Reply To: September 22: Sverker Sörlin's History is a Nightmare

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History September 22: Sverker Sörlin's History is a Nightmare Reply To: September 22: Sverker Sörlin's History is a Nightmare

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Sabbath Sunday # Posted on September 24, 2014 at 10:19

Seminar 12: Mon 8 Sep: The role of Environmental History
Reflection by Sabbath Sunday

As a co-editor and also by providing an introductory note to Nature’s end: history and the environment, Sörlin’s arguments indicate his strong passion to ‘revolutionalise’ the old history subject into a sub-discipline that not only integrates humanities with other disciplines especially natural science history but also putting an emphasis on how human actions have affected nature and vice versa in time and space. Sörlin sets his argument that history is a ‘nightmare’ an indication that is not worthwhile to record narratives of humans that are only limited to wars, struggles, welfare states, reforms and revolutions thus ‘constraining human ingenuity and human deeds’ through ‘obsession and nostalgia of the past.’
My reflection on this argument is that while we are witnessing this transition in historical thinking by looking at human-nature interaction in time and space, we have a lot to draw from all recorded history. Describing history as a nightmare is equivalent to dismissing its sources. During his lecture, Sörlin displayed some of the history texts which he argues do not contain much information about environmental history. By doing this he was trying to justify the fact that authors of the new historical narrative, himself inclusive, are far better off than the previous ones. I somehow agree with this but argue that history books about ancient wars, struggles, revolutions and reforms are equally important to the environmental historian, just like for example the books written by colonial intellectuals (anthropologists, ecologists, archaeologists and geographers) who were trying to understand man-nature relationship in the new worlds. These are very good sources of knowledge but also interest should be on human migrations and settlements which affected the environment through conquests and occupation. Conflicts, wars, domination and creation of empires were motivated by resource availability which directly affected the environment. It is from this ‘nightmare’ history that environmental historians can fetch information on ‘political ecology’ for example. As Sörlin argues that humanity characterises by ‘planetary boundaries’, this phenomenon has not been static but rather transitional because of political power and resource utilisation. The rise and fall of empires is a good example. The Greek, the Roman civilisations and others were popular for fighting popular wars but still their political actions had a tremendous effect on environment around the Mediterranean sea.

My conclusion is that while environmental history is still a developing multidisciplinary study, the objective of scholars should be to analyse all factors driving human actions ever since the beginning of evolution. Both recorded and unrecorded evidence for compiling information on environmental history is embedded in the old historical libraries and oral traditional ecological knowledge which has been handed down from generations in some societies. It is thus upon the modern scholar to look at the discipline as a global issue with the goal of finding out means to sustainable living.