CCHU8003 Arts and Humanities
Critical Zones: Our Toxic Environment and the Question of Well-Being


[This Common Core course is delivered in a Research Seminar format, a flexible learning structure focused on collaborative research, project-based learning, public sharing of the students’ discoveries, and clear goals for impact. The course is a small transdisciplinary research project with between 6 to 16 students in which students and staff co-create the course. It is open to students from ALL Faculties.]

Course Description

This course explores the relationship between our built environment, the culture from which it springs, and human health. We will examine a number of cases related to environmental health, both in the past and the present time. Does lead in drinking water make us stupid? Does air pollution cause lung cancer? Are plastics bad for our fertility? These questions have been asked, but yet to receive adequate assessment. While scientists are trying to delineate the association between hazard exposure and effects, and governments are ensuring citizens that such exposures are within safety limits, environmental activists are instead beating their drums with new evidence of toxicity. Who should we trust? Using the history of science and science, technology and society (STS) methods as lenses, this course will guide students to investigate the connections between hazard exposure and effects on health from various perspectives. Through seminars, debates, films, and projects, this course aims to help students develop useful and ethical thinking patterns against the background of exposure science’s uncertain nature. It also trains students to become engaged citizens who are ready to respond to changing local and global environmental issues.

Application Method

Students who wish to take this course need to have fulfilled the following requirements:

  1. in Year 2 and above; and
  2. having already passed one course in the Arts and Humanities AoI and cannot have completed two

Students who are interested in taking this course and have fulfilled the above prerequisite requirements should apply to enroll on the course by email to together with a copy of

  1. academic transcript (student copy); and 
  2. letter from your home Faculty granting Advanced Standing / Credit Transfer for CC credits (if applicable). 

Application period: From now until September 15, 2020 (Tue) (4:00 pm) 

The selection of students will be performed by the course co-ordinator. Applications submited outside of the application period will NOT be considered.

Please note that in the event that a student has failed a CC Research Seminar, s/he will not be allowed to take another one.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the ethical, cross-cultural, and historical context of environmental issues and the links between human and natural systems.
  2. Understand the transnational character of environmental problems and ways of addressing them, including interactions across local to global scales.
  3. Reflect critically about their roles and identities as citizens, consumers and environmental actors in a complex, interconnected world.
  4. Apply knowledge acquired during the course through project works to propose practical solutions for current environmental agenda at local and everyday-life level.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Course will be offered twice
Section 1 – First semester (Wed and negotiated dates for the intense teaching week);
Section 2 – Second semester (Wed and negotiated dates for the intense teaching week)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 4
Tutorials 6
Seminars 12
Fieldwork / Visits 12
Reading / Self-study 48
Film viewing 2
Assessment: Group project (incl preparation) 26
Assessment: Presentation 4
Assessment: Electronic portfolio 24
Total: 138

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Portfolio 40
Quality of participation in tutorial discussions 10
Video production 30
Group project presentation 20

Required Reading


  • Berridge, V., & Gorsky, M. (2011). Environment, health and history. Palgrave Macmillan. [Introduction (pp. 1-22)]
  • Boudia, S., & Jas, N. (Eds.). (2014). Powerless science? Science and politics in a toxic world. Oxford: Berghahn. [The greatness and misery of science in a toxic world (pp. 1-26)]
  • Kimura, A. H. (2016). Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists. Duke University Press. [Introduction]

Journal article:

  • Onaga, L., & Wu, H. Y. –J. (2018). Articulating genba: The particularities of exposure and its study in Asia. Positions: Asia Critique, 26(2), 197-212.

Required Viewing

  • Haynes, T. (Director). (2019). Dark Waters.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr H.Y.J. Wu
Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 3917 9073
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr H.Y.J. Wu
Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 3917 9073