.
  • Record and interpret changes in sediment stratigraphy in the field and laboratory.
  • Identify fossil pollen and other microfossils from an archive of environmental change.

Syllabus

Week 1: Introduction and evidence of environmental change (2 hours)

Week 2: Wildwoods (2 hours)

Week 3: Seminar: Research design (1 hour)

Fieldclass: stratigraphic survey and field sampling (1 day)

Week 4: Human Impact on the biosphere (2 hours)

Laboratory practical: sediment description and characterisation (2 hours)

Week 5: Human impact on the lithosphere (2 hours)

Laboratory practical: introduction to microscopy and pollen identification (2 hours)

Week 6: Human impact on the atmosphere (2 hours)

Laboratory Practical: Fossil pollen identification (2 hours)

Week 7: Hazards and the human past (2 hours)

Laboratory Practical: Data analysis and interpretation (2 hours)

Hand-in Field and Laboratory notebooks (2pm, Thursday 15 March 2018)

Week 8: Study Week     

Week 9: Study Week  

Week 10: Climate and Society (2 hours), Hand-in Practical report (2pm, Thursday 26 April 2018)

Week 11: Ecocide: the collapse of past societies (2 hours)

Week 12: Course summary (2 hours)

Teaching and learning methods

The course unit will be delivered by lectures, discussion seminars, field and laboratory practical classes and workshops.  The approximate breakdown will be 18 hours of lectures, a one-day field class and 9 hours of laboratory classes and workshops.     

Extensive material will be available on Blackboard including lecture slides, selected reading material, reading lists, notes and information relating to the assessments.  In addition there will be TV and radio clips relevant to the course and links to external websites.  

Transferable skills and personal qualities

During this course unit, you will be encouraged to develop the following abilities and skills:

  • Critical reading and evaluation of research literature
  • Reasoning and effective communication
  • Teamworking and time management
  • Practical field skills (borehole transects, accurate and precise surveying) and laboratory skills (pollen identification, sediment description and characterisation)
  • Handling and interpreting a large and complex data set including some statistical analysis
  • Production of professional quality maps and diagrams using a range of software packages
  • Clear and concise field and laboratory report writing

Assessment methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

·         Verbal feedback through discussion and interactive activities within the lectures, seminars and workshops

·         Verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours

·         Formative and summative feedback on the field and laboratory notebooks

·         Formative and summative feedback on the practical report

·         Formative and summative feedback on the exam performance delivered through Academic Advisor meetings 

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • Verbal feedback through discussion and interactive activities within the lectures, seminars and workshops
  • Verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours
  • Formative and summative feedback on the field and laboratory notebooks
  • Formative and summative feedback on the practical report
  • Formative and summative feedback on the exam performance delivered through Academic Advisor meetings 

Recommended reading

Key readings will be highlighted for each lecture and seminar.  Most of these will be made available as pdf files and posted on Blackboard, but please note that not everything you need to read to read for this course will be available through Blackboard.  The key textbook for this course unit is:

Bell, M. & Walker, M.J.C. (2005) Late Quaternary Environmental Change: Physical and Human Perspectives. 2nd Edition. Pearson, Harlow, 348 pp

Other useful texts include:

Anderson, D.E., Goudie, A.S. and Parker, A.G. (2007) Global Environments through the Quaternary. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Goudie, A.S. (2006) The Human Impact on the Natural Environment: Past, Present and Future. 6th Edition. Oxford, Blackwell.

Lowe, J.J. and Walker, M.J.C. (1997) Reconstructing Quaternary Environments. 2nd Edition. London, Longman.

Roberts, N. (1998) The Holocene: An Environmental History. 2nd Edition. Oxford, Blackwell. 

 

Key Journals

Journal of Quaternary Science; The Holocene; Journal of Archaeological Science; Vegetation History and Archaeobotany; Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology; Geoarchaeology. 

There are sometimes useful contributions in Journal of Ecology; Journal of Biogeography; Quaternary Science Reviews; Quaternary Research; New Phytologist; Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology; Antiquity; Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 5
Lectures 16
Supervised time in studio/wksp 9
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Ryan Unit coordinator

Additional notes

GEOGRAPHY STUDENTS READING WEEKS IN WEEK 6 AND 9

 

 

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