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Environmental History

This week considers the growing field of environmental history. Initiated in the 1960's, the field has grown dramatically in more recent years. It stands at the crossroads of many other disciplines: political history, history of science, as well as social and cultural history.

For a brief overview of the evolution of the field to the mid 2000s, see here.

 

Questions

  • How has the field of environmental developed over the last two decades?
  • How are these different historians practicing 'environmental history'?
  • Is the concept of ‘the Anthropocene’ of particular use to global historians?
  • What methods are used in studying environmental history?
  • What are the methodological challenges involved in doing this kind of history?

 

Core reading

  • Pomeranz, ‘World History and Environmental History’, in E. Burke and K. Pomeranz (eds.), The Environment and World History (Berkeley, 1999).
  • Worster, ‘The Vulnerable Earth: towards a planetary history', in D. Worster (ed.), The Ends of the Earth: perspectives on modern environmental history (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 3-22.
  • R. McNeill, ‘Observations on the Nature and Culture of Environmental History’, History and Theory, Vol. 42, No. 4 (2003), pp. 5-43.

 

Further Reading

 

  • F. Richards, The Unending Frontier: an environmental history of the early modern world (Berkeley, 2003), esp. pp. 58-86.
  • R. McNeill and C.R. Unger (eds.), Environmental Histories of the Cold War (2010)
  • Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1800 (Cambridge, 1995)
  • Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge, 1986)
  • Parker, Global Crisis: war, climate change and catastrophe in the seventeenth century (2014), pp. xxiv- and 668-685.
  • W.Crosby, ‘The Past and Present of Environmental History’, American Historical Review (October, 1995)

Truffle Hunt (Primary sources)

As an interdisciplinary enterprise, environmental history draws on many different kinds of sources. Much depends on the questions you want to ask. To get a sense of the range of topics and questions, skim through an issue or so of Environmental History, available through the Library's catalogue. What kinds of sources are used to answer what kinds of questions?

If you are interested in the juncture between the environment and politics, you might look for speeches on the environment given by political leaders. What do they reveal about the tension between concerns and aspirations? To get a sense of these kinds of sources, check the list provided at the bottom of this webpage on the topic. Then try to locate similar such sources on your own.

In addition to these questions, you might also consider: 
  • How might these types of datasets be used by historians? 
  • What role might historians have in the creation, curation and dissemination of these datasets? 
  • What is the place of archival research in modern environmental history? 
Sources for doing it yourself: 

 

Natural History Museum archives 
UN Food and Agricultural Organisation archives 
Kew Gardens: Joseph Hooker project 
North American Drought Atlas 
Environment and Society: timeline