New Environmental History Archive: Colonial Policy and Global Development, 1896-1993

│By Clem Delany, Acquisitions Editor, Gale Primary Sources│

What does Environmental History mean to you?

On sitting down to write a brief explanation of what environmental history is, I have spent the last twenty minutes staring into space thinking about Pando. Pando is, as I’m sure the sophisticated and well-travelled audience of this blog will know, the largest and heaviest living organism on earth. Pando covers 100 acres and is around 10,000 years old. That means that when Pando first began its long, slow life, there were woolly mammoth and sabre-toothed cats still living, although increasingly finding their parties a little light on company.

Pando is a tree. It is a quaking aspen in Utah; in appearance it is over 45,000 individual quaking aspens, but below ground it has a single root system. Each ‘tree’ is a clone of its neighbours, a stem of one single organism. And it is on my mind because I am trying to think of a pithy way to describe environmental history, an area of study where many different disciplines and topics meet, connected at their roots as different expressions of one phenomenon: human interaction with the natural world.

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The First Module in Gale’s Environmental History Series – Conservation and Public Policy in America, 1870-1980

│By Lindsay Whitaker-Guest, Associate Editor│

In the summer of 2023, four alarming global climate records were broken: the hottest day on record globally; the hottest June on record; the warmest global ocean temperatures in May, June, and July; and the lowest recorded level of Antarctic sea-ice. One could not turn on the television or look at a news website without seeing images of harrowing wildfires in Europe, Hawaii and Canada or the devastating typhoon in East Asia. As I sat sweltering on a Sardinian beach during heatwave Charon in late July, my thoughts echoed those from all over the globe, is the Earth now in a climate crisis? And how did we get here?  

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The Mystics of Environmental History and Ethnobotonical Research

Gradina Botanica, Bucharest

By Ayanda Netshisaulu, Gale Ambassador at the University of Johannesburg|

Let me set the scene. Right at the beginning of my postgraduate career, starry eyed and interested in gender history, I was offered the opportunity to join a group of students from the University of Johannesburg and Western Sydney University for a two-week programme in the Kruger National Park in north-eastern South Africa. The programme mostly consisted of Zoology students who understood the importance of land gradients and wild animal feeding patterns. As a Humanities student I felt a bit out of place but I wasn’t particularly bothered considering I was enjoying the safari and learning about rhino’s territorial marking patterns!

It was during this trip, however, that I learned that historical narratives can be extracted from anything. We had been discussing land gradients – which to this day I don’t completely understand – when my History professor asked me: “gradients and the science aside, Ayanda what did you get from what was just said now?” What did I get? I was still trying to get my Humanities brain to catch up to the science of it all! How could I “get” anything? He then went on to explain how, for a historian, there is a story in everything. A historian would be asking themselves questions about past land use, about past peoples and about how they would have navigated this land. How did societies of the past know, for example, to burn the grass to allow for the fresh regrowth that would attract game? Whilst initially I had never felt so out of place, it was during this trip that I fell in love with the historical narratives of the environmental past.

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