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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anna.shoemaker@arkeologi.uu.se # Posted on September 23, 2014 at 13:19

I really enjoyed Sorlin’s chapter in Nature’s End and I also very much enjoyed the discussion we had in the morning about the history of environmental history, so thanks to all who participated!
In class I clumsily tried to make a point about how the history of environmental history as narrated by Sorlin seemed to me to be too narrow. I think what I failed to satisfactorily articulate was that I really like the idea of studying discourse on the environment and fitting it into a broader definition of environmental history (one that lies beyond the recent and limited discipline based historiography). Sorlin does discuss examples of this endeavor, however, most of these examples deal with colonial era scientific writings (with the exception of Mark Elvin’s chapter on China, and Georgina Endfield’s comparative study of pre-Colombian and Spanish colonial regimes in Mexico). I suppose I felt that this introductory chapter was too concerned with Euro-centric examples of environmental history. I believe I said, “I got the vibe”.
My vibe was rightly critiqued by you all! Sorlin writes early on that the concept of environmental can be understood historically as the emergence of self-conscious discourse of the environmental. Therefore all self-conscious reflections on the so-called environment that have taken place in the past can be studied as environmental history. He goes on to say “in thinking about the environmental as a much wider category, as the product of several environing processes that societies have undertaken over centuries, we suggest that the history of the environmental can be refined in such a way as to both make it less narrow and specialist and at the same time reconnect it to wider strands of history” 9. Amen.
I think the consensus in class was that Sorlin’s introduction to environmental history was quite good, and quite encompassing. Nisa, you made the point that the entire discipline of history is plagued by it’s euro-centric world view. All of academia as it functions today is in ways shaped by colonial/neo-colonial happenings, so nothing really groundbreaking with my observation. However, in defense of my vibe – when asked during the Mind and Nature lecture about global differences in the practice of environmental history Sorlin said that if you went back 25 years you would find very little of it going on outside of North America. He said that you are now finding vibrant congresses on environmental history even in places like Portugal (is Portugal that exotic?), and that scholars are now more widely distributed across the globe though there are still huge blanks in our studies like Russia and the Near East.
So clearly there is still a need to encourage a broader practice of environmental history, though I concede this need is recognized by Sorlin and um, everyone. But I think in our discussion Sabbath Sunday was also struck by this need, Sabbath, did your preoccupation with the concept of cultural perspectives perhaps stem from the same place my vibe did? And Gao, you made a really good point about a lot of papers and books being published in Asia but not being translated, so there is a lack of communication between groups. I will end this rant by saying that the environment is a global and multi-faceted entity. When discussing the history of thought on the history of environment we should cast as wide a net as conceptually possible and concede that we have only a limited scope.