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Environmental History

Development Of The Field, What Is Environmental History?, Interdisciplinary Methods, Environment And Gender, Genre, Scale, And Narrative

Environmental history is the study of the changing affairs of humans within the natural world. This definition, in contrast to other useful phrasings, such as the study of "interactions between humans and nature" (Merchant, 2002, p. xv), embodies a fundamental, not merely semantic, point of emphasis. First, and obviously, humans are part of nature, biological organisms subject to the laws of physics and biology. More importantly, humankind must be situated within natural processes because, not only do they affect human societies and economies, but human actions increasingly influence natural processes. In the past one hundred years and more, human transformation and degradation of the environment has grown to such proportions that humanity fondly imagines it is liberated from physical limitations and controls nature. It does not. What people need, instead, is an accurate view of their place in nature. Environmental history is a powerful tool for gaining knowledge that can secure humanity's future.

Certain key characteristics of the relatively new field of environmental history, especially its parameters and achievements, can be apprehended in a number of ways: by describing its emergence since the 1970s as a coherent subfield of historical inquiry; identifying the range of interests pursued by environmental historians; assessing the crucial importance of interdisciplinary methods in its practice; considering how environment intersects with gender as an analytical category; and discussing the interplay of different genres and narrative strategies, and the progressive expansion of scale in individual studies.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to Ephemeral