HUMN 3109 Catastrophe: The Environmental History of the Ancient World

Credit Points 10

Legacy Code 102835

Coordinator Brett Bennett Opens in new window

Description This subject examines past human interactions with the environment with its primary focus on the ancient Mediterranean and Near East between 2000 BC to 1600 AD. Case studies include Sumer, the lost civilisations of the Sahara, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Maya and later European colonial empires. Students will assess, evaluate and synthesize data drawn from environmental history to analyse how the limits of natural resources constrain civilisations. The subject asks how catastrophic collapse of civilisations informs the sustainability of our own societies. Key topics will be soil fertility, deforestation, desertification, and climate change from ancient times to the Anthropocene.

School Humanities & Comm Arts

Discipline History

Student Contribution Band HECS Band 4 10cp

Check your fees via the Fees page.

Level Undergraduate Level 3 subject

Equivalent Subjects HUMN 3020 - Catastrophe The Environmental History of the Ancient and Modern World


Successful completion of 60 credit points of study in currently enrolled program.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this subject, students should be able to:

  1. Define the interaction between Nature and Civilisation in the past
  2. Explain the concept of resource constraint
  3. Evaluate competing paradigms of environmental explanations for the collapse of civilisations in the ancient world
  4. Define, with empirical examples, the key concepts: civilization�f, �enature�f, �eenvironmentalism�f, �eempire�f, �edesertification�f, �edesiccation theory�f, globalism
  5. Distinguish civilisations of the world in terms of their relationship with nature

Subject Content

Civilisation and Nature: an overview
The World Inheritance: Religion and Nature
The Sumerians: For the want of a tree a kingdom was lost?
Ancient Greece and Deforestation
Ancient Rome: Soil Fertility and the Rot in the Heart of the Empire
The Mayan Catastrophe: Deforestation and Starvation?
Central Asia: Desertification on the Silk Road
Columbian Exchanges and Encounters 1400-1600
Colonialism and the fear of Global Desert
Forests and Power: An Australian Fantasy
Air Pollution and Climate Change
The Globalization (and future collapse?) of Nature
The Natural Limits of Homo Sapiens


The following table summarises the standard assessment tasks for this subject. Please note this is a guide only. Assessment tasks are regularly updated, where there is a difference your Learning Guide takes precedence.

Type Length Percent Threshold Individual/Group Task
Essay 3,000 words 50 N Individual
Critical Review 750 words 25 N Individual
Presentation 5-10 minute presentation/ written notes 750 words 25 N Individual

Teaching Periods

Summer (2024)

Penrith (Kingswood)


Subject Contact Brett Bennett Opens in new window

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