The traditional focus of agricultural history has been the study of rural landscapes, societies, and economies, as well as agricultural production and technologies. In contrast, environmental history has adopted a more interdisciplinary research approach, offering both ecological and political analyses, and addressing the world's current environmental crises from a historical perspective. Drawing on the environmental perspective, this article explores the development of human food production. Subsistence has been an important part of history from the earliest times to the advent of modern, industrial agriculture. The seasonal migrations of gathering and hunting peoples were based on their procurement of food. Although the emergence of farming and herding led to the rise of urban, elite classes specializing in other activities, food production remained the focus of the vast majority of people in agrarian empires. This article investigates the transitions between three basic modes of production: what I. G. Simmons has called the distinct "cultural ecologies" of gatherer-hunter, agrarian, and industrial societies.
This chapter examines the role of science in environmental history. Environmental historians use science as a tool for revealing the material past. At the same time, however, they study science as a set of culturally mediated ideas about the non-human world. The chapter also discusses three different calls for “new directions” in environmental history and its relationship to science: the first by US scholar Edmund Russell, the second by Sverker Sorlin and Paul Warde, and the third by US historian W. Jeffrey Bolster. Russell encourages environmental historians to integrate scientific theory (specifically evolutionary theory) into their central scholarly identity. Sorli and Warde argue environmental historians need to acquire more critical distance from science and participate more fully in the reflexive turn in the social sciences, while Bolster called on environmental historians to collaborate with scientists without embracing the more quantitative social sciences and turning the past into an ecological baseline.
Brett L. Walker
In 2005, Kenton Joel Carnegie, a geological engineering student, was attacked and killed by four wolves on a trail near a uranium mine in Saskatchewan. Carnegie’s kill site evokes the many tricky theoretical issues that arise when writing about nonhuman animals, and serves as a cruel reminder that humans are indeed animals. This chapter explores the principal lesson of writings on animals in environmental history, focusing on two broad themes: the intimacy of violence and the intimacy of transcendence. It considers environmental history’s preoccupation with the role of nature’s agency in driving history and cites Val Plumwood’s “death roll” with a crocodile in the wetlands of the Kakadu National Park in Australia as a reminder that animals possess real agency in the world of humans. It discusses colonialism and empire as a persuasive example of humans setting “conditions on life” through biological and cultural transcendence.
Disease has emerged as a key topic in the field of environmental history. This chapter surveys the intersections between histories of disease and environmental history in three key areas: conquest and colonization, urbanization and industrialization, and the re-emergence of infectious diseases in the late twentieth century. Critiquing work that has focused predominantly on presumed differences in immunities among racialized populations, this chapter argues that the best histories of disease combine deep knowledge of the social and material changes that contribute to illness with a critical perspective on the cultural contexts that have produced past and present understandings of disease. Scholars have generated excellent studies on the environments and uneven geographies of urban pollution and their contribution to tuberculosis, asthma, and obesity, particularly among the working classes. In the 1990s, the AIDS pandemic generated immense scientific interest in emerging infectious diseases and its environmental components, opening up new topics for environmental historians.
This chapter explores the cultural and political dimensions of climate change in the past and present in order to highlight the achievements and limitations of environmental history as a discipline. It argues that scholarly work on climate historiography has become particularly strong in terms of sources, knowledge, agency, and culture. Yet there are things that still need to be done, as researchers continue to face significant obstacles that they must overcome, from environmental determinism to the careful analysis of scientific data used to reconstruct precise climatic data, the persistence of stories about how distinct peoples have perceived and explained both climate and their environments, and the difficulty of identifying the historical agency of climate.
Andrew R. Graybill
This chapter focuses on recent historical literature that explores the interconnection between borders and the environment in North America and other parts of the world, with emphasis on state sovereignty. It discusses topics and issues raised by leading scholars in their writings, including the competition between national states for control of natural resources such as land, water, and wildlife; the role of borders in determining the human impact upon ecosystems; and how landscape shapes human perceptions of regions that defy and transcend the borders of the singular nation-state. The chapter concludes by considering future directions in research on borderlands and environmental history.
This article discusses that with a new focus on patients and the quality of care, illness experiences have become an important topic in recent years in scholarly and biographical literature, but also in the wider world of newspaper, inviting comparisons with nineteenth-century accounts of consumptive lives and deaths. This article is about continuities of consumption and tuberculosis and the historical change that has obscured them. It discusses the belief in medical progress and its power, informed by laboratory research in bacteriology and physiology, replacing the feeling of impotence characterizing earlier medical encounters with incurability. It further suggests that the continuities with consumption go beyond descriptions, shaping the ways in which we deal with chronic illness today. It concludes with reasons for the use of comparative accounts to balance the dominance of the American case in the historiography and also histories of chronic illness in the developing world.
This chapter examines the intersection between environmental history and urban history, with emphasis on the place of nature in the city and vice versa. More specifically, it considers the central role of cities in environmental history as confluences of nature and culture. The chapter begins with an overview of urban origins and natural settings, particularly the creation of colonial cities by settlers and early efforts to merge nature and the city. It then turns to a discussion of how industrialization and urbanization transformed nature into capital and cities, what makes American cities different from other cities of the world, and scholarly work that explores the link between nature and the city. Finally, it assesses thematic variations on environmental urban history, focusing on disasters, inequality, and sprawl.
This chapter explores the complex relationship between nature and nation in American history. It first considers Philadelphia physician John Kearsley Mitchell’s juxtaposed placement of Niagara Falls and George Washington as great and unable to be described. It then turns to a discussion of the environmental history of the United States, with emphasis on how nation, nationalism, and nationhood are linked to environmental realities and environmental perspectives. It also cites examples of scholarly works, including Perry Miller’s Errand into the Wilderness and Nature’s Nation.
This chapter examines the development and historiography of environmental diplomacy, broadly defined, and it argues that there are opportunities for environmental and diplomatic historians to cross their disciplinary boundaries. It discusses three types of environmental diplomacy: bilateral treaties aimed at regulating access to fisheries; multilateral treaties that apply conservationist principles to fish and other wildlife; and accords that address pollution control. The chapter concludes by assessing the environmental ramifications of traditional diplomacy.