Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Syllabus Archive

The following syllabi come from a variety of different terms. They illustrate the evolution of this course over time, and are intended to provide alternate views into the instruction of this course.

Spring 2010, Harriet Ritvo (PDF)

Spring 2008, Harriet Ritvo (PDF)

Spring 2005, Harriet Ritvo (PDF)


This class examines the relationship between the study of natural history, both domestic and exotic, by Europeans and Americans, and exploration and exploitation of the natural world, focusing on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


The following books (all paperbacks) are available for purchase at the MIT Bookstore and on the internet, as well as in the MIT Library Reserve Room. Readings not contained in these books will be available on the class Web site or on reserve.

Buy at Amazon Beinart, William, and Lotte Hughes. Environment and Empire. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780199562510.

Buy at Amazon Cook, James. Journals of Captain Cook. New York, NY: Penguin, 2000. ISBN: 9780140436471.

Buy at Amazon Crais, Clifton, and Pamela Scully. Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780691147963.

Buy at Amazon Darwin, Charles. Voyage of the Beagle. New York, NY: Modern Library, 2001. ISBN: 9780375756801.

Buy at Amazon Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. New York, NY: Verso, 2002. ISBN: 9781859843826.

Buy at Amazon Driver, Felix, and Luciana Martins. Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780226164717.

Buy at Amazon Grove, Richard H. Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens, and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1660-1860. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780521565134.

Buy at Amazon Melville, Elinor G. K. A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequencess of the Conquest of Mexico. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997. ISBN: 9780521574488.

Buy at Amazon Pielou, E. C. After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992. ISBN: 9780226668123.

Buy at Amazon Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. ISBN: 9780415438179.

Buy at Amazon Richards, John F. The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780520246782.

Buy at Amazon Ritvo, Harriet. The Platypus and The Mermaid: And Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN: 9780674673588.

Buy at Amazon Rudwick, Martin J. S. Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995. ISBN: 9780226731056.

Buy at Amazon Wallace, Alfred Russel. The Malay Archipelago. (Volume 1, Volume 2) Singapore: Periplus, 2008. ISBN: 9780794605636.


A research paper of at least 25 pages will be due at the end of the semester. A topic proposal will be due in class during Week #5 and a progress report will be due in class during Week #7. Students will schedule individual conferences with the instructor during Week #8 to discuss the paper. All stages will be presented orally as well as in writing.

In addition, each week there will be student introduction of the discussion of the readings.