Environmental history is the study of humans and nature and their past interrelationships in the broadest sense. Environmental historians base their understanding of human and nature relations primarily on historical methodology, but often borrow from the work of scientists and scholars in fields outside of history. As a result, many scholarly contributions pertinent to environmental history are written by professionals who typically would not identify themselves as historians, and as an aquatic ecologist I am one of those scientists. Professional, integrated environmental history has now been in the making for roughly one generation. It is well recognised that the most influential empirical and theoretical work has been done in the USA, which is also where most of the first teaching programmes emerged and where the large majority of environmental historians are active. The other region with an equivalent number of major universities is Europe, but interchange of ideas on this continent is suffering from the numerous languages used to express beta- gamma integration (Sörlin and Warde, 2005). In 1999 the European Society for Environmental History was founded, counterpart of the American society, aiming at stimulating the dialogue between humanistic scholarship, environmental science and other disciplines in Europe. Indeed, a recent series of essays in the journal Environmental History (2005, volume 10, number 1) on the future of the field were written almost entirely by people based in the USA; Europe’s contribution being an essay by Petra van Dam (2005) lamenting the difficulties caused by the language of the discipline being English.
The geographical features of a low population density, large stretches of ‘wilderness’, a mobile ‘frontier’ and a strong tradition of the ‘outdoors’, have all been significant for the reception and growth of environmental history in North America. This is also perhaps true of other regions where environmental history has gained a foothold: Australasia, and within Europe, in Scandinavia, in the Alpine countries and in Scotland. Certainly, both the threat of natural forces and the widely recognised ability of humans to radically transform their environments in the relatively recent past seem to have contributed to these global trends. Until very recently, themes within environmental history have been largely rural or to do with impacts of human activity on the rural or supposedly ‘natural’ environments, even when the forcing agent stems from urban development. In continental Europe, environmental history’s impact has often been related to local peculiarities, such as the history of water management in the Netherlands, forestry in Germany and the Nordic countries, or pollution in regions of rapid 19th-century industrialisation (Sörlin and Warde, 2005).
KeywordsCoastal Dune Environmental History Lowland River Marine Clay Ecological History
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