Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Course Descriptions > Earth History

Earth History

Mitchell W. Colgan
, College of Charleston


An overview of the 4.5 billion-year history of our planet as revealed by analysis and interpretation of the geologic and paleontologic record preserved in rocks of the earth's crust.

Course Type:
Entry Level:Historical Geology Entry Level

Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in separate lecture and lab components. The lecture is taught by the professor and the lab is taught by TAs.

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

This is the second class in a two-course general education science sequence. The students have taken either a physical geology or an environmental geology class before attending this class. A three-hour historical laboratory course is a co-requisite. The vast majority of students are non-science majors, and less than 5% are geology majors.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? no

Course Content:

The topics covered in this course are:
1. Plate tectonics mountain building
2. Geologic time (and the history of time)
3. Fossils and uniformitarism
4. Sedimentology and stratigraphy
5. Sedimentary environments
6. Historical perspective of global change
7. Ice ages
8. Precambrian geology
9. Origin on the earth and the earth's systems
10. The geologic history of North American province
11. Evolution of vertebrates
12. Early tetrapod evolution
13. Dinosaurs diversity
14. Evolution of flight bird, bats, and pterosaurs
15. Origin of mammals and Mesozoic mammal diversity
16. Diversification of Cenozoic mammals (horse and whale evolution)
17. Primate and human evolution

Course Goals:

Many of the students are non-science majors, and this is their last science class. When they leave my class, I want them to have a renewed excitement and interest about the world around them. I attempt to demystify science and show them that an appreciation of science enhances the quality of their lives even though they are not scientists.

The class will enable students to:
1. increase their understanding of Plate Tectonic and geological processes
2. develop a better understanding of evolution and the connectivity between all living things
3. appreciate earth's long geological history
4. use sedimentary and stratigraphic information to interpret the environmental and geologic history of a location.
5. understand the complex interaction between geology and biology
6. better understand their connection to the earth and its history
7. gain a historical perspective of global change
8. use and understand geological and paleontological methods to interpret the past

Course Features:

I teach large introductory classes, between 90 and 150 students, and I provide well-organized lectures. Because of the class size, I have added two discussion sessions to provide a more inviting venue for student discussions and questions. The lectures also reinforce and support laboratory activities.

Course Philosophy:

The predominated lecture mode of the class is conducive teaching such large class sizes. I attempt to foster an active learning atmosphere where students ask questions, debate and are involved in classroom learning. I bring in new scientific findings to the class, and I update and rewrite each of my lectures. I spend long hours perfecting my PowerPoint presentations, and I develop new visual aids to illustrate my lectures.


The students take four examinations.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 126kB Jun25 08)

References and Notes:

Wicander and Moore, 2007. Historical Geology - Evolution of Earth and Life Through Time 5th ed. Brooks/Cole. pp. xv + 440.