Reply To: Tue 17 Nov: Nature, Narrative and Environmental History

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Sarah Rodrigue-Allouche # Posted on December 8, 2015 at 09:41

William Cronon seminar
Unfortunately I did not attend this seminar, but William Cronon is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring scholars of our days.
In the interview we had to watch, Cronon explains what environmental history is and how we are to use it today.
Cronon highlights the importance of telling a story even when doing history, which I utterly agree with. People could get interested in environmental history and thus be better able to understand our current environmental crisis if environmental history was narrated in an entertaining way .
Narrative is thus capital. Not a too simple narrative such as that of progress or that of the fall, but a more complex narrative. The history of mankind and his environment is above all a history of choices.
Cronon also suggests that environmental historians should be able to sum up informations for the public to get more interested. Indeed, as Fanny underlined, few people are willing to read long articles and long books which makes it more difficult to grasp all the subtleties of an author’s idea.
It is then possible to spread compact information about environmental history for the general public which is not so interested in getting in depth, and make available long resources such as books and articles for those who want to get more in depth.
Cronon successes at making people interested in his books because he masters the art of the narrative. He knows how to tell a story which can captivate his audience. To him, environmental history is not an overly simplistic narrative of humans’ fall from nature nor the narrative of human progress and detachment from society. It is a much more complex story in which mankind is a species among other species.
I agree with Sanna that it is paramount to choose which kind of information do we want to be exposed to and which kind we do not want. One must choose how to spend his time and energy, and what does he want to be exposed to.
Academic knowledge and other kinds of knowledge are both valuable. They both help us to make us sense of the world.
Environmental history helps us to understand our place in the world today. It helps us dismantling prejudices and dichotomies. As Cronon wrote in “The trouble with wilderness, or getting back to the wrong nature” (1996), it is in understanding that there is no such thing as wilderness that we can reclaim our place in the world. That ultimately we do not exist apart from nature but we exist as part of nature. That being integrated, we can thus start to live life on a different basis and to choose which kind of information do we want to absorb. One must obviously be careful because many texts, books or articles are built on fake assumptions. Thus, the importance of reading critically in order to be a good environmental historian. This is definitely something that Cronon teaches us.