Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Environment and World History

The Environment and World History

Edmund Burke
Kenneth Pomeranz
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Environment and World History
    Book Description:

    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 makesThe Environment and World Historyideal 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

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94348-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures, Maps, and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)

    • ONE Introduction: World History and Environmental History
      (pp. 3-32)

      This book’s preface argues that a closer integration of world history and environmental history is “an urgent intellectual project.” This idea is hardly new, but scholars still have a long way to go in implementing it. In certain obvious ways, the perspectives of world history and environmental history seem to fit together readily: land formations, wind patterns, and other geophysical phenomena pay no attention to borders, and the environmental effects of sheep, sugar production, and nuclear waste are temptingly easy to compare across cultural settings. Yet as a result of the linguistic and national boundaries that constrain scholarship, an environmental...

    • TWO The Big Story: Human History, Energy Regimes, and the Environment
      (pp. 33-53)

      Most histories depict the present as the endpoint of an ascending trajectory that links the agricultural revolution, classical Greece, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and modern times. This may make for good teleology, but is such a graph plausible? There are several reasons to think not. First, we have no evidence that modernity is a permanent stage in human history, particularly when we consider the human impact on the biosphere—deforestation, species extinctions, and other forms of environmental damage. It is unlikely that modern levels of consumption can be generalized for all humans or last indefinitely into the future. Indeed,...

    • THREE Toward a Global System of Property Rights in Land
      (pp. 54-78)

      Since the late fifteenth century, the global landscape has been transformed by human action.¹ Land, formerly abundant in most parts of the world, has become relatively scarce and valuable as human numbers have increased twelvefold (from 0.5 to 6 billion people). Land use for agriculture, pastoralism, resource extraction, industrial production, commerce, and human settlement has become more specialized and capital-intensive. Intensified land use, in conjunction with the discovery and use of fossil-fuel energy, has caused massive changes in the natural environment. The total standing biomass in the world today is considerably less than it was in 1500, and biodiversity has...


    • FOUR The Transformation of the Middle Eastern Environment, 1500 b.c.e.—2000 c.e.
      (pp. 81-117)

      The environment is rarely mentioned in most histories of the modern Middle East. It tends to hover on the margins of discussions of other, presumably more important topics, such as the onset of imperialism and nationalism and the region’s political and economic transformation. Indeed, most histories of the modern Middle East regard the environment as a source of backwardness, which only the application of modern science and technology can overcome. Such modernist fables are, of course, uplifting to a degree. The introduction of modern technology (regardless of the auspices under which it took place) certainly transformed the relations between humans...

    • FIVE The Transformation of China’s Environment, 1500—2000
      (pp. 118-164)

      China has often served as the supposed antithesis ofWestern environmental trends. Sometimes it has been praised (for example, for careful, loving attention to the soil or for Maoist indifference to materialism); at other times it has been damned (for improvident pronatalism or for a Stalinist obsession with heavy industry). More recently, writers have argued that China has not proved very different in the long run: it has adopted Western-style, consumerist notions of the good life, and a combination of foreign technologies, market discipline, and a role for the state that emphasizes fostering economic growth. Its environmental challenges are therefore held...

    • SIX The Rhine as a World River
      (pp. 165-190)

      The Rhine is one of the world’s great commercial streams, second only to the Mississippi in the tonnage of freight it carries annually. It drains eight European states along its northwesterly path from the Alps to the North Sea: Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Four are central to Rhine political and ecological affairs: Switzerland, home to its headwaters, the Alpenrhein and the Aare; Germany, wherein slightly over half its watershed lies; France, which controls half of the biologically rich rift valley between Basel and Strasbourg; and the Netherlands, where the Meuse and Rhine (known there...

    • SEVEN Continuity and Transformation: Colonial Rice Frontiers and Their Environmental Impact on the Great River Deltas of Mainland Southeast Asia
      (pp. 191-208)

      For Americans at least, the termfrontierconjurers up images of the Great Plains or the West, of ranchers and sod-house farmers, cavalrymen, and Native American resistance to the inexorable advance of Euroamerican settlement. But the United States frontier was only one example of a larger type of settler expansion into areas from Australia and Argentina to Russia and Canada that have been aptly termed “neo-Europes” because of the invasions of European domesticated and feral animals, plants, and diseases that accompanied the influx of human invaders into these temperate zones.¹ And European settler frontiers that were established overseas represented only...


    • EIGHT Beyond the Colonial Paradigm: African History and Environmental History in Large-Scale Perspective
      (pp. 211-228)

      Human beings are, before anything else, biological entities. Their interactions with other species and with the natural environment, and their appropriation of the natural resources without which life is impossible, must be central elements in human history. Significant sorties have been made into this terrain in a variety of historical writing, and perhaps more in other disciplines. Some earlier Western intellectual traditions evinced a strong environmental determinism to explain different forms of society, racial characteristics, and social division. This tendency has now largely been jettisoned by historians. A simultaneous concern, however, evident at least since the Enlightenment, has been analysis...

    • NINE Environmental Histories of India: Of States, Landscapes, and Ecologies
      (pp. 229-254)

      Environmental change in colonial India was once largely outside the purview of historical scholarship but is now a flourishing subject. The sheer size of the population of the country, now accounting for one in six people on the planet, and its centrality to European projects of global domination since the late eighteenth century make it inevitable that imperial impact and its aftermath should form a major trope of the global environmental history narrative. There are also enduring legacies of state building and diverse social formations in the subcontinent.

      India’s role in the wider world is also connected to its geographic...

    • TEN Latin American Environmental History: A Shifting Old/New Field
      (pp. 255-275)

      In 1902 the Brazilian author Euclides da Cunha published a riveting work about a regional rebellion against the newly established republic and its subsequent suppression by the federal government.¹ A masterpiece on identity, race, and nation building, it contained, to the despair of the following generations of high school students, a long and detailed chapter on the dry land of the Brazilian northeast and on the unforgiving nature that had shaped thecabocloand his history. Da Cunha was not a historian; he was a military engineer. In the following years, his book was heavily criticized for its “geographical determinism”...

    • ELEVEN The Predatory Tribute-Taking State: A Framework for Understanding Russian Environmental History
      (pp. 276-316)

      Without embracing yet another rigid determinism, it may be proposed that certain forms of political economy leave their own footprints on the physical landscape and bequeath identifiable environmental legacies. At least one scholar has even attempted an ecological “archaeology of colonialism.”¹ One problem that the environmental historian seeks to explain is how particular socioeconomic and political orders, through the values, outlook, sense of meaning, and behaviors that flow from their structuring of common sense and everyday life—their internal logics—create particular ranges of choices for decision makers and public actors which then encumber environmental consequences. (Of course, different systems...

    (pp. 317-336)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 337-338)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 339-361)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 362-362)