Environmental History Graduate Programs

Jan 10, 2019

Typically only offered at the doctoral level, there are several environmental history programs available from various institutions. Students in these programs are typically required to complete a dissertation and teaching responsibilities throughout their time in the program. Here we take a closer look at some program details for Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Environmental History programs.

Information for Doctoral Degree Programs in Environmental History

PhD programs in environmental history may allow students to further specialize in different time periods, methodologies or regions within the field. Due to this diverse nature of the field, courses for these programs vary greatly and may range in the time period or geographic location they focus on, but below we explore some of the common course themes and topics for these degree programs.

Environmental History

Doctoral students will usually take at least one course in environmental history that provides a large overview of the field. Some of these courses may look at the environmental history of the earth as a whole, while others may take an overview of a specific region, such as America. Typically, these courses include topics in the cultural attitudes and perspectives of humans towards nature and may include various readings from environmental movements and/or discussions of environmental issues. Other specific topics may include biodiversity, conservation biology, ecological stability and the ecological role of humans.


These programs usually provide at least one course for students that examines the topic of food and agriculture in history. Some of these courses may focus on more current and contemporary methods for sustainable food and agriculture, while others may examine the development of agriculture through history. The courses that look at sustainable food and agriculture may discuss topics in food justice, organic farming, controlled environmental agriculture and other issues concerning food production and consumption. Courses taking a broad approach to the development of agriculture may discuss topics about farmer and city/government interactions and the effects of new advancements and techniques on agriculture.

Climate/Environmental Change

Although these courses vary greatly by program, most programs include at least one course that discusses some aspect of environmental change. Some of these courses specifically look at climate change and how these changes affect history and even lead to societal collapse. Other courses may examine ecological change and biotic evolution in addition to climate change and how these play into the history of the global environment. Although rare, some of these broader, more interdisciplinary courses may include a laboratory section.

American Environmental History

Once again, these courses vary, but students in these programs can usually select a course that examines some aspect of American environmental history in detail. Some of these courses may examine a specific time period, such as the 20th century, while others look at a specific topic in environmental history, like the history of energy in America. Either way, these courses discuss how the environmental history has changed and developed over time. These changes usually include topics in technological advancements, the role of politics and/or economics and social effects.

Justice, Ethics and Nature

These courses go by various names and may have different focus points, but most programs include a course that explores the interdisciplinary topics of environmental ethics, justice, policy and management. Usually, these courses explore environmental inequities and the different factors that play a role, such as gender, race or class, as well as an overview of different environmental-related ideas and movements. Some of these courses may focus on specific topics in ethics, like right ethics, justice ethics or duty ethics. Other courses may also allow students to work in groups for case studies, presentations and/or research projects.

Common Entrance Requirements

PhD in Environmental History programs may be small and only accept 6 to 8 students, depending on the program. Typically, students are admitted on a full-time basis and need to hold at least a bachelor's degree. Most of these programs require applicants to take the GRE and include their transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation and a personal statement with their application. It is also fairly common for these programs to require a writing sample and/or a resume or CV.

Students interested in studying environmental history can pursue a PhD from various schools in the field and further specialize within the field. Usually, students need to complete a dissertation prior to graduation.

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