Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Environmental History as Global History (Anne Gerritsen)

The primary issues to be discussed are, firstly, what is the nature of environmental history (and its recent historiography), and, secondly, how does environmental history inform, enlarge or perhaps critique our understanding of global history? As to the first, environmental history has taken a rich variety of forms and addressed a great number of very different issues: sometimes the focus has been on local ecologies and how these shape history over time; at others environmental history has been concerned with enfolding crises, such as epidemics and famines. Or it has sought to explain the fundamental changes brought about as a result of European expansion and colonial intervention. But, secondly, environmental history has also addressed changes in the global distribution of power, the role of factors beyond human control, as well as the environment as a site of technological and political changes of global consequence.

Key Reading

David Arnold, The Problem of Nature: Environment, Culture and European Expansion (KAROLINA)

Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, vol. 1 (for the global perspective, see also his Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800

Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Compare this with Crosby’s earlier book, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (CLAIRE)

Richard Drayton, Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (ANQI)

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate since the Year 1000

J. R. McNeill, ‘Observations on the Nature and Culture of Environmental History’, History and Theory, 42:4 (2003), pp. 5-43 (ALL)

W. H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (HENRY)

Donald Worster (ed). The Ends of the Earth: Perspectives on Modern Environmental History, esp. for essays by Worster and Crosby (ROXANNE)

Further Reading

Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephants: A Global History of China

William Beinart and Lotte Hughes, Environment and Empire

Caroline Ford, ‘Nature’s Fortunes: New Directions in the Writing of European Environmental History’, Journal of Modern History, 79 (2007), pp. 112-33, and idem, ‘Reforestation, Landscape Conservation, and the Anxieties of Empire in French Colonial Algeria’, American Historical Review, 113 (2008), pp. 341-62

Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860

John F. Richards, The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World

Dipesh Chakrabarty, "The Climate of History: Four Theses" Critical Inquiry 35.2 (2009): 197-222.

Anthony Penna, The Human Footprint: A Global Environmental History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).