Exploring Environmental History is the podcast about human societies and the environment in the past. The periodic programmes feature interviews with people working in the field, reports on conferences and discussions about the use and methods of environmental history. You can listen to these audiocasts on your own computer simply by clicking on the "Listen to podcast " links in the list below. Podcast of previous years can be found in the annual archives. The following years are available: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
If you use a podcast aggregator like iTunes you can subscribe to the podcast feed to automatically download the files for syncing to portable audio devices. For more information on how to subscribe and podcasting clients, view the subscription instructions.
You can also follow the podcast on Twitter @EH_Resources.
Do you have comments about or suggestions related to the podcasts? Send us your feedback.
The first people to settle in Australia, ancestors of present day Aboriginals, arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago. They took advantage of the lower sea levels that were the norm throughout the last 100,000 years and were the result of a cooling global climate - part of the last ice age cycle. The first people who entered Australia encountered a cooler and drier continent than at present. From about 35,000 years ago global temperatures and water availability declined even further culminating in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), about 21,000 years ago. At this time, the Australian continent entered its driest and coolest period since modern humans colonized it. By 12,000 years ago the climate warmed rapidly, sea levels rose and climate began to ameliorate.
How did populations in Australia respond to these climate fluctuations? This episode of the podcast explores this question with Alan Williams, an archaeologist and graduate student in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University in Canberra, and an Aboriginal Heritage Team Leader at AHMS Pty Ltd. Alan’s research explores the responses and adaptations by Aboriginal people to climate change through time.
Williams, A.N. (2012) The use of summed radiocarbon probability distributions in archaeology: A review of methods. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39: 578-589.
Williams, A.N. (2013) A new population curve for prehistoric Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 280: 20130486.
Williams, A.N., Ulm, S., Smith, M.A., Reid, J. (2014) AustArch: A Database of 14C and Non-14C Ages from Archaeological Sites in Australia - Composition, Compilation and Review (Data Paper). Internet Archaeology 36, doi:10.11141/ia.36.6
Williams, A.N., Atkinson, F., Lau, M., Toms, P. (in press) A Glacial cryptic refuge in southeast Australia: Human occupation and mobility from 36,000 years ago in the Sydney Basin, New South Wales. Journal of Quaternary Science.
Williams, A.N., Ulm, S., Turney, C.S.M., Rodhe, D., White, G., Cook, A.R. (submitted) The Establishment of Complex Society in Prehistoric Australia: Demographic and Mobility Changes in the Late Holocene.
Williams, Alan N., Ulm, Sean, Cook, Andrew R., Langley, Michelle C., and Collard, Mark, “Human refugia in Australia during the Last Glacial Maximum and Terminal Pleistocene: a geospatial analysis of the 25-12 ka Australian archaeological record”, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013, 40 (12). pp. 4612-4625. See also: "How aboriginal Australians coped with the last ice age.", ScienceDaily, 23 September 2013.
Williams, A.N., Ulm, S., Goodwin, I., Smith, M.A., “Hunter-Gatherer Response to Late Holocene Climatic Variability in Northern and Central Australia”, Journal of Quaternary Science, 2010, 25(6): 831-838.
Most of these and other papers can be downloaded from Alan Williams’ website Australian Archaeological Datasets.
Watch the video which visualises the introduction of the podcast:
Who is responsible for global warming? That is a question that has dominated recent climate negotiations, most notably the failed 2009 climate convention in Copenhagen. Developing countries were putting the responsibility for historic carbon emissions and thus global warming on the developed nations. Developed nations on the other hand demanded that developing countries reduced their carbon emissions. The developing countries refused this because they felt that the rich nations had to reduce their carbon emissions and allow developing nations to continue to emit carbon in the quest for economic development. The rich nations in turn argued that we are all in it together and that from now on developing nations will be the greatest carbon emitters. The deadlock over historic carbon emissions remains to this day.
A recently published article entitled "Counting carbon: historic emissions from fossil fuels, long-run measures of sustainable development and carbon debt" attempts to uncover whether the developing countries have a point about the historic responsibility for carbon emissions by the developed nations or whether this question is more complex altogether. The lead author of the Counting Carbon paper, Jan Kunnas, an independent researcher from Finland who was until recently affiliated to the University of Stirling in Scotland, discusses the question of historic responsibility of carbon emissions on this episode of the podcast.
Jan Kunnas, Eoin McLaughlin, Nick Hanley, David Greasley, Les Oxley, Paul Warde, "Counting carbon: historic emissions from fossil fuels, long-run measures of sustainable development and carbon debt", Scandinavian Economic History Review.
Jan Oosthoek, "The IPCC and the Ozone Hole: a Warning from History", Globalizations, March 2008, Vol. 5, No. 1, 63-66. Download paper.
Australia is a country of extremes: it can be extremely hot and dry but also wet and prone to very big floods and its soils are poor and thin. Regardless of these extremes farmers have carved out livelihoods in his hostile environment. It is the story of how Australian farmers have tried to grow food and cotton, and conserve the environment, with all the environmental ignorance, the violence and courage that marked this endeavour. A new book entitled The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress. An Environmental History journeys to the inland plains of Australia and tells the story of how the arrival of modern agriculture promised ecological and social stability but instead descended into dysfunction.
This episode of the podcast features Cameron Muir, a researcher at the Australian National University and author of The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress. This fascinating book brings together the fields of environmental, cultural and agricultural history as well as political history. It is a true tour de force that starts in regional Australia but also touches on the global food system.
Watch the video which visualises the introduction of the podcast:
While the origins of forestry in the United States have been the topic of sustained interest amongst environmental and forest historians, the history of the early forestry movement itself remains neglected. This is partly due to the manner in which later professional foresters often air brushed their “forest sentimentalist” predecessors out of the story and forest historians focused their narratives on of the development of forestry science and the modern Forestry Service, isolating that institution’s history from the broader social movement in which it originated. This broader movement advocated forestry not just as a means to produce timber for an increasingly industrialized nation but also as a vehicle of social reform and religious awakening. One of the pioneers in this movement — and a key advocate of Arbor Day, village improvement and forestry education — was Connecticut educator Birdsey G. Northrop. This episode of the podcast explores the alternative origins, entanglements and civic orientation of early forestry in the US through Northrop’s forgotten tour of Europe’s Forestry Schools in the summer of 1877. This journey and the impact it had on American forestry is a theme studied by the guest on this episode of the podcast, Jay Bolthouse, a PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences at the University of Tokyo.
Richard Grove, "Scotland in South Africa: John Croumbie Brown and the roots of settler environmentalism", in: Tom Griffith and Libby Robin, Ecology & Empire. Environmental History of Settler Societies (Melbourne University Press, 1997), pp. 139-153.
Harold Steen, The U.S. Forest Service : a History (Forest History Society in association with University of Washington Press, 2004)
Greg Barton, Empire Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
James Beattie, "Natural history, conservation and health: Scottish-trained doctors in New Zealand", 1790–1920s. Immigrants & Minorities, 29 (2011) 3, 281-307
Jan Oosthoek, "Worlds Apart? The Scottish Forestry Tradition and the Development of Forestry in India", Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, 3 (2010) 1, 69-82
The term sustainability and phrase sustainable development were popularised with the publication of Our Common Future, a report released by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. Also known as the Brundlandt report, it introduced the widely quoted definition of sustainable development: "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The report argued that economic development and social equity were necessary in order to protect the environmental and that the goals of economic well-being, equity and environmental protection could be reconciled if social and environmental considerations were systematically integrated into all decisions affecting the economy. Since the publication of the Brundtland report sustainable development has been widely accepted as a guiding principle, and yet the concept remains elusive and implementation has proven difficult. This is caused by the fact that economic development, social equity, and environmental protection are contradictory areas that are difficult to be reconciled. As a result the report is seen by many as a landmark in environmental politics and diplomacy while others decry it as a missed opportunity.
In a newly published book entitled Defining Sustainable Development for Our Common Future. A History of the World Commission on Environment and Development Iris Borowy critically examines the history and impact of the Brundtland Commission. The book explores how the work of the Commission brought together contradictory expectations and world views in the concept of sustainable development as a way to reconcile these profound differences.
This episode of Exploring Environmental History examines these contradictions as well as the historical context of sustainability with the author of Defining Sustainable Development, Iris Borowy. She is a researcher at the Institute of History, Theory and Ethics in Medicine of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany.
Sites and literature mentioned
Defining Sustainable Development for Our Common Future. A History of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Routledge, 2013.
Original report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, from un-documents.net
Christian Pfister, "The "1950s Syndrome" and the Transition from a Slow-Going to a Rapid Loss of Global Sustainability", In: Frank Uekoetter (ed.), The Turning Points of Environmental History (Pittsburgh, 2010), pp. 90-118. Download paper.
Solutions to environmental issues such as climate change, toxic waste, deforestation and species extinction, have been mainly framed as scientific, technological and economic problems. The slow progress of dealing with these issues has made us realise that science and technology do not have all the answers. Increasingly the humanities are called upon to provide perspectives on the environment and natural world that includes humans and human cultures. In response the environmental humanities have emerged as a new research arena that aims at infusing a humanities perspective into complex issues surrounding environmental problems and questions of the place of humans in the environment itself and of what the human actually is.
In this edition of the podcast Thom Van Dooren, Senior Lecturer in the Environmental Humanities at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, explores what the environmental humanities are and why it has so rapidly emerged in recent years. Thom’s current work focuses on the philosophical and ethical dimensions of species extinctions. In the second half of the podcast Thom discusses his work on the Hawaiian Crow or Alalâ, which is extinct in the wild, and how this research connects the humanities with ecology, biology, and ethology.
Sites mentioned in the podcast & relevant links
Blog by Thom Vandooren
Environmental Humanities at the University of New South Wales
Journal Environmental Humanities
Environmental Humanities Now
Thom Vandooren, "Science can’t do it alone: the environment needs humanities too", The Conversation, 2 October 2012.
Jennifer Hamilton, "Explainer: what are the environmental humanities?", The Conversation, 3 December 2013.
This website and its contents are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.