Theme Thursday – Interaction Between Humans and the Environment

Human/environment interaction focuses on four major areas:

  • Demography and disease
  • Migration
  • Patterns of settlement
  • Technology*

How do populations change? What makes them change? Where do people migrate, and why? What factors either pushed people out of their former homes, or pulled them toward their new ones? Why are certain areas far more settled than others? For example, examine this map created by the US Census bureau. You’ll notice that the highest concentration of people is along the coasts, particularly the east coast. The lowest population density is out west, particularly in places such as Montana and Wyoming. Historians are interested in how and why that is. Finally, historians are interested in the development of technology in order to help us adapt to the environment. Note that with this theme we are interested in both how humans adapt their environment to their needs (farming, building roads, creating dams) and how humans adapt in order to function better in their environment. This can be long term genetic adaptation, such as less body hair on people who live in warmer climates, to shorter-term acclimatization, such as changes in breathing and heart rate when going from lower to higher altitudes.

Consider the earliest of humans. These hunter-gatherers were nomadic, usually collected into small groups. In order to ensure survival, groups had to remain small because the hunting-gathering lifestyle would not support larger groups of people. You would not want to have a group so large as to exhaust the available food supply. Humans also had very little in the way of personal belongings, since they were on the move so much and carried everything they did own. What they decided to carry had to have enough value to take up space, so for the most part personal belongings were unheard of in early hunter-gatherer societies. Your “stuff” would basically be those tools that you needed for hunting, and as tools developed and became more sophisticated, your hunting would be more profitable. But remember, if you were a hunter-gatherer, your diet would vary greatly by season, as would your location.

So, how might this theme show up in APWH class? Questions to think about:

  1. How and why did the Neolithic Revolution occur? (hunting-gathering à farming)
  2. What are the social and economic effects of the development of settled agriculture?
  3. What technological developments are necessary to make settled agriculture possible?
  4. What impact did the migrations of Vikings, Mongols, Arabs and Aztecs have?
  5. What impact does the newly expanded global trade of the early modern era (1450 – 1750) have?
  6. How does the development of new medical technologies impact exploration and imperialism in the 19th century?
  7. What is the impact of declining birth rates in countries like Japan, Norway and Spain in the 20th and 21st century?

* College Board. (2010) World History Course Description. Retrieved from


7 comments on “Theme Thursday – Interaction Between Humans and the Environment

  1. Mary Cate Scully says:

    (Sorry I accidentially submitted my comment without finishing)
    On the flip side there are some negatives to farming societies. I thing the most common example would be famine. When the main crop or several crops go bad due to unexpected circumstances, the entire settlement could starve or be wiped out. Disease is another factor that can dwindle down the size of a village. When people live close together disease spreads faster and easier. To wrap things up agricultural settlements have both positive and negative factors but for the most part the positives outweigh the negatives.

  2. Mary Cate Scully says:

    (My earlier part didn’t submit again sorry for the confusion)

  3. Mary Cate Scully says:

    To answer question 2, there a positive and negative factors that influence agricultural societies economically and socially. On the positive side, farming socities develop close communities and people develop friends and neighbors which is good for anybody’s self-esteem and mental health. Also, farming is a more reliable food source with a constant flow of profit and food for the community. Looking at things historically, it is found that many large cities develop from farming societies. An example would be New York City which was inhabited by the Dutch prior to taking off as a city. Another example would be the Northern Virgina area which used to be mostly famrland. There are positive influences that shaped both ancient agricultural societies and our world today.

  4. Jacky Cheng says:

    When humans migrated, they had to eventually come to the same spot. As they returned they may have noticed more agriculture from the biowaste they had originally left when they first came. After a few times of migration they would have discovered that this would have been a way to keep a steady food supply instead of depending on a lot of natural changes to occur. If you can keep a steady food supply you can increase the amount of inhabitants to become a civilization. But of course there would have to be a leader(s) to keep the civilization in stability. This would also cause a need for trade to survive causing a creation of an economy. To keep this steady food supply you would need an irrigation plan and tools such as the plow. Finally you have to realize that over time technology advances and so does the civilization.

  5. Connor Shaffer says:

    All the way back in the hunter-gatherer period, pre-evolved man would migrate from place to place given different climate changes and the availability of food. In the Neolithic Era settlement came around thanks to the technological advancement of irrigation. Later on in the Renaissance era there was the Bubonic Plague that killed millions. Disease of this sort wiped out the european population which was a devastating blow to the interactions between humans and the environment. When Christianity came about, missionaries would travel long distance to spread and teach about the new religion. This kind of religion was widely accepted but also caused religious wars.

  6. Ellie Kyle says:

    The migration and settlements of humans over the years is an intriguing topic. Nomadic people or hunter-gatherers moved place to place only for the purpose of food running low in the current area or the temperatures becoming unbarable. However, these days it’s more of a matter of work, family, travel, or just curiosity that drives people to new places. As cities become more populated they become more specialized, populated, and successful. This drives people to them with interest and new ideas of what they want to do with their life. It became more econmically secure and seemingly smarter to leave the classic farming way of life, generally more toward the mid-west, where nearly every factor of your life was centered around how well your crop did. Some people find this close-knit lifestyle more comforting and know how to work with the land to provide themselves with a stable life. However most people find that relying on how you alone perform and not how the weather and land affect your livelihood more secure. The fact that more of these jobs can be found at the cities drives them out of the mid-west toward their city of choice.

  7. Joshua Prosser says:

    The Neolithic Revolution was the beginning of agriculture. Because it meant only a small
    number of people were required to help meet the nutritional needs of the community,
    this was a great leap for the societies of the day. The start of agriculture also meant that
    those not involved in agriculture had to earn their food another way, creating the
    skilled laborer (i.e. carpenter, doctor, blacksmith). The laborer used his/her skill to help
    farmers who didn’t have the time, or others would were not able to do that skill, in return
    for food or other services. Gender roles were also affected by agriculture. Societies
    became governed or led almost exclusively by males as patriarchal systems, while the
    women were expected to raise the children and tend to the house. Meanwhile,
    technologies were being developed to ease the strain on those involved in agriculture.
    Some of the earliest of these technologies included the shovel, early irrigation systems,
    and wheelbarrows. Agriculture also opened the door for pioneers. After the Neolithic
    Revolution, people not only had time to engage themselves not only in the specialization
    of labor, but also leisure activities. This sparked the beginning of discovery into different
    sciences, as well as the start of written languages. The Neolithic Revolution was also the
    start of recorded history.

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