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

Author Replies # Posted on September 24, 2014 at 11:04

Reply to Morag Ramsey’s reflection and comment

Thank you Morag for your honest reflection – I think the more we discuss and get known to each other’s academic selfs through Current Debates, the more this way of reflection can benefit us all.

I agree with you that the open character of environmental history regarding disciplines, themes and discussion is one of its outmost strengths compared to so many other fields of research. And I think we can tie this to the quote you highlighted: “history fundamentally reflected the preoccupations, interests, and anxieties of the society in which it was written” but also Sverker Sörlin’s presentation about new histories of the Anthropocene. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there is an increasing number of scientists who realize that we humans are changing the planet in unprecedented ways AND that environmental history has such an interdisciplinary character (which is sometimes fragmented, sometimes very fruitful) and that. It seems to me that environmental history is the most progressive (sub)discipline of these new histories of the Anthropocene as it is much more careful about ethical assumptions about humans, nature and their relationship. That is why I am always pointing to a changing image of the human which is needed to comprehend the vast development of the last 200 years. You are right in calling environmental history a “baby” compared to the output and societal relevance of other disciplines right now. But at least environmental history can already “say” something (to stay in the picture) about the predicaments we find ourselves – compared to most other disciplines who are suddenly can only mumble about “human nature … technology … we didn’t know better … stupid”. As measured by their explanatory power, I would thus call environmental history a toddler and all other disciplines babies 🙂

And about your comment: I am glad to hear that the edelweiss taught you agency 😉 I must say that I also had troubles with imagining any natural entities with something like agency before I came up with social constructions. In a way it always depends on the meaning that certain “things” have in societies during a certain point of time. If you had asked a peasant in the middle ages if god has agency he would have answered “Of course He does, what do you think?!” and I think the same can be applied to aborigines and the earth or to the Chinese poet about the wind (ask Yaqui). It always strikes me how certain we are about our world view and then still include quite unlogical exceptions. The example with the edelweiss just illustrates that: “it’s only a flower, quite beautiful but it is us humans who are the rational drivers of our destiny and who are mastering all animals and plants.” And then people start patrolling high up in the mountains only to defend one single type of flower against the cravings of others. Ironic, isnt’ it? 🙂