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Scope and scale

This volume applies the perspectives of environmental history to Mormonism, providing both a scholarly introduction to Mormon environmental history and a spur for historians to consider the role of nature in the Mormon past.


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Introducing overarching environmental ideas, contributors examine specific aspects of nature and Mormon theology to glean new insights into the Mormon experience. Jedediah S.

Rogers is co-managing editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly. The second category, how humans use nature, includes the environmental consequences of increasing population , more effective technology and changing patterns of production and consumption. Other key themes are the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer communities to settled agriculture in the neolithic revolution , the effects of colonial expansion and settlements , and the environmental and human consequences of the industrial and technological revolutions.

In 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 published in Nash used the expression "environmental history", [4] although is generally taken as the date when the term was first coined.

Knowing Nature Through History

Hays , Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, , while being a major contribution to American political history, is now also regarded as a founding document in the field of environmental history. Brief overviews of the historiography of environmental history have been published by J. McNeill , [7] Richard White , [8] and J.

Donald Hughes.

Encountering the Past in Nature: Essays in Environmental History

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. In , J. McNeill defined it as "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. 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. But some environmental historians challenge this assumption, arguing that while traditional history is human history — the story of people and their institutions, [18] "humans cannot place themselves outside the principles of nature".

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.


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  • Several themes are used to express these historical dimensions. More environmental topics include human impact through influences on forestry , fire , climate change , sustainability and so on. 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. 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 of environmental history date back to antiquity, including [29] Hippocrates , the father of medicine, who asserted that different cultures and human temperaments could be related to the surroundings in which peoples lived in Airs, Waters, Places.

    In 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 [17] 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 s, environmental history in a more contemporary form.

    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. Moral and political inspiration to environmental historians has come from American writers and activists such as Henry Thoreau , John Muir , Aldo Leopold , and Rachel Carson. Environmental history "frequently promoted a moral and political agenda although it steadily became a more scholarly enterprise".

    Their work was expanded by a second generation of more specialized environmental historians such as Alfred Crosby , Samuel P. Lambert , T. Smout , and Peter Coates in Europe. Although environmental history was growing rapidly after , it only reached historians of the British Empire in the s. He argues that imperial forestry movement in India around included government reservations, new methods of fire protection, and attention to revenue-producing forest management. The result eased the fight between romantic preservationists and laissez-faire businessmen, thus giving the compromise from which modern environmentalism emerged.

    Encountering the past in Nature: Essays in Environmental History

    In recent years numerous scholars cited by James Beattie have examined the environmental impact of the Empire. The efficient use of rivers through dams and irrigation projects was an expensive but important method of raising agricultural productivity. Searching for more efficient ways of using natural resources, the British moved flora, fauna and commodities around the world, sometimes resulting in ecological disruption and radical environmental change.

    Imperialism also stimulated more modern attitudes toward nature and subsidized botany and agricultural research. In the United States the American Society for Environmental History was founded in while the first institute devoted specifically to environmental history in Europe was established in , based at the University of St.

    Andrews in Scotland. In , 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 , 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 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 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 Andrews, Scotland. Around scholars attended the meeting and 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 members and continues to grow and attracted international conferences in and Environmental history prides itself in bridging the gap between the arts and natural sciences although to date the scales weigh on the side of science.

    A definitive list of related subjects would be lengthy indeed and singling out those for special mention a difficult task. However, those frequently quoted include, historical geography , the history and philosophy of science , history of technology and climate science. On the biological side there is, above all, ecology and historical ecology , but also forestry and especially forest history , archaeology and anthropology. When the subject engages in environmental advocacy it has much in common with environmentalism.

    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.

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    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 written 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".

    Many of the themes of environmental history inevitably examine the circumstances that produced the environmental problems of the present day, a litany of themes that challenge global sustainability including: population , consumerism and materialism , climate change , waste disposal , deforestation and loss of wilderness, industrial agriculture , species extinction , depletion of natural resources, invasive organisms and urban development. Richard Grove has pointed out that " States will act to prevent environmental degradation only when their economic interests are threatened ". 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 [53] 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.