Environmental history

Environmental history is the study of humans and nature and their past interrelationships.

Environmental historians base their understanding of human and nature relations primarily on historical methodology, but often borrow from the work of scientists and scholars in fields outside of history. As a result, many scholarly contributions pertinent to environmental history are written by scholars who typically would not identify themselves as historians.

Main strands

There are three main strands of environmental history: material environmental history, focusing on changes in the biological and physical environment; cultural/intellectual environmental history, focusing on representations of the environment and what it says about a society; and political environmental history, focused on government regulation, law, and official policy. J. R. McNeill. "Observations on the Nature and Culture of Environmental History," "History and Theory", (December 2003), 5-43 ]


Various historians had touched on environmental themes throughout history, but it was not recognised as a specific field. Most of it focused on the impact of environmental factors on a society's development. Environmental change, or human agency in the change was rarely explored. Such commentary as existed usually focused on imagined pasts and romantic laments about change. The development of the Annales school in the 1920s was very influential on the development of environmental history as it focused away from political and intellectual history, toward agriculture, demography, and geography. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, a pupil of the Annales school, was the first to really embrace environmental history as we might understand it today in the 1950s. ]

The modern field of environmental history emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s in conjunction with the rise of environmentalism as a social movement. Many of the early works focused on pre-industrial societies and their relations to their environments, often with the explicitly political aim providing an alternative to the modern "exploitative" relationship. ]

A scholarly organization emerged out of a breakfast session at the 1976 American Historical Association meeting (or was it Organization of American Historians?), with John Opie playing the key role among the founders. That organization, the American Society for Environmental History began to publish a newsletter, "ASEH News" and also a scholarly journal. The journal first entitled "Environmental Review" was developed to support scholars interested in the study of human/nature interactions. The journal went through several title changes, including "Environmental History Review", and is currently published under the title "Environmental History".

Climate history

Climate history is often considered a part of environmental history, and certainly shares many areas of study. Climate history is sometimes more the realm of scientists than historians, but it also relies on archival and textual sources for some of its studies. Climate history is of topical interest today in light of disputes over climate change.

One of the main areas of interest for climate historians is crop yields in relation to climate patterns. For example, a recent study of El Niño patterns suggests that the French Revolution was caused in part by the poor crop yields of 1788-89 in Europe, resulting from an unusually strong El-Niño effect between 1789-93. [Richard H. Grove, “Global Impact of the 1789–93 El Niño,” Nature393 (1998), 318-319.]

Predecessors to the field

*Annales School
*Aldo Leopold, "A Sand County Almanac"
*George Perkins Marsh, "Man and Nature"

Key texts in the field

*Alfred Crosby,
*William Cronon, ""; "Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West"
*Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephants; An Environmental History of China
*Carolyn Merchant, "The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution"
*Diana Muir, "Reflections in Bullough's Pond"
*J. R. McNeill, "Something New Under The Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-century World"
*Roderick Nash, "Wilderness and the American Mind"
*J. E. de Steiguer, 2006. "The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought." University of Arizona Press. Tucson 246 pp.
*Conrad Totman, The Green Archipelago; Forestry in Pre-Industrial Japan
*Richard White (historian), "The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River"
*Donald Worster, "Dust Bowl"; "Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas"

See also

*Women and the environment through history

External links

* [http://www.aseh.net American Society for Environmental History]
* [http://eseh.org/ European Society for Environmental History]
* [http://www.eh-resources.org/ Environmental History Resources]
* [http://www.environmentalhistory.org/ Environmental History Timeline]
* [http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/departments/espm/env-hist/eh-internet.html Environmental History on the Internet]
* [http://www.foresthistory.org Forest History Society]
* [http://fennerschool-associated.anu.edu.au/environhist/ Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network]
* [http://niche.uwo.ca Network in Canadian History and the Environment]
* Jaarboek voor Ecologische Geschiedenis (Dutch Yearbook for Environmental History (summaries in English)http://www.stedengeschiedenis.nl/pages/Milieugeschiedenis.html


Further reading


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