The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History

The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History

The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History

The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History

Synopsis

How and why have Americans living at particular times and places used and transformed their environment? How have political systems dealt with conflicts over resources and conservation? This is the only major reference work to explore all the major themes and debates in the burgeoning field of environmental history. Humanity's relationship with the natural world is one of the oldest and newest topics in human history. The issue emerged as a distinct field of scholarship in the early 1970s and has been growing steadily ever since. The discipline's territory and sources are rich and varied and include climatic and geological data, court records, archaeological digs, and the writings of naturalists, as well as federal and state economic and resource development and conservation policy. Environmental historians investigate how and why natural and human-created surroundings affect a society's development. Merchant provides a context-setting overview of American environmental history from the precolonial land-use practice of Native Americans and concluding with twenty-first concerns over global warming. The book also includes a glossary of important concepts, people, agencies, and legislation; a chronology of major events; and an extensive bibliography including films, videos, CD-ROMs, and websites. This concise reference for students and general readers contains an accessible overview of American environmental history; a mini-encyclopedia of ideas, people, legislation, and agencies; a chronology of events and their significance; and a bibliography of books, magazines, and journals as well as films, videos, CD-ROMs, and online resources. In addition to providing a wealth of factual information, The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History explores contentious issues in this much-debated field, from the idea of wilderness to global warming.

Excerpt

The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History introduces the many dimensions of human interaction with nature over time. As people have lived and spread out over the planet, they have modified its forests, plains, and deserts. Those changes in turn have affected the ways in which people organize their social and religious systems. The Guide offers the reader a brief history of that interaction as it took place in North America; a mini-encyclopedia of concepts, laws, agencies, and people pertinent to the field; a timeline of important events; and a set of print, visual, and electronic resources for further reading and research.

Environmental history is both one of the oldest and newest fields within human history. All cultures have oral and written traditions that explain human origins and encounters with the natural world through stories about local landscapes and ways to perpetuate life from the land. Many cultures developed these early ideas into elaborate oral and written traditions, and finally into modern scientific approaches to explaining and managing the vicissitudes of nature. Religion, science, art, and literature provided ideas as they evolved over time, while records such as calendars, diaries, account books, treatises, and museum collections give access to human practices that modified the landscape.

Environmental history comprises a set of approaches to doing history that brings nature into the story. Natural conditions such as climate, rainfall, terrain, vegetation, and animal life create possibilities for the quality of human life. Human systems of producing and reproducing life over time entail technologies, economies, governance, and social structures. Such systems in-

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