The natural environment is all around us. It is the air we breathe, the water we drink, the

food we eat, the resources we mine, the energy we harness, and the animals we keep. It is inside

us, too; it is the bacteria in our gut. In sources as old as the Epic of Gilgamesh, people have

understood the struggle between human civilization and the natural environment as the one of the

most important of their lives. For millennia, the natural environment shaped and set limits to the

growth and integration of human populations. Advances in technology in the last few hundred

years have enabled human civilization to overcome many of these limits and to shape their natural

environment in turn. Has world history seen the triumph of human civilization over the natural

environment? Or will the natural environment have the last laugh when we finally eat and pollute

ourselves out of a home? These questions are too big and too speculative to take on directly in

your paper, but they can and should inspire your thinking.

Your task is to write a research paper (7–10 pages) about an encounter between the natural

environment and human civilization sometime between the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in the

14th century CE and the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor Disaster in 1986. Your paper should address

the nature of this encounter, how and why it happened, and the way people made sense of it. How

did it change human attitudes about each other and/or the environment? Your paper should be

based on a close reading of at least one book-length primary source document with the help of at

least one secondary source, to provide background, context, and/or alternative interpretations.

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