Reply To: September 8th: History, Conservation and politics, the example of Australia

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History September 8th: History, Conservation and politics, the example of Australia Reply To: September 8th: History, Conservation and politics, the example of Australia

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Markus # Posted on January 8, 2015 at 13:00

Reflection to Libby Robin’s seminar, Markus Nyström

During the seminar, Robin urged us to contextualize our thesis, to make it matter in the bigger scope of things going on in the world. I could not agree more as to how important this is. I started my academic studies with literature, mainly because I love reading. But one of the main reasons why I am not taking my masters degree in literature is that I do not think that that subject will allow me to write/do research into issues of a larger importance, a larger context. Literature studies – at least in the flavor that I encountered at Uppsala university – is often too narrow. Environmental history, on the other hand, is a new and thus more open (inter)discipline where issues of environment and sustainability is basically unavoidable in thesis work. I chose to focus my thesis on mining, not because of the topic’s academic interest really, but because I believe a thesis into this topic can make the world a little better – however naïve that sounds. In the best of worlds, and if I am successful with my thesis, it will actually do some good exactly because I contextualize my object as part of a global development.

Another interesting point of discussion on the seminar was that Robin emphasized that new historical findings can change or disturb our preconcieved ideas of a linear development throughout history. The lesson being that we should keep an open mind and not be afraid to push for new interpretations. I could not help but to think of the example of the archeological findings in Voullerim, Jokkmokk. Here, 5000 year old remains were found of a settled community. Bones of salmon and moose were found. Because the “official” (colonial) story of the sámi people had been that real sámi were nomadic reindeer herders, the interpretation was that these findings were of “swedes”. This was not sámi archeology, but swedish. The museum of the area picture blond salmon fishermen with long hair, rather like ideas of vikings as blond, longhaired warriors. This finding, in other words, led to the question of “who was first” – sámi or swedes – even though “sweden” would not exist for another 4000 years or so, and even though the idea of sámi as only reindeer herdin nomads was a forced political construction by the state.

I believe the point that Robin tried to make really boils down to academic stringency. To be prepared to be honest and reevaluate ones preconstructed ideas, as well as being critical of paradigms and “truths”, is important for the academic.