The Environment and World History

The Environment and World History

The Environment and World History

The Environment and World History


Since around 1500 C.E., humans have shaped the global environment in ways that were previously unimaginable. Bringing together leading environmental historians and world historians, this book offers an overview of global environmental history throughout this remarkable 500-year period. In eleven essays, the contributors examine the connections between environmental change and other major topics of early modern and modern world history: population growth, commercialization, imperialism, industrialization, the fossil fuel revolution, and more. Rather than attributing environmental change largely to European science, technology, and capitalism, the essays illuminate a series of culturally distinctive, yet often parallel developments arising in many parts of the world, leading to intensified exploitation of land and water.

The wide range of regional studies--including some in Russia, China, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Southern Africa, and Western Europe--together with the book's broader thematic essays makes The Environment and World History ideal for courses that seek to incorporate the environment and environmental change more fully into a truly integrative understanding of world history.

CONTRIBUTORS: Michael Adas, William Beinart, Edmund Burke III, Mark Cioc, Kenneth Pomeranz, Mahesh Rangarajan, John F. Richards, Lise Sedrez, Douglas R. Weiner


Environmental history has the potential to transform our understanding of the human past. Like the perspective of gender history, an environmental perspective is not readily contained within existing subdisciplines of history. By focusing on the impact of human activity on the biosphere, the environmental perspective not only opens new topics for investigation but also changes our understanding of the emergence of the modern world. Environmental history has developed its own distinctive vocabulary and methodologies. Yet most environmental historians, while aware that ecology is a global and holistic science, have tended to frame their work more narrowly and to focus on the impact of anthropogenic change on ecological regions or even particular eco-niches. Few have sought to make broader connections to world-historical forces. Perhaps as a result, most world history textbooks relegate environmental history to a polite few paragraphs, if that much. Recently some environmental historians, among them Alfred Crosby, Richard Drayton, Richard Grove, John McNeill, Carolyn Merchant, John Richards, and Richard Tucker, have been seeking to inscribe their work in larger, even global, contexts. Yet such large perspectives remain atypical.

Moreover, because of the geographic origins of the field, environmental history has been strongly dominated by accounts of the experience of the United States and Western Europe. United States environmental historians, in particular, have been slow to recognize that the emerging environmental histories of other areas might cast American events in a different light. However, a recent survey by Paul . . .

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