Artifacts V: An Historiography of American Environmental History

Below is an excerpt from a paper written during grad school that examines the development of environmental history as an accepted field of historical study, the full paper, if you are so inclined is provided in pdf format:

“History as an academic profession has experienced a number of dramatic changes during the last five decades. Owing to a number of factors ā€“ enrollment of World War II veterans, civil rights, the feminist movement, technological improvements ā€“ the list of contributors to shifting methodologies and normative interpretational frameworks is long, as is the list of historical topics and issues touched by developments within the academy. American Indian history, no less than any other field of inquiry, has experienced notable change, regarding from both methodological and analytical standards.

A long standing obstacle to popular acceptance of environmental history was enforcement of rigid ideological, methodological, and topical boundaries used to outline the academic jurisdiction of individual discplines. During the second half of the twentieth century environmental studies were gradually emancipated from the carols of techno-scientific disciplines like ecology, climatology, geology, biology, chemistry, and zoology, opening the door for anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, international relations experts, and historians to incorporate information regarding systems of exchange between humans and their environment within traditional analytical frameworks such as politics, economics, or society and culture. For historical scholars, the popularization of interdisciplinary methodologies made available a staggering variety of new data once isolated by the separation of academic research into distinct paradigmatic fields.

As the reductive formulations used to distinguish professional disciplines lost relevance, progressive research models emerged from the unification of data, methodology, and analytical standards associated with each area of expertise. Linkage of scientific and historical principles legitimized the work of environmental scholars and drove its proliferation with increasing rapidity over the last forty years. The importance of environmental history rests on the simple fact that natural ecosystems provide support for human beings without which the species could not survive, a dependency that has shaped in fundamental ways the course of human history. On its surface this statement seems patently obvious, but human interactive systems, such as culture or politics, and non-human regimes such as seasonal climate change or decomposition have, until recently, been segregated into distinct areas of specialization.”

American Environmental History


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