Environmental World History for Beginners

Robert Mevissen's picture

I am here wondering what textbook people would recommend to teach a global environmental history survey course for first-years?

This fall I was responsible for teaching a Non-Western World History course (taught from an environmental perspective) as one of my first classes out of graduate school. I am teaching students with little to no knowledge of world history and who are not history majors. I assigned William and John McNeill's "The Human Web" to provide a good overview of world history (with certain environmental themes). My lectures detailed environmental case studies each week (Mesopotamia vs. Egypt Nile, Roman and Han Chinese Empires' environmental impacts, etc), which alligned generally with the book's periodization. Early in the semester, one student asked why we read "Human Web" instead of an "environmental history textbook." 

This was and is my concern: It seems like there is no environmental history 'textbook' meant for non-historian undergrads (with the exception of Hughes' Environmental History of the World, which is great but doesn't provide students the same historical overview/range that The Human Web does). Global environmental histories like those by Simmons, Hughes, Radkau, Ponting, Marks, and Burke are wide-ranging and great for students familiar with both history and environmental historiography, but are difficult to assign for a general survey class because they are either:

1) thematically organized rather than strictly chronological

2) too esoteric with lots of historiographical references

3) good but not as wide-ranging to cover all the regions of the non-Western world we need to discuss (Hughes)

4) great for world history introduction but too short of a period (Marks) 

5) a bit outdated.

Does anyone have suggestions/recommendations for a single book that they have used for such a class? I think it is easier to have a single author/work rather than providing PDFs of disparate chapters and articles that may be more clearly environmental and may match my lectures better but would likely confuse students without an overarching narrative or argument. 

Thank you,

Robert Mevissen

Visiting Assistant Professor 

SUNY College at Old Westbury

mevissenr@oldwestbury.edu