The city of Machu Picchu was constructed c. 1450 AD, at the height of the Inca Empire. It has commanding views down two valleys and a nearly impassable mountain at its back. There is an ample supply of spring water and enough land for a plentiful food supply. The hillsides leading to it have been terraced to provide farmland for crops, reduce soil erosion, protect against landslides, and create steep slopes to discourage potential invaders.
Environmental history is the study of human interaction with the natural world over time. In contrast to other historical disciplines, it emphasizes the active role nature plays in influencing human affairs. Environmental historians study how humans both shape their environment and are shaped by it.
Environmental history emerged in the United States out of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and much of its impetus still stems from present-day global environmental concerns. The field was founded on conservation issues but has broadened in scope to include more general social and scientific history and may deal with cities, population or sustainable development. As all history occurs in the natural world, environmental history tends to focus on particular time-scales, geographic regions, or key themes. It is also a strongly multidisciplinary subject that draws widely on both the humanities and natural science.
In 1967 Roderick Nash published "Wilderness and the American Mind", a work that has become a classic text of early environmental history. In an address to the Organization of American Historians in 1969 (published in 1970) Nash used the expression "environmental history", although 1972 is generally taken as the date when the term was first coined. The 1959 book by Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920, while being a major contribution to American political history, is now also regarded as a founding document in the field of environmental history. Hays is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Pittsburgh.
The Oxford Handbook of Environmental History, ed. Andrew C. Isenberg, published October 2014, provides an extensive overview of the field, with 25 essays, three parts and 743 pages (at $ 141).
There is no universally accepted definition of environmental history. In general terms it is a history that tries to explain why our environment is like it is and how humanity has influenced its current condition, as well as commenting on the problems and opportunities of tomorrow.Donald Worster's widely quoted 1988 definition states: "Environmental history is the interaction between human cultures and the environment in the past."
In 2001 J. Donald Hughes defined the subject as “The study of human relationships through time with the natural communities of which they are a part in order to explain the processes of change that affect that relationship.” and, in 2006, as "... history that seeks understanding of human beings as they have lived, worked and thought in relationship to the rest of nature through the changes brought by time" ... "As a method, environmental history is the use of ecological analysis as a means of understanding human history ... an account of changes in human societies as they relate to changes in the natural environment.” Environmental historians are also “interested in what people think about nature, and how they have expressed those ideas in folk religions, popular culture, literature and art.” In 2003 McNeill suggested that environmental history was "... the history of the mutual relations between humankind and the rest of nature".
Traditional historical analysis has over time extended its range of study from the activities and influence of a few significant people to a much broader social, political, economic and cultural analysis. Environmental history further broadens the subject matter of conventional history. In 1988, Donald Worster stated that environmental history “attempts to make history more inclusive in its narratives” by examining the “role and place of nature in human life”, and in 1993, that “Environmental history explores the ways in which the biophysical world has influenced the course of human history and the ways in which people have thought about and tried to transform their surroundings”. The interdependency of human and environmental factors in the creation of landscapes is expressed through the notion of the cultural landscape. Worster also questioned the scope of the discipline, asking: "We study humans and nature; therefore can anything human or natural be outside our enquiry?"
Environmental history is generally treated as a subfield of history, an established discipline. But some environmental historians challenge this assumption, arguing that while traditional history is human history – the story of people and their institutions, "humans cannot place themselves outside the principles of nature." In this sense environmental history is a version of human history within a larger context, one less dependent on anthropocentrism (even though anthropogenic change is at the center of its narrative).
General view of Funkville in 1864, Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, USA
J. Donald Hughes responded to the view that environmental history is "light on theory" or lacking theoretical structure by viewing the subject through the lens of three "dimensions": nature and culture, history and science, and scale. This advances beyond Worster's recognition of three broad clusters of issues to be addressed by environmental historians although both historians recognize that the emphasis of their categories might vary according to the particular study as, clearly, some studies will concentrate more on society and human affairs and others more on the environment.
Several themes are used to express these historical dimensions. A more traditional historical approach is to analyse the transformation of the globe’s ecology through themes like the separation of man from nature during the neolithic revolution, imperialism and colonial expansion, exploration, agricultural change, the effects of the industrial and technological revolution, and urban expansion. More environmental topics include human impact through influences on forestry, fire, climate change, sustainability and so on. According to Paul Warde, “the increasingly sophisticated history of colonization and migration can take on an environmental aspect, tracing the pathways of ideas and species around the globe and indeed is bringing about an increased use of such analogies and ‘colonial’ understandings of processes within European history.” The importance of the colonial enterprise in Africa, the Caribbean and Indian Ocean has been detailed by Richard Grove. Much of the literature consists of case-studies targeted at the global, national and local levels.
Although environmental history can cover billions of years of history over the whole Earth, it can equally concern itself with local scales and brief time periods. Many environmental historians are occupied with local, regional and national histories. Some historians link their subject exclusively to the span of human history – "every time period in human history" while others include the period before human presence on Earth as a legitimate part of the discipline. Ian Simmons's Environmental History of Great Britain covers a period of about 10,000 years. There is a tendency to difference in time scales between natural and social phenomena: the causes of environmental change that stretch back in time may be dealt with socially over a comparatively brief period.
Although at all times environmental influences have extended beyond particular geographic regions and cultures, during the 20th and early 21st centuries anthropogenic environmental change has assumed global proportions, most prominently with climate change but also as a result of settlement, the spread of disease and the globalization of world trade.
The questions posed and themes covered by environmental history date back to antiquity: historians have always included the effects of natural phenomena on human affairs. Hippocrates, ancient Greek father of medicine, in his Airs, Waters, Places, asserted that different cultures and human temperaments could be related to the surroundings in which peoples lived. During the Enlightenment there was a rising awareness of the environment as concept and early environmental scientists addressed themes of sustainability via the subjects of natural history and medicine. However, the origins of the subject in its present form are generally traced to the twentieth century.
In 1929 a group of French historians founded the journal Annales, in many ways a forerunner of modern environmental history since it took as its subject matter the reciprocal global influences of the environment and human society. The idea of the impact of the physical environment on civilizations was espoused by this Annales School to describe the long term developments that shape human history by focusing 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, in the 1950s, environmental history in a more contemporary form. One of the most influential members of the Annales School was Lucien Febvre (1878–1956), whose book A Geographical Introduction to History is now a classic in the field.
The most influential empirical and theoretical work in the subject has been done in the United States where teaching programs first emerged and a generation of trained environmental historians is now active. In the United States environmental history as an independent field of study emerged in the general cultural reassessment and reform of the 1960s and 1970s along with environmentalism, "conservation history", and a gathering awareness of the global scale of some environmental issues. This was in large part a reaction to the way nature was represented in history at the time, which “portrayed the advance of culture and technology as releasing humans from dependence on the natural world and providing them with the means to manage it [and] celebrated human mastery over other forms of life and the natural environment, and expected technological improvement and economic growth to accelerate”. Environmental historians intended to develop a post-colonial historiography that was "more inclusive in its narratives".
In the United States the American Society for Environmental History was founded in 1975 while the first institute devoted specifically to environmental history in Europe was established in 1991, based at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In 1986, the Dutch foundation for the history of environment and hygiene Net Werk was founded and publishes four newsletters per year. In the UK the White Horse Press in Cambridge has, since 1995, published the journal Environment and History which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together in constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems and a similar publication Tijdschrift voor Ecologische Geschiedenis (Journal for Environmental History) is a combined Flemish-Dutch initiative mainly dealing with topics in the Netherlands and Belgium although it also has an interest in European environmental history. Each issue contains abstracts in English, French and German. In 1999 the Journal was converted into a yearbook for environmental history. In Canada the Network in Canadian History and Environment facilitates the growth of environmental history through numerous workshops and a significant digital infrastructure including their website and podcast.
Communication between European nations is restricted by language difficulties. In April 1999 a meeting was held in Germany to overcome these problems and to co-ordinate environmental history in Europe. This meeting resulted in the creation of the European Society for Environmental History in 1999. Only two years after its establishment, ESEH held its first international conference in St. Andrews, Scotland. Around 120 scholars attended the meeting and 105 papers were presented on topics covering the whole spectrum of environmental history. The conference showed that environmental history is a viable and lively field in Europe and since then ESEH has expanded to over 400 members and continues to grow and attracted international conferences in 2003 and 2005. In 1999 the Centre for Environmental History was established at the University of Stirling. Some history departments at European universities are now offering introductory courses in environmental history and postgraduate courses in Environmental history have been established at the Universities of Nottingham, Stirling and Dundee and more recently a Graduierten Kolleg was created at the University of Göttingen in Germany.
The 77 km long Panama Canal, opened in 1914, connects the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, replacing a long and treacherous shipping route passing via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the tip of South America. Construction was plagued by problems, including disease (particularly malaria and yellow fever) and landslides. By the time the canal was completed, a total of 27,500 French and American workmen are estimated to have died.
With increasing globalization and the impact of global trade on resource distribution, concern over never-ending economic growth and the many human inequities environmental history is now gaining allies in the fields of ecological and environmental economics.
Engagement with sociological thinkers and the humanities is limited but cannot be ignored through the beliefs and ideas that guide human action. This has been seen as the reason for a perceived lack of support from traditional historians.
The subject has a number of areas of lively debate. These include discussion concerning: what subject matter is most appropriate; whether environmental advocacy can detract from scholarly objectivity; standards of professionalism in a subject where much outstanding work has been done by non-historians; the relative contribution of nature and humans in determining the passage of history; the degree of connection with, and acceptance by, other disciplines - but especially mainstream history. For Paul Warde the sheer scale, scope and diffuseness of the environmental history endeavour calls for an analytical toolkit "a range of common issues and questions to push forward collectively" and a "core problem". He sees a lack of "human agency" in its texts and suggest it be writtem more to act: as a source of information for environmental scientists; incorporation of the notion of risk; a closer analysis of what it is we mean by "environment"; confronting the way environmental history is at odds with the humanities because it emphasises the division between "materialist, and cultural or constructivist explanations for human behaviour".
Achieving sustainability will enable the Earth to continue supporting human life as we know it. Blue Marble NASA composite images: 2001 (left), 2002 (right)
It is not clear whether environmental history should promote a moral or political agenda. The strong emotions raised by environmentalism, conservation and sustainability can interfere with historical objectivity: polemical tracts and strong advocacy can compromise objectivity and professionalism. Engagement with the political process certainly has its academic perils although accuracy and commitment to the historical method is not necessarily threatened by environmental involvement: environmental historians have a reasonable expectation that their work will inform policy-makers.
Narratives of environmental history tend to be declensionist, that is, accounts of progressive decline under human activity. Thus environmental history, like environmentalism, is perceived as entrenched pessimism, a litany of degeneration, failure, loss, decline and decay – a progressive downward spiral leading inexorably to global catastrophe, a kind of environmental eschatology – often portrayed as proceeding from some halcyon golden age of the past. Along with this often comes the implication of the heroic struggle of a few wise people against the destructive powers of modern capitalism. Further, that narratives of this kind are not only boring and repetitive but also actually mislead due to their excessive simplicity. Against this it is argued that deterioration of the global environment is a fact revealed by careful research, that good environmental history does not predict or prophesy, and that the charge of catastrophism is unwarranted.
Under the accusation of "presentism" it is sometimes claimed that, with its genesis in the late 20th century environmentalism and conservation issues, environmental history is simply a reaction to contemporary problems, an "attempt to read late twentieth century developments and concerns back into past historical periods in which they were not operative, and certainly not conscious to human participants during those times". This is strongly related to the idea of culpability. In environmental debate blame can always be apportioned, but it is more constructive for the future to understand the values and imperatives of the period under discussion so that causes are determined and the context explained. An awareness of presentism can help us to be wary of the easy wisdom of hindsight.
For some environmental historians "the general conditions of the environment, the scale and arrangement of land and sea, the availability of resources, and the presence or absence of animals available for domestication, and associated organisms and disease vectors, that makes the development of human cultures possible and even predispose the direction of their development" and that "history is inevitably guided by forces that are not of human origin or subject to human choice". This approach has been attributed to American environmental historians Webb and Turner and, more recently to Jared Diamond in his book "Guns, Germs, and Steel", where the presence or absence of disease vectors and resources such as plants and animals that are amenable to domestication that may not only stimulate the development of human culture but even determine, to some extent, the direction of that development. The claim that the path of history has been forged by environmental rather than cultural forces is referred to as environmental determinism while, at the other extreme, is what may be called cultural determinism. An example of cultural determinism would be the view that human influence is so pervasive that the idea of pristine nature has little validity - that there is no way of relating to nature without culture.
Useful guidance on the process of doing environmental history has been given by Donald Worster, Carolyn Merchant, William Cronon and Ian Simmons. Worster's three core subject areas (the environment itself, human impacts on the environment, and human thought about the environment) are generally taken as a starting point for the student as they encompass many of the different skills required. The tools are those of both history and science with a requirement for fluency in the language of natural science and especially ecology. In fact methodologies and insights from a range of physical and social sciences is required, there seeming to be universal agreement that environmental history is indeed a multidisciplinary subject.
Chakrabarti, Ranjan (ed), Does Environmental History Matter: Shikar, Subsistence, Sustenance and the Sciences (Kolkata: Readers Service, 2006)
Chakrabarti, Ranjan (ed.), Situating Environmental History (New Delhi: Manohar, 2007)
Cronon, William (ed), Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995)
Dunlap, Thomas R., Nature and the English Diaspora: Environment and History in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (NewYork/Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)
Glacken, Clarence, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought From Ancient Times to the Endo of the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967)
Griffiths, Tomand Libby Robin (eds.), Ecology and Empire: The Environmental History of Settler Societies. (Keele: Keele University Press, 1997)
Grove, Richard, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical IslandEdens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860. (Cambridge University Press, 1995)
Hughes, J.D., An Environmental Historyof the World: Humankind's Changing Role in the Community of Life (Oxford: Routledge, 2001)
Hughes, J.D., "Global Environmental History: The Long View", Globalizations, Vol. 2 No. 3, 2005, 293-208.
LaFreniere, Gilbert F., 2007. The Decline of Nature: Environmental History and the Western Worldview, Academica Press, Bethesda, MD isbn = 978-1933146409
MacKenzie, John M., Imperialism and the Natural World. (Manchester University Press, 1990)
McCormick, John, Reclaiming Paradise: The Global Environmental Movement. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989)
Rajan, Ravi S., Modernizing Nature: Forestry and Imperial Eco-Development, 1800-1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
Redclif, Michael R., Frontier: Histories of Civil Society and Nature (Cambridge, MA.: The MIT Press, 2006).
Stevis, Dimitris, "The Globalizations of the Environment", Globalizations, Vol. 2 No. 3, 2005, 323-334.
Williams, Michael, Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to GlobalCrisis. An Abridgement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006)
White, Richard, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River (Hill and Wang, 1996)
Worster, Donald, Nature's Economy: A Study of Ecological Ideals (Cambridge University Press, 1977)
Zeilinga de Boer, Jelle and Donald Theodore Sanders, Volcanoes in Human History, The Far-reaching Effects of Major Eruptions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002)
Seminal works by region
In 2004 a theme issue of Environment and History 10(4) provided an overview of environmental history as practiced in Africa, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, China and Europe as well as those with global scope. J. Donald Hughes (2006) has also provided a global conspectus of major contributions to the environmental history literature.
George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature; or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, ed. David Lowenthal (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965 )
African landscape: Lesotho
Adams, Jonathan S. and Thomas McShane, The Myth of Wild Africa: Conservation without Illusion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996)
Cock, Jacklyn and Eddie Koch (eds.), Going Green: People, Politics, and the Environment in South Africa (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1991)
Dovers, Stephen, Ruth Edgecombe, and Bill Guest (eds.), South Africa's Environmental History: Cases and Comparisons (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003)
Green Musselman, Elizabeth, “Plant Knowledge at the Cape: A Study in African and European Collaboration,” International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 36, 2003, 367-392
Jacobs, Nancy J., Environment, Power and Injustice: A South African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
Maathai, Wangari, Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience (New York: Lantern Books, 2003)
McCann, James, Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa, 1800-1990 (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1999)
Steyn, Phia, "The lingering environmental impact of repressive governance: the environmental legacy of the apartheid-era for the new South Africa", Globalizations, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2005, 391-403
Pyne, S.J., The Ice: A Journey to Anatarctica. (University of Iowa Press, 1986).
Andrews, Richard N.L., Managing the Environment, Managing Ourselves: A History of American Environmental Policy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999)
Bolster, Jeffrey W., The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2012)
Carson, Rachel, Silent Spring (Cambridge, Mass. : Riverside Press, 1962)
Cronon, William, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983)
Cronon, William, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991)
Dean, Warren, With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)
Dorsey, Kurkpatrick, The Dawn of Conservation Diplomacy: U.S.-Canadian Wildlife Protection Treaties in the Progressive Era (Washington: University of Washington Press, 1998)
Gottlieb, Robert, Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement (Washington: Island Press, 1993)
Hays, Samuel, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement1890-1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959)
Melosi, Martin V., Coping with Abundance: Energy and Environment in Industrial America (Temple University Press, 1985)
Melville, Elinor, A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)
Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1980)
Nash, Roderick, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989)
Nash, Roderick, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001)
Raffles, Hugh, WinklerPrins, Antoinette, M. G. A., "Further Reflections on Amazonian Environmental History: Transformations of Rivers and Streams", Latin American Research Review, Vol. 38, Number 3, 2003, pp. 165–187
Reisner, Marc, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (Penguin Books, 1986, 1993)
Simonian, Lane, Defending the Land of the Jaguar: A History of Conservation in Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995)
Steinberg, Ted, Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History (Oxford University Press, 2002)
Stradling, David (ed), Conservation in the Progressive Era: Classic Texts (Washington: University of Washington Press, 2004)
Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Green Revolution: The American Environmental Movement, 1962-1999 (New York: Hill & Wang, 1993)
Unger, Nancy C., Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)
Worster, Donald, Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West (Oxford University Press, 1992)
Wynn, Graeme, Canada and Arctic North America: An Environmental History (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2007)
Banaue rice terraces in the Philippines where traditional landraces have been grown for thousands of years
Boomgaard, Peter, ed. Paper Landscapes: Explorations in the Environment of Indonesia. (Leiden: KITLV Press, 1997)
David, A. & Guha, R. (eds) 1995. Nature, Culture, Imperialism: Essays on the Environmental History of South Asia. Delhi, India: Oxford University Press.
Elvin, Mark & Ts'ui-jung Liu (eds.), Sediments of Time: Environment and Society in Chinese History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
Elvin, Mark, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004)
Gadgil, M. and R. Guha, This Fissured Land: An Ecological History of India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)
Grove, Richard, Vinita Damodaran, and Satpal Sangwan (eds.) Nature & the Orient: The Environmental History of South and Southeast Asia (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Hill, Christopher V., South Asia: An Environmental History (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2008)
Menzie, Nicholas, Forest and Land Management in Late Imperial China (London, Macmillan Press. 1994)
Mahong, Bao, "Environmental History in China", Environment and History, Volume 10, Number 4, November 2004, pp. 475–499
Marks, R. B., Tigers, rice, silk and silt. Environment and economy in late imperial South China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
Perdue, Peter C., "Lakes of Empire: Man and Water in Chinese History”, Modern China, 16 (January 1990): 119 - 29
Shapiro, Judith, Mao's War against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2001)
Shiva, Vandana, Stolen Harvest: the Hijacking of the Global Food Supply (Cambridge MA: South End Press, 2000)
Tal, Alon, Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002)
Totman, Conrad D., The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Preindustrial Japan (Berkely: University of California Press, 1989)
Totman, Conrad D., Pre-industrial Korea and Japan in Environmental Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2004)
Ts'ui-jung Liu, Sediments of Time: Environment and Society in Chinese History (Cambridge University Press, 1998)
Tull, Malcolm, and A. R. Krishnan. "Resource Use and Environmental Management in Japan, 1890-1990", in: J.R. McNeill (ed), Environmental History of the Pacific and the Pacific Rim ( Aldershot Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2001)
Weiss, Anita M. & Mughal, Muhammad Aurang Zeb. (2012). Pakistan. In Kotzé, Louis & Morse, Stephen (eds), Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, Vol. 9. Great Barrington, Mass.: Berkshire, pp. 236–240.
Yok-shiu Lee and Alvin Y. So, Asia's Environmental Movements: Comparative Perspectives (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1999)
Aboriginal Art, Anbangbang Rock Shelter, Kakadu National Park, Australia
Carron, L.T., A History of Forestry in Australia (Canberra, 1985).
Dargavel, John (ed.), Australia and New Zealand Forest Histories. Short Overviews, Australian Forest History Society Inc. Occasional Publications, No. 1 (Kingston: Australian Forest History Society, 2005)
Dovers, Stephen (ed), Essays in Australian Environmental History: Essays and Cases (Oxford: OUP, 1994).
Dovers, Stephen(ed.), Environmental History and Policy: Still Settling Australia (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Flannery, Tim, The Future Eaters, An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People (Sydney: Reed Books,1994).
Garden, Don, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific. An Environmental History (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2005)
Pyne, Stephen, Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia (New York, Henry Holt, 1991).
Robin, Libby, Defending the Little Desert: The Rise of Ecological Consciousness in Australia (Melbourne: MUP, 1998)
Robin, Libby, The Flight of the Emu: A Hundred Years of Australian Ornithology 1901-2001, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2000)
Robin, Libby, How a Continent Created a Nation (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2007)
Smith, Mike, Hesse, Paul (eds.), 23 Degrees S: Archaeology and Environmental History of the Southern Deserts (Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press, 2005)
Young, Ann R.M, Environmental Change in Australia since 1788 (Oxford University Press, 2000)
Brimblecombe, Peter and Christian Pfister, The Silent Countdown: Essays in European Environmental History (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1993)
Crosby, Alfred W., Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986)
Christensen, Peter, Decline of Iranshahr: Irrigation and Environments in the History of the Middle East, 500 B.C. to 1500 A.D (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993)
Ditt, Karl, 'Nature Conservation in England and Germany, 1900-1970: Forerunner of Environmental Protection?', Contemporary European History 5:1-28.
Hughes, J. Donald, Pan's Travail: Environmental Problems of the Ancient Greeks and Romans (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1994)
Hughes, J. Donald, The Mediterranean. An Environmental History (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2005)
Lancaster, Julia H., Marat Fidarov. An Environmental History of the Russian North Caucasus (New York: HHN Media, 2009)
Martí Escayol, Maria Antònia. La construcció del concepte de natura a la Catalunya moderna (Barcelona: Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, 2004)
Netting, Robert, Balancing on an Alp: Ecological Change and Continuity in a Swiss Mountain Community (Cambridge University Press, 1981)
Parmentier, Isabelle, dir., Ledent, Carole, coll., La recherche en histoire de l'environnement : Belgique, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Namur, 2010 (Coll. Autres futurs).
Stephen J. Pyne, Vestal Fire. An Environmental History, Told through Fire, of Europe and Europe's Encounter with the World (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1997)
Richards, John F., The Unending Frontier: Environmental History of the Early Modern World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003)
Whited, Tamara L. (ed.), Northern Europe. An Environmental History (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2005)
New Zealand & Oceania
Polynesian outrigger canoe
Bennett, Judith Ann,Pacific Forest: A History of Resource Control and Contest in Solomon Islands, c. 1800-1997 (Cambridge and Leiden: White Horse Press and Brill, 2000)
Bennett, Judith Ann, Natives and Exotics: World War II and Environment in the Southern Pacific (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2009)
Brooking, Tom and Eric Pawson, Environmental Histories of New Zealand (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
James Beattie, "Environmental Anxiety in New Zealand, 1840-1941: Climate Change, Soil Erosion, Sand Drift, Flooding and Forest Conservation", Environment and History 9(2003): 379-392
Cassels, R., "The Role of Prehistoric Man in the Faunal Extinctions of New Zealand and other Pacific Islands", in Martin, P. S. and Klein, R. G. (eds.) Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution (Tucson, The University of Arizona Press, 1984)
D'Arcy, Paul, The People of the Sea: Environment, Identity, and History in Oceania (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2006)
Young, David, Our Islands, Our Selves: A History of Conservation in New Zealand ( Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2004)
Star, Paul, "New Zealand Environmental History: A Question of Attitudes", Environment and History 9(2003): 463-475
Hughes, J. Donald, "Nature and Culture in the Pacific Islands", Leidschrift, 21 (2006) 1, 129-144.
Hughes, J. Donald, "Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand: Polynesian impacts on Island Ecosystems", in: An Environmental History of the World. Humankind"s Changing Role in the Community of Life, (London & New York, Routledge, 2002)
McNeill, John R., "Of Rats and Men. A Synoptic Environmental History of the Island Pacific", Journal of World History, Vol. 5, no. 2, 299-349
Bridgman, H. A., "Could climate change have had an influence on the Polynesian migrations?", Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 41(1983) 193-206.
Beinart, William and Lotte Hughes, Environment and Empire (Oxford, 2007).
Clapp, Brian W., An Environmental History of Britain Since the Industrial Revolution (London, 1994).
Grove, Richard, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (Cambridge, 1994).
Mosley, Stephen, The Chimney of the World: A History of Smoke Pollution in Victorian and Edwardian Manchester (White Horse, 2001).
Porter, Dale, The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London, (University of Akron, 1998).
Simmonds, Ian G., Environmental History of Great Britain from 10,000 Years Ago to the Present (Edinburgh, 2001).
Sheail, John, An Environmental History of Twentieth-Century Britain (Basingstoke, 2002).
Thorsheim, Peter, Inventing Pollution: Coal, Smoke, and Culture in Britain since 1800 (Ohio University, 2006).
Old and new human uses of the atmosphere
Environmental history, like all historical studies, shares the hope that through an examination of past events it may be possible to forge a more considered future. In particular a greater depth of historical knowledge can inform environmental controversies and guide policy decisions.
The subject continues to provide new perspectives, offering cooperation between scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds and providing an improved historical context to resource and environmental problems. There seems little doubt that, with increasing concern for our environmental future, environmental history will continue along the path of environmental advocacy from which it originated as “human impact on the living systems of the planet bring us no closer to utopia, but instead to a crisis of survival” with key themes being population growth, climate change, conflict over environmental policy at different levels of human organization, extinction, biological invasions, the environmental consequences of technology especially biotechnology, the reduced supply of resources - most notably energy, materials and water. Hughes comments that environmental historians “will find themselves increasingly challenged by the need to explain the background of the world market economy and its effects on the global environment. Supranational instrumentalities threaten to overpower conservation in a drive for what is called sustainable development, but which in fact envisions no limits to economic growth”. Hughes also notes that "environmental history is notably absent from nations that most adamantly reject US, or Western influences".
Michael Bess sees the world increasingly permeated by potent technologies in a process he calls “artificialization” which has been accelerating since the 1700s, but at a greatly accelerated rate after 1945. Over the next fifty years, this transformative process stands a good chance of turning our physical world, and our society, upside-down. Environmental historians can “play a vital role in helping humankind to understand the gale-force of artifice that we have unleashed on our planet and on ourselves”.
Against this background “environmental history can give an essential perspective, offering knowledge of the historical process that led to the present situation, give examples of past problems and solutions, and an analysis of the historical forces that must be dealt with” or, as expressed by William Cronon, "The viability and success of new human modes of existing within the constraints of the environment and its resources requires both an understanding of the past and an articulation of a new ethic for the future."
Key journals in this field include:
Environment and History
Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences
Barton, Gregory A. 2002. Empire, Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism, - covers British Empire
Bolton, Geoffrey 1981. Spoils and Spoilers: Australians Make Their Environment, 1788-1980. 197pp
Clover, Charles. 2004. The End of the Line: How overfishing is changing the world and what we eat. Ebury Press, London. ISBN 0-09-189780-7
Guha, Ramachandra. 1999 Environmentalism: A Global History
Jones, Eric L. 1991. "The History of Natural Resource Exploitation in the Western World," Research in Economic History, Supplement 6, pp 235–252
Krech, Shepard; McNeill, John R & Merchant, Carolyn (2003). Encyclopaedia of World Environmental History Vol 1–3. London: Routledge. ISBN978-0-415-93732-0.
McNeill, John R (2001). Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (Global Century Series). New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN978-0-393-32183-8.
Ponting, Clive (2007 (rev. edn)). A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations. London: Penguin. ISBN978-0-14-303898-6.Check date values in: |date= (help)
Simmons, Ian G. (1993). Environmental History: A Concise Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN1-55786-445-4.
Richards, J.F. 2003. The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World (University of California Press)
Simmons, I.G. 1993. Environmental History: A Concise Introduction. (Blackwell)
Simmons, I.G. 1996. Changing the Face of the Earth: Culture, Environment, History, 2nd Edition. Blackwell.
Takács-Sánta A. 2004. "The major transitions in the history of human transformation of the biosphere," Human Ecology Review 11, 51-66.
Williams, M. 2003. Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis. (University of Chicago Press.)
Adams, Jonathan S.; McShane, Thomas O. Myth of Wild Africa: Conservation without Illusion (1992) 266p; covers 1900 to 1980s
Anderson, David; Grove, Richard. Conservation in Africa: People, Policies & Practice (1988), 355pp
Bolaane, Maitseo. "Chiefs, Hunters & Adventurers: The Foundation of the Okavango/Moremi National Park, Botswana". Journal of Historical Geography. 31.2 (Apr. 2005): 241-259.
Carruthers, Jane. "Africa: Histories, Ecologies, and Societies," Environment and History, 10 (2004), pp. 379–406;
Showers, Kate B. Imperial Gullies: Soil Erosion and Conservation in Lesotho (2005) 346pp
Asia & Middle East
Economy, Elizabeth. The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future (2010)
Elvin, Mark. The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China (2006)
Gadgil, Madhav, and Ramachandra Guha. This Fissured Land: An Ecological History of India (1993)
Grove, Richard H.; Damodaran, Vinita; Sangwan, Satpal. Nature and the Orient: The Environmental History of South and Southeast Asia (1998) 1036pp
Johnson, Erik W., Saito, Yoshitaka, and Nishikido, Makoto. "Organizational Demography of Japanese Environmentalism,"
Shapiro, Judith. "Mao's War against Nature" (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Sociological Inquiry, Nov 2009, Vol. 79 Issue 4, pp 481–504
Mikhail, Alan, ed. Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa (Oxford University Press; 2013) 326 pages; scholarly essays on plague and environment in late Ottoman Egypt, the rise and fall of environmentalism in Lebanon, the politics of water in the making of Saudi Arabia, etc.
Thapar, Valmik. Land of the Tiger: A Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent (1998) 288pp
Dean, Warren. With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest (1997)
Funes Monzote, Reinaldo. From Rainforest to Cane Field in Cuba: An Environmental History since 1492 (2008)
Melville, Elinor G. K. A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico (2008)
Miller, Shawn William. An Environmental History of Latin America (2007)
Noss, Andrew and Imke Oetting. "Hunter Self-Monitoring by the Izoceño -Guarani in the Bolivian Chaco". Biodiversity & Conservation. 14.11 (2005): 2679-2693.
Simonian, Lane. Defending the Land of the Jaguar: A History of Conservation in Mexico (1995) 326pp
Europe and Russia
Bonhomme, Brian. Forests, Peasants and Revolutionaries: Forest Conservation & Organization in Soviet Russia, 1917-1929 (2005) 252pp
Cioc, Mark. The Rhine: An Eco-Biography, 1815-2000 (2002)
Martí Escayol, Maria Antònia. La construcció del concepte de natura a la Catalunya moderna (2004)
Simmons, I.G. An Environmental History of Great Britain: From 10,000 Years Ago to the Present (2001).
Weiner, Douglas R. Models of Nature: Ecology, Conservation and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (2000) 324pp; covers 1917 to 1939
Allitt, Patrick. A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism (2014), wide-ranging scholarly history since 1950s excerpt
Bates, J. Leonard. "Fulfilling American Democracy: The Conservation Movement, 1907 to 1921", The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, (1957) 44#1 pp. 29–57. in JSTOR
Brinkley, Douglas G. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, (2009) excerpt and text search
Cawley, R. McGreggor. Federal Land, Western Anger: The Sagebrush Rebellion and Environmental Politics (1993), on conservatives
Flippen, J. Brooks. Nixon and the Environment (2000).
Hays, Samuel P. Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955–1985 (1987), the standard scholarly history
Hays, Samuel P. A History of Environmental Politics since 1945 (2000), shorter standard history
Hays, Samuel P. Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency (1959), on Progressive Era.
King, Judson. The Conservation Fight, From Theodore Roosevelt to the Tennessee Valley Authority (2009)
Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind, (3rd ed. 1982), the standard intellectual history
Rice, James D. Nature and History in the Potomac Country: From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson (2009)
Rothman, Hal K. (1998). The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States since 1945. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. ISBN0155028553.
Scheffer, Victor B. The Shaping of Environmentalism in America (1991).
Strong, Douglas H. Dreamers & Defenders: American Conservationists. (1988) online edition, good biographical studies of the major leaders
Turner, James Morton, "The Specter of Environmentalism": Wilderness, Environmental Politics, and the Evolution of the New Right. The Journal of American History 96.1 (2009): 123-47 online at History Cooperative
Beattie, James. "Recent Themes in the Environmental History of the British Empire," History Compass (Feb 2012) 10#2 pp 129–139.
Bess, Michael, Mark Cioc, and James Sievert, "Environmental History Writing in Southern Europe," Environmental History, 5 (2000), pp. 545–56;
Bess, Michael et al.; Bess, M.; Giles-Vernick, T.; Gugliotta, A.; Guha, R.; Hall, M.; Igler, D.; Jones, S. D. et al. (2005). "Anniversary Forum: What Next for Environmental History?". Environmental History10 (1): 30–109. doi:10.1093/envhis/10.1.30.
Bess, Michael (2005b). "Artificialization and its Discontents". Environmental History10 (1): 5 para.
Cioc, Mark, Björn-Ola Linnér, and Matt Osborn, "Environmental History Writing in Northern Europe," Environmental History, 5 (2000), pp. 396–406
Coates, Peter. "Emerging from the Wilderness (or, from Redwoods to Bananas): Recent Environmental History in the United States and the Rest of the Americas," Environment and History 10 (2004), pp. 407–38
Grove, Richard (1994). Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN0-521-56513-8.
Hay, Peter. Main Currents in Western Environmental Thought (2002), standard scholarly history excerpt and text search
Hughes, J Donald (2001). An Environmental History of the World: Humankind's Changing Role in the Community of Life (Routledge Studies in Physical Geography and Environment). London: Routledge. ISBN978-0-415-13619-8.
Hughes, J Donald (2006). What is Environmental History? (What is History Series). Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN978-0-7456-3189-9.
Hughes, J Donald (2008). "Three Dimensions of Environmental History". Environment and History14: 1–12.
Opie, John (1983). "Environmental History: Pitfalls and Opportunities". Environmental Review7 (1): 8–16.
Robin, Libby, and Tom Griffiths, "Environmental History in Australasia," Environment and History, 10 (2004), pp. 439–74
Warde, Paul & Sorlin, Sverker (2007). "The Problem of the Problem of Environmental History: A Re-reading of the Field and its Purpose". Environmental History12 (1): 107–130. doi:10.1093/envhis/12.1.107
Uekötter, Frank (2004). "The Old Conservation History – and the New: An Argument for Fresh Perspectives on an Established Topic". Historical Social Research29 (3): 171–191.
Warde, Paul & Sorlin, Sverker (2009). Nature's End. History and the Environment. London: Macmillan. ISBN978-0-230-20346-4