Human Ecology and Culture at Lake Mývatn 1700-present: Dimensions of Environmental and Cultural Change

Description, information and application instructions below

Please direct any inquiries about travels, accommodation or other logistics our program CO-director Ragnhildur Sigurðardóttir:


An interdisciplinary course in Environmental Humanities and Social Sciences will be held in Summer 2022 in Bárðardalur, northeastern Iceland. The course will connect local communities and issues with global developments, with a particular focus on the scenic Lake Mývatn area and the Bárðardalur valley on the banks of the glacial Skjálfandafljót River with its magnificent waterfalls. The course will provide a unique blend of lectures and experiences of cultural histories embedded in landscapes.


June 17th to 27th 2022


Kiðagil, Bárðardalur, northern Iceland. Approximately 60 km (50 miles) from Iceland’s northern capital of Akureyri.

Who is the course for?

The course is designed for Master’s and Doctoral students who wish to supplement their studies with a unique site-specific curriculum in the environmental humanities and social sciences. The course also welcomes post-graduates, professors and scholars looking for new insights and inspirations in post-and transdisciplinary methods, as well as a stimulating exchange of ideas; in particular during a special workshop on the last two days of course.

Course Description

The course will engage a range of questions concerning the human dimensions of environmental change and the effects of such change on environments and societies grounded in interdisciplinary orientation to case-based study. In particular, the course foregrounds questions of long-term societal resilience and cultural responses in the face of climate change, competition and societal conflict over natural resources, effects of early globalization and anthropogenic transformation of landscapes and ecosystems at multiple times scales.

The primary focus is the interplay between humans and nature at Lake Mývatn, and adjacent areas in northeastern Iceland, during the period 1700 to the present, with a particular emphasis on rivers and water systems. Through lectures and excursions, topics focusing on: climate history; environmental history; archaeology; ecology; and socioeconomic history will be presented along with poetry, local tales, fiction, musical activities as well as official records such as trade documents. Students will become acquainted with a variety of data and documents and will have “hands on” experiences of crucial areas/landscapes such as the Framengjar wetlands, as well as being able simply to enjoy and appreciate the beautiful and dramatic local landscapes, hiking in areas full of history many of which are exclusive and not frequently travelled by tourists.

The course will involve multiple excursions and lectures in the field and integrates perspectives, theories, case studies and methodologies from the following disciplines: Environmental Humanities; Literary Ecocriticism; Cultural Creativity; Environmental and Climate History; Environmental Archaeology and Anthropology; Historical Ecology; Ecosystem Ecology; Population Ecology, Limnology, Natural Resource Use Management, Tourism, and Manuscript Studies. 

Course Programme

Course programme for June 2022 is under development, but will not differ significantly from Aug 2021 course which can be seen  here


Course Design

The course will consist of a series of lectures on the topics and themes mentioned above, as well as field-study visits and excursions (hiking and driving along rough mountain trails) for the benefit of approximately 10-20 participants. The course is based primarily on the ongoing work of a team investigating long-term human ecodynamics and environmental change in the Lake Mývatn area and draws on the US National Science Foundation-funded project: Investigations of the Long- Term Sustainability of Human Ecodynamic Systems in Northern Iceland (MYCHANGE) and the RANNÍS (Research Council of Iceland)-funded project The Mývatn District of Iceland: Sustainability, Environment and Change ca. AD 1700 to 1950 (MYSEAC). Senior researchers from these projects will lecture during intensive daily sessions, which also include mentoring tutorials with participating graduate students.

Course Organizers

Co-organized by: The Svartárkot Culture-Nature Project and Hólar University, with co-operation with the Icelandic Museum of Natural History; the City University of New York; and the Stefansson Arctic Institute, in cooperation with the Humanities for the Environment (HfE) Circumpolar Observatory; NABO (The North Atlantic Biocultural Organisation); NIES (The Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies); GHEA (The Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance); and the Circumpolar Networks case of IHOPE (The Integrated History and Future of People on Earth), a core project of Future Earth. 

Course Evaluation / Requirements for a Diploma

The course can be taken with or without credits. The course is equivalent to 7,5 ECTS, issued by Hólar University  for those seeking a diploma. The certificate will contain a thorough description of contents, reading material, lectures and excursions. The overall student workload estimated is approximately 200 hours. The anticipated workload breaks down as follows:

  • Readings and assignments before arrival in Iceland: 60-80 hours
  • Sessions in class (lectures and discussions): c. 30 hours
  • Field trips often with lectures included, 40 hours
  • Preparation of term paper after finishing the sessions on location 60-80 hours–due within 4 weeks of the end of the course

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing the course, the student is expected to be able to:

  • identify key aspects of ecocritical approaches to literature from the period ca. 1700-the present.
  • identify the environmental significance of literary texts and genres, in particular as carriers of environmental memory and change in the context of regional cultural changes.
  • in an interdisciplinary manner, be able to identify the different approaches of the humanities and social- and natural sciences, such as ecocriticism, ecology, climatology, environmental history and archaeology in order to analyse environmental aspects of past cultures.
  • address questions on long-term connections between societal, cultural and environmental changes, and understand how rural communities and natural ecosystems have adapted to multiple disturbances and climatic change.
  • identify cultural and literary evidence of anthropogenic change to landscape and environment.
  • understand the role of traditional ecological knowledge, and agricultural- and cultural history in a modern rural society.
  • understand the importance of biodiversity, and ecological diversity on sustainable resource use management in complex systems over long timescales.
  • to recognize the different forms of cultural heritage, and their manifestation in the landscape
  • to be able to assess the importance of cultural heritage for the interpretation of human-nature interactions.
  • to be able to discuss the various issues concerning the protection and utilisation of cultural heritage.


All lectures and coursework will be in English.


For students $800

For professionals $950

The course fee includes transport to and from the town of Akureyri and all travel related to the course excursions. 

The course fee does not include travel expenses, accommodation and meals.


Accommodation and meals is offered by the course venue Kidagil guesthose, Bárðardalur valley, through this link. Prices are TBA and vary depending on whether single rooms with private or shared facilities are selected. Accommodation in shared rooms or in the campsite at the Kiðagil guesthouse is also an option.

Please note that the venue is rural, and there is no public transportation available, so renting a car is necessary for those selecting another accommodation option than the course venue itself.


During transportation from Akureyri to the course venue and back at the end of the course, lectures will be delivered. It is thus a part of the curriculum and included in the cost. Participants must arrange their own travel to Iceland and on to Akureyri.

Application Deadline

May 30th. 2022


Please e-mail the following form to

Application form – docx

Application form – pdf