History/Social Studies

Introduction to Climate in Human History 

Climate events have played a major role in shaping the course of human history. Numerous examples of such events are listed below, and their impacts on human history are explored in this learning resource.

The drop-down menus below contain links to in-site webpages developed by the Smith College Climate in Arts and History team. The display below features selected images from these pages. The Exploration (In Progress) menu lists additional topics that are in development to become full-length entries. 

  • BCE = Before Common Era
  • CE = Common Era
  • c. = circa (approximately)

This illustration shows temperature variations (in ℃) over the last 11,000 years and some corresponding events in human history (from “Climate in Human History” in Prothero, Donald R., and Robert H. Dott. Evolution of the Earth. 8th ed, McGraw-Hill, 2010).

The Americas
The Near East

Transition into the Little Ice Age (800-1500 CE)

Atlantic Ocean
The Little Ice Age
Modern Age (1800s CE-present)

Prehistory: Human Evolution and Migration (3 million years ago-3000 BCE)

  • Disappearance of Ancient Hominids in Europe (c. 1.1 million years ago)
  • Evolution and Diversification of Hominids in East Africa (c. 100,000 BCE)
  • Domestication of the Dog (c. 12,000 BCE)
  • Rise of Plant and Livestock Domestication in Western Asia (c. 9000 – 7000 BCE)
  • Decline of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Cultures (c. 6500 BCE)
  • End of the African Humid Period and Formation of the Sahara Desert (c. 3500 BCE)
  • Neolithic Dispersals

Ancient Civilizations (5000 BCE-1200 CE)

  • Rise and Fall of Civilizations in Northern Africa
  • Collapse of the Liangzhu Civilization (c. 2500 – 2300 BCE)
  • Rise and Fall of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE)
  • Rise and Fall of the Tang Dynasty (618 CE – 906 CE)
  • Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps (218 CE)
The Americas
  • Development of the First City-States (c.3000 BCE)
The Near East
  • Development of the First Great Civilizations in the Fertile Crescent and Their Agricultural Practices (c. 5000-4000 BCE)
  • Rise of Highly Complex, Centralized Governments (e.g., the Egyptian pharaohs and Babylonian kings) (c. 3000 BCE)
  • Megadrought and Collapse of the Akkadian Empire (c. 2200-1900 BCE)
  • Collapse of the Hittite Empire (c. 1160 BCE)
  • Collapse of the Assyrian Empire (c. 600 BCE)
  • Decline of the Eastern Roman Empire (c. 540 CE)

Transition into the Little Ice Age (800-1500 CE)

  • Abandonment of the Mughul city Fatehpur Sikri in India (1585) 
Atlantic Ocean
  • Establishment of Icelandic Settlements (865-930)
North America
  • Rise and Fall of the City-State of Cahokia (1050-1350)
  • History of the Anasazi Puebloans in the American Southwest (1271-1285)
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Relationships to Climate (Pre-Colonialism) 
Pacific Ocean
  • Polynesian Voyaging and Settlement of Eastern Pacific Islands (c. 800 – 1500)
  • Egyptian Famine (1784)
  • Expansion of the Whaling Industry (c. 1500 – 1800)
Colonial America
  • Pilgrims’ First Winter (1620)
  • Economies of the Thirteen Colonies
  • Pequot War (1636)
  • King Philip’s War (1675-1676)
  • Native American Raids (c. late 1600s)
  • Signing of the Treaty of Paris (1784)
  • Impact of Colonization on Climate and Indigenous Peoples
  • Climatic and Environmental Knowledge of the Northeast as an Advantage in Indigenous Resistance to Colonization 
  • Russian Famine (1601-1603)

Modern Age (1800s CE – present)

  • Cholera Epidemic (1816 – 1823)
  • Influenza Pandemic (1918-1919)
  • Climate and Physical Health (recent)
  • Earthquakes and Volcanic Activity (recent)
  • Food and Agriculture (recent)
  • Human and Animal Conflicts (recent)
  • Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Peoples Globally (recent)
  • Severe Storms (recent)
  • Shutdown of Ocean Circulation in the Atlantic Ocean (recent)
  • Chinese Opium Trade (early 1800s)
  • British Search for the Northwest Passage (1819 – 1845)
The United States
  • Manifest Destiny (1800s)
  • Western Migration (c. 1816)
  • Relations with Indigenous Peoples (c. 1816)
  • The Panic of 1819
  • Stranding of the Donner Party (1846)
  • The Homestead Act of 1862 (1862)
  • The Great Depression (1929-1940)
  • The Okie Migration (1930-1940)
  • The New Deal (1933-1939) 


  • Brooke, J.L. Climate Change and the Course if Global History: A Rough Journey. Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Dartnell, L. Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History. Basic Books, New York, 2019.
  • Lieberman, B. and Gordon E. Climate Change in Human History: Prehistory to the Present. Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.
  • Prothero, D. R. and Dott, R. H. Evolution of the Earth (8th ed). New York, McGraw-Hill Education, 2010.
  • Wood, G. D. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press. 2014.