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Environmental History

Development Of The Field

Environmental history seemingly burst into view in the scholarly world in the 1970s. Intellectual and political trends, such as the controversy over Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) and the first Earth Day (1970), motivated many historians to explore historical aspects of environmental problems. But there were important precursors to the developments of the 1970s, even though this research derived from other specialties and was not explicitly conceived as environmental history. Samuel P. Hays's Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency (1959) was a landmark work on environmental politics, and Roderick Nash's Wilderness and the American Mind (1967) carefully documented evolving perceptions of nature as embodied in wilderness in the United States. Walter Prescott Webb and James Malin produced even earlier work on the Great Plains, which are now acknowledged as pioneering environmental histories, though their primary impact only came later. Influential work by Marc Bloch, Fernand Braudel, and other French historians of the Annales school (founded 1929) inspired others to look anew at agricultural landscapes and the broader role of geography in human affairs.

From the 1940s, the Berkeley school of historical demographers (including historians Woodrow Borah and Lesley Simpson, physiologist Sherburne Cook, and geographer Carl Sauer) initiated the study of Indian population decline in colonial Mexico and the related topics of economic stagnation, land exploitation, and soil erosion. But among the most important contributors to this "prehistory" of environmental historiography were historically minded researchers who were not professional historians, such as geographers Sauer and Clarence Glacken and scientists such as Carson and Aldo Leopold, as well as unclassifiable intellectuals such as Lewis Mumford. By the mid-1970s, with the founding of the American Society for Environmental History and its journal, Environmental Review (now Environmental History), a distinct field of inquiry had emerged, making it almost impossible to discuss the environment without referring often to the substantial contributions of history.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to EphemeralEnvironmental History - Development Of The Field, What Is Environmental History?, Interdisciplinary Methods, Environment And Gender, Genre, Scale, And Narrative