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In the spring of 2013 a group of environmental historians from around the globe was confronted with the following question: What are the most important events in environmental history? They were asked to nominate one event that, in their opinion, should be included in any global environmental history. This was part of a survey for a special issue of the journal Global Environment on environment and memory. The twenty-two entries that were returned provided an interesting window in what professional environmental historians regard as world changing environmental events (See list below). A video based on this survey was published on the Exploring Environmental History Website (see: https://www.eh-resources.org/podcast-57/) but it revealed considerable gaps both spatially and chronologically.
Spatially, North America and Europe are over represented, while Africa, Asia Africa and Australia have only one entry.
Chronologically, there was only one entry that straddled the boundary between Antiquity and the Middle Ages: the dust veil event of 536 CE. The Neolithic period is represented by the Agricultural revolution. The chronological focus is very much on the 19thand 20thcenturies and Antiquity and the Middle Ages are very much missing in action. Please suggest events during the Middle Ages and Antiquity!
To fill these gaps, the plan is to produce a follow up video for the Exploring Environmental History website. This allows for a more balanced spatial and temporal distribution and the inclusion of emerging research themes, for example the environmental history of space.
Scholars working in the field of environmental history are invited to suggest one event in environmental history to be added to the original list (see topics below). Please take a liberal view of “event” when suggesting entries, and include individuals, books, studies, or anything else that can reasonably qualify as an event. Explain your choice of an event in in one or two paragraphs of up to 250 words. Keep your explanation simple, as if you were addressing an informed layperson.
Email your entry by 15 January 2019 using the submission form on this website.
The original survey included the following events:
Air pollution in Japan transported from China (2013)
Assassination of Chico Mendes, 1988
Stockholm Conference, 1972
Earth Day, 1970
The Santa Barbara Oil Spill, 1969
“Operation Rhino”, kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, 1961
Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1945
Invention of the chainsaw, 1929
Invention of Nitrogen-Fixing Techniques, 1913
The Big Blowup, 1910
The United States Bureau of Reclamation, 1902
The Invention of Mass Destruction Mining, 1899
Anthropogenic Climate Change, c. 1880
The Beginning of the Global Career of Phylloxera, 1864
Much research has been devoted to the impact of the expanding European empires and settler colonies in the 18thand 19thcenturies and their impacts on nature and resources. Not much attention has been paid to a similar story unfolding at the same time in Qing China: the increasing expansion of the exploitation of natural resources such as fur, mushrooms, pearls and timber in China’s expanding imperial frontiers. China’s demand for these products was so pronounced, that by the first decades of the 19thcentury many of these resources were commercially exhausted and many of the animals that provided these products were on the brink of local extinction. In response the Qing rulers created protected areas and limited harvests in response to these environmental impacts.
Jonathan Schlesinger, a scholar of imperial China at Indiana University in Bloomington, studied Manchu and Mongolian archives to track the trade in furs, pearls and mushrooms across the Qing empire’s borderlands in the 18th and 19th centuries. On this episode of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast Schlesinger discusses how Qing rulers responded to declining resources and negative environmental impacts. In addition he considers if it is possible to compare “western” environmental history with Chinese environmental history or whether we need to think outside a Western paradigm.
In 2018 wildfires around the globe have been dramatic, prompting headlines about the world being on fire. The 2018 fire season is unusual in that so many places are experiencing major fires at the same time. California and some areas in Australia were hard hit, but these places are used to wildfires.
The political aftermath of catastrophic firestorms in both Australia and the United States has involved commissions or parliamentary inquiries, with terms of reference that include investigation into assessing or improving fire management policies. Part of these policies is the use of prescribed burning for fuel reduction, which has a long history in Australia but less so in the United States. Prescribed burning for fuel reduction has been heavily influenced by perceived or real understandings of Indigenous burning practices.
Daniel May is a PhD student at the Australian National University and on this episode of the podcast he explores the political and cultural influences of the historical debates surrounding understandings of Indigenous fire-use in Australia and the US. His aim is to expose the rhetorical strategies and political fault lines of the interest groups, past and present, attempting to influence policy making.
Timber floating in northern Sweden, ca. 1950. Photo courtesy of the Skogsbibliotekets arkiv, SLU, Umeå.
Sweden is one of the largest timber exporters in Europe. The country has been an exporter since at least the early modern period. That is not surprising because pine and spruce forests cover large parts of northern Sweden. These forests are part of the single largest land biome on earth, stretching along the pole circle of Eurasia and North America: the taiga.
Not that long ago, the forests of northern Sweden were almost untouched by human hands. That changed during the 19thcentury when a timber frontier moved across northern Sweden, driven by the demand for wood in the industrialising countries of Europe. The timber frontier forged changes across the forests of northern Sweden, not in the least the construction of tens of thousands of kilometres of floatways. This transformed not only the ecological structure of the forests, but also the social and economic dynamics of Sweden and shaped the modern country that we see today.
Erik Törnlund is a forest historian who studied the transformation of the forests in northern Sweden and the development of the floatway system. On this episode of the podcast Erik examines the Swedish timber frontier and the associated environmental, economic and social transformations that have occurred in Sweden since the 19thcentury.
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