Term: January 2023 - January Term - online (12/28/2022 - 01/20/2023)
Grade Mode: Letter Grading
Times & Locations
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The course explores the historical relationship between human societies and energy. Consider the contemporary United States, for instance. Its citizens make up some 5 percent of the world’s population but account for a quarter of the world’s energy consumption. Why? Is there something in American society that predisposes it to high energy consumption, or did the high consumption make American society? In other words, what is the relationship between the political, economic, and cultural evolution of modern America, and the evolution of its energy systems? And what does that relationship look like in other parts of the world?
Over the course of the semester, we will examine the history of energy production, distribution, and consumption around the world, together with the varied and evolving sociotechnical systems built up around those activities. We will grapple with questions of technological and social determinism – whether certain technologies make certain societies inevitable, or whether perhaps it is the other way around. Each week, we will explore one or two sources of energy, and look at their impact on the societies and people involved in its generation, distribution, and consumption. We will see how energy can shed light on topics as varied as geopolitical power relations, war, labor organizing, gender roles, leisure activities, and the climate.