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3: Geographic and Historical Context

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    This second module in the Future of Food course provides a historical overview of the emergence and development of food systems until the present. Module 2.1, the first half of this module, describes the transition from hunting and gathering to the domestication of crop plants in human prehistory, including the origin of major food crop plants and the locations and processes of domestication, e.g. the emergence of wheat in the eastern Mediterranean or the potato in the Andean region. These processes are seen through the lens of the coupled human-natural systems framework that is introduced in Module 1 and used throughout the course. As part of this historical overview, concepts surrounding human interaction with crop plants and wild relatives are introduced such as the global regions supporting domestication or centers of diversity; or the concept of niche construction as a clear example of human-natural systems interaction. In the second half, module 2.2, we describe the history of food systems as four successive stages during which human innovation responded to both human and natural drivers and feedbacks. These stages span from early domestication activities to the most recent transitions of agriculture and food production towards more globalized trade networks, along with facing the challenges of sustainability.


    • Describe food systems as coupled human-natural systems.
    • Define and describe different phases in the history and development of food systems within human history.
    • Describe key interactions (e.g. drivers, feedback) that exist within coupled human-natural systems (CHNS).
    • Explain key human and natural system factors that explain the emergence of food system phases in human history, using a CHNS framework.
    • Start researching and choose a capstone region.

    Learning Objectives

    After completing this module, students will be able to:

    • Describe the major features of hunter-gatherers’ use of food and the environment.
    • Define and describe the domestication of plants and animals in early agriculture.
    • Define and give examples of spatial diffusion, adaptation, niche construction, and carrying capacity in environment-food systems.
    • Define and describe each of the four (4) principal historical-geographic periods of environment-food systems.
    • Give examples of early domesticated plants and animals and their region of domestication.
    • Within a Coupled Human-Natural Systems framework, relate fundamental drivers and feedbacks in natural and human systems over prehistoric and historical time to the development and spread of agriculture and other changes in food systems over time.
    • Relate the origins and current dominance of agriculture to the concept of the Anthropocene period presented in module one.



    Module 2 Roadmap

    Detailed instructions for completing the Summative Assessment will be provided in each module.

    Module 2 Roadmap
    Action Assignment Location
    To Read
    1. Materials on the course website.
    2. Domestication. National Geographic, Education Encyclopedia.
    3. Jared Diamond, "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”, Discover Magazine, May 1987, pp. 64-66
    1. You are on the course website now.
    2. Online: Natural Geographic
    3. Online: The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
    To Do
    1. Summative Assessment: Drivers and Feedbacks in the Development of Food Systems
    2. Participate in the Discussion
    3. Take the Module Quiz
    4. Start researching and choose a capstone region.
    1. In course content: Summative Assessment; then take the quiz in Canvas
    2. In Canvas
    3. In Canvas


    If you prefer to use email:

    If you have any questions, please send them through Canvas e-mail. We will check daily to respond. If your question is one that is relevant to the entire class, we may respond to the entire class rather than individually.

    If you prefer to use the discussion forums:

    If you have any questions, please post them to the discussion forum in Canvas. We will check that discussion forum daily to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate.

    This page titled 3: Geographic and Historical Context is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Heather Karsten & Steven Vanek (John A. Dutton: e-Education Institute) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.