ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Vinita DamodaranSubscribe to Vinita Damodaran

Imperialism, Intellectual Networks, and Environmental Change

The first part of this article traced the early beginnings of environmental history that was framed largely in the context of the colonial encounter. Part II begins by examining the developments in environmental history that in the 1950s had their roots in the nexus that had developed in the 1930s between world history, the 'Annales' school of history and aspects of local history as well. Scholars of environmental history in this period also came under the towering influence of the historian Arnold Toynbee, whose narratives and explanations of the global cyclical movements in world history stemmed from his understanding of the classical Greek and Roman periods of world history. Toynbee's later writings imparted a new ecological and internationalist direction to world history. The latter 1950s saw the spread of environmental history to scholars in other countries and an admixture of different disciplines and specialisations gave a new thrust to the subject. Earlier histories of imperialism and colonialism now began to be looked at a new from their impact on the environment and the ecology.

Imperialism, Intellectual Networks, and Environmental Change

The intellectual origins of environmental history as a self-conscious domain of enquiry can be traced to the encounter of 17th and 18th century western Europeans with the startlingly unfamiliar environments of the tropics and the damage inflicted on these environments in the course of resource extraction by European empires. For nearly a century from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, the discipline developed primarily in the form of "historical geography". A new phase of global environment history began with European decolonisation from the 1950s onwards. The imminence of a nuclear catastrophe and pesticide pollution stimulated the rise of a worldwide and populist environmental movement that reached full fruition in the 1970s. This article in two parts traces the beginnings and the shifting discourse of environmental history. Part I looks at the origins till the period of the 1930s. It was a time when the colonial encounter was becoming increasingly frayed, but environmental history benefited from the innovative convergence of writings on the part of geographers, archaeologists and ecologists, several of whom took an increasingly anxious and prescriptive view of human-environment interactions. Part II will appear next week.
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