In 1928 the arboretum was established on land that was given by Peter Waite (1834-1922), pastoralist and benefactor, to the University of Adelaide. Over time the collection of the arboretum evolved into a valuable resource for teaching, research and a bank of genetic plant and tree material. The collection has been meticulously documented and in the 1980s the handwritten system cards were transferred into a computer database. Continue reading
The advantage of an historian researching the second half of the 20th century is that he or she can interview people involved in the events being studied. Oral history is often used to supplement and confirm the information found in the documentary evidence. Documentary evidence is sometimes missing or inaccessible lacking because of the fact that archives are still closed because of the 30 years rule, like in the UK, or simply because material is lost or does not contain the information one is looking for. Oral history is a tool that can plug gaps in the documentary record or literature and provide new insights into historical developments and events.1
Oral history is certainly not a historical research tool that is exclusive to environmental history. There are however a few characteristics that makes it a challenging technique for environmental historians. It seems that oral environmental history has a unique characteristic that makes it stand out in comparison to other environmental histories. Continue reading
In recent years there has been a groundswell of the notion that we are now living in the Anthropocene, the age of man. This is based on strong evidence that humanity is now leaving a very detectable footprint in the earth geological record on a global scale. This includes the fall-out of the atomic tests of the 20th century, climate change is altering the chemical composition of the oceans, and we are shifting more material per year than all natural erosion processes combined. These human activities will leave a signal in the geological record of the planet and be there for millions of years.1
The Anthropocene is the culmination of millions of years of human expansion and increased technological prowess. Initially, the human species lived on the savannahs of East Africa, the original human environment, on which they had no detectable impact because of the low population numbers. Over time the human species migrated out of Africa and by about a thousand years ago they had invaded almost every biogeographical region of the globe, except for Antarctica. When entering new areas humans deliberately or by accident altered local environments to suit their needs. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution this process speeded up with the help of energy available in the form of fossil fuels, culminating in what many now regard as the Anthropocene.
June 5, 2015 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on The use of documentary sources in environmental history
Traditional history as it developed during the 19th century depended on written documents that were produced sometime in the past. Originally these sources included only “official documents” produced by government and kings as well as merchants and traders, such as charters but also correspondence. During the 20th century the nature of historical studies changed radically and who is now surprised when historians use economic ideas and data in their studies, or use insights from anthropology, sociology and gender studies? But combining historical sources with data from the sciences takes historical research to an entirely different level. Here is a short guide of the use of documentary evidence in conjunction with data from the natural sciences. Continue reading
June 5, 2015 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on Methods and problems in historical climatology
With concerns over global warming, historical climatology has emerged as one of the more important cousins of environmental history. Understanding past climates is important because by understanding the nature of long-term trends and climate fluctuations we can place our present experience in an appropriate historical perspective. In addition, by learning how people in the past responded to extreme weather conditions it may be possible to design strategies to cope with climate change. Here is a brief guide exploring the methods and problems of historical climatology and the opportunities that this provides for historical researchers. Continue reading
December 18, 2013 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on Podcast 57: Events in the collective environmental memory of humanity
What are the most important events in the collective environmental memory of humanity? In the spring of 2013 a group of environmental historians from around the globe was confronted with this very question. They were asked to nominate one event that, in their opinion, should be part of this collective memory. 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 provide an interesting window in what professional environmental historians regard as world changing environmental events that should be remembered by all of us. The events suggested are a colorful mix including animals and bombs, dust and climate, organic and mineral resources, the old conservation movement and the new post-1970 environmental movement. In spatial terms, events were scattered over all five continents as well as the entire globe.
The guest on this episode of the podcast is Frank Uekotter, the organiser of the collective environmental memory survey. He discusses what the spatial and temporal distribution of the entries as well as the obvious silences and omissions tells us about our historical imagination and the present direction and focus of the discipline of environmental history.
July 11, 2011 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on Podcast 42: Teaching and discovering environmental history online
From 27 June to 2 July 2011 the sixth conference of the European Society took place in the city of Turku in Finland. The meeting consisted of many parallel sessions on a wide range of topics exploring the interactions between human societies and nature in the past. This podcast will report on a paper discussing the results of a novel experiment in environmental didactics involving the web and e-learning technologies carried out by Martin Schmid of the Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen-Adria University Vienna and Rogerio Ribeiro de Oliveira of Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They used web technologies to teach an intercontinental course in urban environmental history involving classes in Rio de Janeiro and Vienna.
The second part of the podcast reports on a roundtable entitled “Towards an online environmental history of Europe”. This panel discussed the technical, structural and thematic issues of an online environmental history of Europe which is under development by the Rachel Carson Centre for Environment and Society in Munich. The project, dubbed “Arcadia”, will be an encyclopedia-like resource with articles in the form of localized histories and each entry will include time, theme and location metadata as well as information about relevant organizations, people and species in order to visualize it on a map and make the material searchable. The site will provide visitors with exploratory tools to aid the discovery of material. The Arcadia online environmental history will be launched in early 2012 as part of the umbrella Environment and Society Portal.
May 20, 2010 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on Podcast 35: Mountains, the Asiatic Black Bear and conservation in Japan and New Zealand
The guest on this episode of Exploring Environmental History is Japanologist and environmental historian Cath Knight. In her spare time she maintains the blog Envirohistory NZ which explores the environmental history of New Zealand. On the podcast Cath briefly talks about the origins and topics of the blog before exploring her work on Japanese environmental history. She will discuss Japanese conservation history, in particular in relation to the Asiatic black bear and the conceptualisation of uplands and mountains in Japanese and Maori folklore. In many cultures, cosmologies define attitudes towards nature and the way that people interact with their environment. Cath also considers why the trajectory of Japanese conservation history is quite different from the European and North American perspective.
Most environmental history research is primarily concerned with the modern period, which is the past 300 years or so. But increasingly medieval historians are interested in the interactions between human culture and the environment of the European Middle Ages. Until recently most of this research was documentary based but increasingly medievalists are turning to scientists to learn more about the environment and landscape than is possible from records. In order to facilitate collaborations the online Environmental History Network for the Middle Ages has been established.
In this episode, Dolly Jørgensen, a researcher at Umeå University in Sweden, explains what the new network is all about. Then she explores the main themes of medieval environmental history and talks about her own work on resource management and sanitation during the Middle Ages.
This podcast essay puts environmental history in a theoretical and practical framework and considers why this area of study differs from other flavours of history. It will discuss what the narrative of environmental is and how this is researched illustrated by some practical examples of how environmental historians work. Finally the podcast considers the ethical dimension and the potential pitfalls and advantages of the contemporary importance of environmental history as part of current environmental issues.
This is part four of a four-part series of podcasts investigating the nature, methods and challenges of environmental history.
July 29, 2009 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on Podcast 24: Environmental history: a transatlantic perspective
Are there different regional flavours of environmental history? Marc Hall, a historian affiliated to the University of Zurich, considers this question adding a transatlantic view to this episode in the podcast. In addition he argues that environmental history has moved beyond the question of how we got into the environmental problems that we are facing at present. Now environmental historians consider how and why people have changed ecosystems and how in return the environment changes people in the way they act and think. This opens up a new way of looking at history and the interaction between humanity and nature. But what is the future of the field?
This is part three of a four-part series of podcasts investigating the nature, methods and challenges of environmental history.
July 9, 2009 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on Podcast 23: Environmental history: definitions, methods and challenges
Environmental history is still a young field and in some respects quite undefined. Many practitioners as well as outsiders struggle to define its boundaries. The challenge that historians are now facing is how to cope with an ever expanding field and how to integrate not only data from other humanities but also the sciences. In this edition of the podcast Paul Warde, Lecturer in Environmental History at the University of Cambridge, agues that not defining the boundaries of the field or a common methodology is key to the success of environmental history but also its weakness. It brings excitement and new ideas to history but in the end, if environmental history becomes too diverse; it is not clear where it is going. How to deal with this problem is one of the key issues discussed on this edition of the podcast.
This is part two of a four-part series of podcasts investigating the nature, methods and challenges of environmental history.
May 26, 2009 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on Podcast 22: Donald Worster on environmental history
The guest on this episode of Exploring Environmental History is Donald Worster, Emeritus Professor of American History at the University of Kansas. He is one of the leading figures in the field of environmental history and has contributed much to its development and methodology. His scholarship and publications has stimulated historians, scientists and others to consider the relationships between humans and nature in history. In this interview Worster considers the nature of environmental history, the question if there are common methodological approaches that brings the field together and the challenges that lay ahead.
This is the first of a series of four podcast episodes investigating the nature, methods and challenges of environmental history.
November 29, 2007 / Nkjwo / Comments Off on Podcast 14: Botanists, colonists and local knowledge of nature in South Africa
First of two episodes devoted to environmental history of South Africa. South Africa is one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse countries in the world. Different cultures interpret and understand nature in different ways and that was nowhere more visible than in colonial South Africa. In this episode Elizabeth Green-Musselman, a historian of science based at the Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, explores how a hybridized knowledge of nature developed in the cape colony blending local and European knowledge. The issues discussed include the impact of European cultivation, conflicts over natural resources and the role of naturalists in conservation and what they learned from local guides during botanical expeditions during the 18th and 19th centuries. The podcast concludes with a brief consideration of the benefits of the interactions and collaboration between environmental historians and historians of science.
This edition of the podcast reports on a conference entitled History and Sustainability which was held at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences on 6 and 7 September 2007. This conference explored how history can make contributions to the debate about sustainability and the education of sustainability. This was an exercise in thinking about the theoretical and methodological challenges that the discipline faces as well as the question of the place of environmental history in the academic spectrum and curriculum.
Paul Warde, co-organiser of the conference, explains on this podcast the rationale of the meeting, which is that sustainability, as a concept can only be understood historically because it is about survival over time. Sverker Sorlin, explains why we need to infuse the environment as a concept into historical thinking and that environmental historians play a crucial role in this process. Kate Showers, Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, talks about the importance of disciplinary synthesis for environmental history. Finally, Libby Robin of the National Australian Museum explores the the long now and the big here.