HI6037 - Environmental disaster in modern Britain

What will I learn on this module?

Sometimes it can seem that concern about climate change and the broader environmental crisis is a recent phenomenon whose effects are largely felt in other parts of the world. This module challenges these assumptions. You will learn about the origins of these concerns in their British context through five environmental disasters that shaped Britain after the Second World War. They are the devastating east coast floods of 1953, the collapse of the spoil heap onto a school at Aberfan in Wales in 1966, the wrecking of the Torrey Canyon, an oil tanker, off the Cornish coast in 1967, the near-extinction of birds of prey as a consequence chemical pesticides in the 1950s and 60s, and the hurricane that caused widespread destruction to woods and forests in 1987. You will spend two weeks on each of these case studies. The first week will focus on the event itself and its human and non-human causes and costs. The second week will focus on the event’s long-term political, social, and cultural consequences. Among the questions you’ll consider are: How did public opinion and the media respond to these disasters? What short and long-term effects did they have on government policy? In what ways did these disasters catalyse the development of the modern environmental movement? How has our understanding of what constitutes a natural disaster changed over time? You will learn about the historical development of theories of climate change and you will be able to contextualise historically the environmental crisis that is shaping political culture today and develop a greater understanding of why it is so difficult to agree on possible solutions.

How will I learn on this module?

You will learn on this module by attending a weekly seminar. The first part of each seminar will include a mini lecture, introducing that week’s subject and the themes for discussion. This will be followed by a focus on the set reading (available via the electronic reading list) and the historiographical debates related to the subject area. This will involve small group work and larger group discussion and will be structured around a pre-circulated worksheet, which will include a set of questions. Following a short break, the last part of the class with focus on primary sources. You will receive formative feedback throughout the learning process and the summative assessment will match your learning against the learning outcomes for the module.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Your academic development will be supported through your module tutor, engagement with your peers, and through the programme leader. The module tutor will be accessible within publicised Feedback and Consultation hours and via email. Your peers will provide you with a collaborative learning environment, and your programme leader will guide you through the requirements and expectations of your degree programme, of which this module is part. You will also be supported through individual engagement with the academic literature, lectures, and resources available on the eLP. Formative feedback will be on-going through seminar activities and assessment tasks.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. Knowledge and understanding of how the natural environment became a source of political contention in modern Britain.
2. An appreciation of the origins of the current environmental crisis and why it is difficult to agree possible solutions

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. Demonstrate a range of transferable skills, including the ability to make independent critical judgements, to critically evaluate sources, to summarise the research of others, and to present arguments in a cogent and persuasive way.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
4. Awareness of and sensitivity towards different social groups and interests engaged in environmental politics.
5. Engagement with ethical questions concerning environmental justice and ‘more-than-human’ perspectives, and how they can be translated from historical to contemporary contexts.

How will I be assessed?

1 x 3,000-word essay (weighted 50%)
This essay will be based on the first half of the module and written in response to one question chosen from a list provided by the module tutor.

1 x 3,000-word essay (weighted 50%).
This essay will be based on the content of the second half of the module and written in response to one question chosen from a list provided by the module tutor.

Formative feedback for each assessment will be provided in seminars. Verbal and written feedback will be given on all summative assessed work. Feedback on initial summative assessments will enable you to improve on later ones.





Module abstract

This module will help you to understand the development of environmental politics in Modern Britain and the emergence of ‘more-than-human’ perspectives in historical and political writing. You will consider how the rise of consumer society and late industrial capitalism relied on the intensive exploitation of natural resources and why this generated a new kind of politics. Examining these issues will help you to understand how Britain’s natural environment has been transformed in the last 70 years, why this transformation generated significant political tensions, and the origins of the current environmental crisis, particularly climate change. By taking this module, you will therefore develop a greater understanding the difficulties inherent to reconciling public and private interests, leaving you able to make sense of some of the most pressing political challenges facing Britain today, particularly with respect to how they are linked to local and national developments and global processes.

Course info

UCAS Code T720

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


Useful Links

Find out about our distinctive approach at 

Admissions Terms and Conditions

Fees and Funding

Admissions Policy

Admissions Complaints Policy