Reply To: Mon 31 March: Science History, Ecology and the Idea of Nature

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 31 March: Science History, Ecology and the Idea of Nature Reply To: Mon 31 March: Science History, Ecology and the Idea of Nature

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Sabbath Sunday # Posted on April 1, 2014 at 10:14

Seminar 5, Mon 31st March:
Science History, Ecology and the Idea of Nature.
Reflections by Sabbath Sunday

Carolyn Merchant’s book, ‘The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution.’ is a continuous mainstream approach by history scholars to link natural history to human history in their attempt to strengthen environmental history as a multidisciplinary field of study. Donald Worster who is believed to be the ‘founder’ of environmental history, argued that it entails three categories: natural history or environments of the past, modes of production and ideas, perceptions, values and philosophy. So, it is from this background that I draw my reflection on how relevant is Carolyn Merchant’s book to environmental history.

Carolyn Merchant combines all categories of environmental history, from the point of view of ecological philosophy. She develops her ideas/arguments through a metaphor about a ‘pristine’ nature in a picture of a productive woman who co-creates and sustains life through human ecological reproduction/succession. She identifies a period in which humans interacted harmoniously with nature until such a time when humans started to convert the organic nature into mechanistic nature with the onset of renaissance. This was the period of cultural development in form of political power and technology that unleashed terror to ‘Mother Nature’ by stripping ‘Her’ naked in search of raw materials for industries, thus degrading the global ecological systems. The process did not end on the surface but also ripping of ‘her flesh’ through excavations. The rush for the ‘New World’ wealth was a direct result of industrialization in Europe where natural resources had been exhausted. Mining, extensive agriculture, and deforestation were the main activities that caused nature ‘the productive woman’, to be subordinated by a capitalistic system.

Carolyn Merchant’s philosophy calls for reawakening of women to realize their positions in human ecology in relation to their attitudes towards all environmental systems that form nature. Environmental activism and philosophy like ecofeminism is an attempt to restore/rehabilitate the humiliated ‘Mother Nature’ to an ethical state of harmony and respect. Women should be at the forefront of fighting for nature because both nature and women have been dominated from time immemorial. However, this can only be achieved through a sustainable perspective of development and gender equality, because humans have always depended on the products of nature.