ES 310 / ANTH 311: Environmental Anthropology

Fall 2019
MWF 9:00-9:50
UMOM 101

Jim McDonald, Instructor
Office: UMOM 205
Phone: 205.665.6195
Office Hours: M-F 3:00-5:00
Course Materials: Available on Campus


“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you” 
~Jane Goodall (1934-)

Course Description

Anthropology has long been interested in the interrelationship between human cultures and societies, the ecosystems in which they are intimately embedded in all places on the earth. It started out as ecological anthropology or cultural ecology and took a tight academic focus on human-ecosystems. We can ask such interesting questions as how humans conceptualize nature and the environment, and render them meaningful? Environmental anthropology shares those concerns but additionally asks how we can use that anthropological knowledge and apply it to contemporary environmental issues. Thus, environmental anthropology takes on a far more applied/practical/critical/advocacy approach. 

Along the way we will consider a number of provocative ideas including the following:

  1. Can we distinguish humans from the natural world? Typically in Western thought, we create a hard distinction between humans / nature, as if culture and society separates us from, shields us against, and elevates us above nature. This course will challenge that stale and false binary by arguing that we are inextricably embedded in our ecosystems as a relational totality. 

  2. How do humans act upon the world? The common Western answer to this is that our actions are driven by our superior cognitive abilities that are realized in thought, planning, and decision-making. The course will argue that our though is as much a consequence of our actions as it is a driver of them.

  3. What is the human trajectory? Western thought argues that there is a definite directionality and purpose (here think of things like the concept of progress or Manifest Destiny). The course challenges the idea that the human story is one of triumphant progress toward some imaginary pinnacle—automatic and inevitable evolution. 

The course is divided into two parts:

The first part takes an historical look at the development of the field with an emphasis on cultural ecology, ethnoecology, ecosystems, Amazonia, complex systems, and spiritual ecology.  This will give us a solid foundation for the toolkit of ideas that anthropologists bring to the study of the environment. 

The second part will look at some of the critical areas that have been of concern, and drawn anthropologists and allies in an advocacy role. This will include population, consumption, warfare, place/landscape, and the Anthropocene. 

Course Objectives

  1. Students will have the opportunity to understand major theories and practitioners in environmental anthropology, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of those approaches.

  2. Students will have the opportunity to understand the broad historical trends and topics, and why those changed over time.

  3. Students will have the opportunity to understand diverse cultural perspectives on nature, ecology, and the environment.

  4. Students will have the opportunity to engage with local and global environmental politics in informed and inquisitive ways.

  5. Students will have the opportunity to speak, write, and think more critically and clearly about the world around us. 

Course Format

This is a critical thinking course. Each week we will do the following…. Each Monday and Wednesday will be a more or less traditional lecture and discussion focusing on the textbook and. Fridays will be dedicated to an open discussion of a podcast or Youtube clip exploring an environmental topic. I will provide a series of prompts for these discussions beforehand. My current podcast of choice is “Cultures of Energy” put out weekly by anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer. Each episode has about 10-14 minutes of banter between Howe and Boyer followed by about a 50 minute chat with some really interesting person on an environmental topic. This will be supplemented with TED Talks, TED Radio Hour, and a few other assorted goodies that I’ve tracked down.

Course Schedule

Week of: Topic:    Readings:
Aug 26   Intro to the course What is anthropology? Townsend Ch 1
Pod: CoE #32 (Johnson)
Sept 2 (Labor Day) In the beginning… Julian Steward & Cultural Ecology  
Sept 9 Ethnoecology
Local knowledge, landscapes & nature / culture
Townsend Ch 3
Pod: CoE #164 (Kohn)

Quiz #1 Friday Sept 13
Sept 16 Pigs for the ancestors
What is an ecosystem?
Townsend Ch 4
Pod: CoE: #46 (West)
Sept 23 Amazonian hunter-gatherers Townsend Ch 5 
Pod: CoE #51 (Kawa)

Short Paper #1: How do Kohn and Kawa compare and contrast in their visions of Amazonia?

Sept 30 Complex societies
Enter the state
Townsend Ch 6
Pod: CoE #8 (Nelson)

Quiz #2 Friday Oct 4
Oct 7 Spiritual Ecology Townsend Ch 13
Joanna Macy and the Great Turn video
Pod: CoE #34 (Taylor)
Oct 14 Population Townsend Ch 10
Pod: Global Development 
Podcast—Population Growth
Oct 21 Consumer culture Townsend Ch 14
Story of Stuff video
Pod: CoE #115 (Reno)

Quiz #3 Friday Oct 25
Oct 28 Warfare Townsend Ch 8
Anthro Airwaves “The Military Present,” Episode 3 (Osman)

Short Paper #2: When thinking of the pressing issues of population, consumption, and warfare, which is the biggest problem facing the future of humanity?

(NOV 1 – last day to drop with a “W”)
Nov 4 Place Pod: 99% Invisible “Depave Paradise” #355
Nov 11 Place Pod: NDN Science Show “Connecting to Place” #14

Quiz #4 Friday Nov 15
Nov 18 Anthropocene Townsend Ch 9
TED Radio Hour: Anthropocene
Nov 25 Nov 27-29 (TG) Anthropocene TED Radio Hour: Climate Crisis

Short Paper #3: What’s the difference between the weather and the climate? Is there a climate problem? Can you, as an individual, do anything to positively influence climate change?
Dec 2 Anthropocene TED Radio Hour: Future Consequences

Quiz #5 Friday Dec 6

Dec 11 Final Research Papers due Wed 12/11 by 10am 

Assignment and Grades

Quizzes (25%)

Five quizzes will be spaced out every three weeks or so across the semester. These will cover all materials for the course. 

Participation and Contribution (25%)

Your participation grade is a composite of your attendance on Fridays and the quality of your participation. The topic of that discussion will be that week’s podcast. Prompts will be made available to you prior to that Friday’s discussion to help guide your thoughts.

Writing Assignments (25%)

You will also have three written assignments that are responses to readings and podcasts. These should be 1.5-2 pages (one inch margins, something equivalent to Times Roman 12 point font). Each short paper should be turned in on Friday of the week it is assigned. 

Research Paper (25%)

At the end of the course you will have the opportunity to write a 5-7 page research paper on the environmental topic of your choice with at least five scholarly sources (materials written by academics or their close cousins – deep investigative journalists). Here’s a tip: be sure to focus your topic so that it’s not overly broad and unwieldy. 

Toward the end of the class, we will dedicate part of a Friday to having you tells us your topic and why you chose it. You should also submit a written one page summary: topic, problem, and your proposed argument. 

The first paragraph of your full research paper should lay out the problem you are going to address, discuss the materials you have put together to address that problem, and point to your conclusions.

Each paper must have one inch margins, 12 point Times New Roman font (or something equivalent), and be double spaced. The paper should have a title that appropriately reflects the subject of the paper.  I will hand out a format style guide, but we will use the Chicago Manual of Style (it’s really pretty darned easy and straightforward). 


A = 100-90%; B = 89-80%; C = 79-70%; D = 69-60%; F = <60%

A = 360-400 points; B = 359-320 points; C = 319-280 points; D = 279-240 points; F = <240 points

Late Work

Late work will be accepted but will have half a grade point deducted for each day your work is late. 

University Policies

Disability Policy

The University of Montevallo provides equal opportunity to qualified students. If you have a disability (medical, physical, learning, psychological, etc.) and wish to request disability-related accommodations to complete course requirements, contact Disability Support Services (665-6250). 

Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty

Plagiarism means using the exact words of another person’s work/writing without acknowledgement of your source through the use of quotation marks and correct citation/documentation; rephrasing a passage of another writer without giving proper credit; using someone else’s facts or ideas without acknowledgement; using a piece of writing for one course that was already used in a previous course (or in courses in which you are simultaneously enrolled) without express permission from both instructors to do so; presenting fabricated or falsified citations or materials. A plagiarist/cheater is subject to failure in the course and/or appearance before the Justice Council.

Course Withdrawal Deadline

The last day for students to withdraw from a course and receive a grade of “W” is November 1.

Student E-Mail

UM e-mail is an official means of communication among students, faculty, and administrators at the University of Montevallo and might be THE official means of communication between you and your instructors. You may receive very important UM e-mail messages from offices on campus for which some timely response will be required. The official email system for students is identified by and can be accessed at the Campus Email link on the Montevallo website. You are responsible for monitoring and managing your account regularly, even during breaks. You are responsible for all announcements, requests, and/or sensitive information delivered to your UM e-mail account [including Canvas messages], including information related to this course. You may electronically forward your UM e-mail to another e-mail address (e.g.,,, but at your own risk. The University is not responsible for the handling of forwarded e-mail. Having e-mail forwarded does not absolve you from the responsibilities associated with communication sent to your official UM e-mail address. If you have any questions regarding or problems with your UM email account, you should contact the Solution Center (205-665-6512). The Solution Center is available Monday – Thursday, 8:00 am-7:00 pm; Friday, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

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