The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World

The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World

The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World

The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World

Synopsis

A sweeping environmental history of the early modern world, told through a series of case studies ranging from landscape change in England and China to frontier settlement in Russia and Mexico to the fur trade in North America and Siberia.

Excerpt

I am a firm believer in the value of world history. My preferred argument for doing world history is that history shapes identity and subsequent action. History writing and teaching shape social identity and human behavior. We desperately need a shared global identity that derives from knowledge and wisdom about a common human past. Hence my attempt in this book to write a world history, albeit one restricted to a few centuries and written from a single, somewhat narrow thematic perspective—that of environmental history. My original plan was to cover the entire period from 1500 to the present. This went by the wayside as I got involved in detailed synthesis and writing. I then decided to end the book at the outset of modernity in world history.

The Unending Frontier has evolved over years of teaching environmental history and world history. This has been an opportunistic, organic process. I did not set out with a master plan but worked up lectures and topics for my teaching based on books and articles that became available and that illustrated important environmental themes and questions. For example, the chapter on Japan originated in my reading of Conrad Totman's Green Archipelago when it first appeared about a decade ago. Similarly, I would never have attempted the chapter on Brazil if the late Warren Dean had not written With Broadax and Firebrand, his last and, to my mind, finest work. My interest in sugar landscapes grew out of lectures I drew from David Watts's historical geography, The West Indies.

Colleagues who have read and critiqued my entire manuscript at various stages include David Gilmartin, Richard Grove, John Headley, Martin Lewis, John McNeil, and Sanjay Subrahmaniam. Ken Pomeranz, editor of the series in which this book is placed, offered penetrating and helpful comments on the entire manuscript, as well as much encouragement. While writing this book, I adopted the practice of sending a draft version of each chapter to . . .

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