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

Author Replies # Posted on September 8, 2014 at 16:21


I will mainly reflect on our morning discussion with Libby Robin since to me at least it seems that it was more relevant to our discipline and future research in global environmental history. I will also try to connect my reflection to one of the assigned questions, i.e. the question regarding the applicability of the history of ideas and history of power approach in my thesis work.
Libby’s words that struck me most today were the need to contextualize our theses topics into a wider, ideally global frame. In my case I’m dealing with a specific locality in a specific time period and to be honest, I was so enmeshed in my fears and the sheer vastness of possible topics that I haven’t even thought about contextualizing a local urban history (which I intend to do) within a global frame. Which naturally made me think how to proceed with such a task; based on Libby’s presentation today I came up with two possible routes and here I will tackle the assigned question. The first route is to choose another specific locality that demonstrates similar historical trajectories and do a comparative study or to use the intellectual history approach and try to contextualize the ideas behind the urban planning of my hometown into global trends (that is the route I am more inclined to take). I intend to trace the ideas behind the urban planning of my hometown and try to contextualize them within global trends; linked to this of course is the question of power. Such a total urban plan could not have been executed if there wasn’t a very centralized power structure but also a very strong ideological momentum that served as an engine both for the urban planners and also for the citizens who helped to build the city as volunteers.
Libby’s unique understanding of imperialistic thought also turned on some light bulbs inside my head; as I understand Libby’s take on this is that we need to understand imperialism not only as a historical or political phenomenon but also as a mode of conduct and thought. Such an understanding means that an empire is not strictly a geographical entity stretching over vast areas, or indeed does not have to be a geographic entity at all, but can also mean intra-state imperialism or imperialism done by scientific categorization for example. Such a category for example is the common denominator humanity in the imaginarium of the Anthropocene, where the experience of the human species (yet another category) since the end of the last Ice Age is constructed as the narrative of all humans and yet, Libby has shown us that the narrative makes sense only for humans who were living in areas where glacial geological changes had the biggest impact. It can also imply that the anthropogenic changes in the climate are the result of the activity of whole humanity, whereas in reality only a small percentage of humanity is responsible.
As environmental historians we inhabit the worlds in between the hard sciences and the humanities; hence, we have to be wary of “scientifization” of history (what I have in mind here is for example the environmentally deterministic narrative of history, where agency and political will become quite irrelevant) and yet we must think of nature in terms of agency. If we manage to balance ourselves on this tightrope, we might escape the imperialism of disciplinary boundaries.