The Desert

CCOL-UH 1021

About the Course

The desert has been imagined as a barrier, a dry ocean, a bridge, and a hyphen between various ecological and cultural spaces across the globe. Drifting, parched tides of sand and vast, empty landscapes have made it seem uninhabitable and a metaphor for exile, difficult journeys, spiritual resurrection, and death.

This course explores the ways in which the desert has been depicted and experienced in various historical, cultural, and geographic contexts—from the Sahara to the Mojave, from the origins of Abrahamic religions to Burning Man, from desert oasis to urban food desert. The course will also consider the future of deserts in the global challenge context of climate change, desertification, and resources (water, oil, solar).

Students will encounter the desert through diverse sources that include film, literature, soundscapes, musical performances, environmental and social history, artistic production, fieldtrips, and travel writings. So, even while the desert is an environmental reality that makes inhabitation difficult, it is still a space of demographic, cultural, and economic activity and exchange.

Why Students Should Take This Course

The Desert offers students a multidisciplinary view on the history, culture, and ecology of the world's deserts, both real and imagined. What global environmental policy challenges does desert life pose? What imaginative and even spiritual possibilities has the desert afforded different cultures through time? What will you find when you venture into Abu Dhabi's desert landscapes?

Taught By

Erin Pettigrew

Assistant Professor of History and Arab Crossroads Studies

CCOL-UH 1021