My Thoughts on Global Environmental History
This semester I will study Global Environmental History. The course is integrating multiple disciplines from environmentalism, anthropology, sociology, and economics in approaching history through global contexts and processes. It will certainly stretch my abilities as historian to draw further complexity from historical events and understand that there is perhaps a deeper web of interconnection that previously thought. This will be an exciting period in my intellectual journey and perhaps I will conclude that majoring in the subject best suits my interests.
One concern that I may initially have with this approach is its inherent critique of the nation-state approach to history. William Conrad, a global environmental historian, shows little sympathy to this approach highlighting the shortcomings it brings. One such shortcoming is condensing and limiting the scope of historical focus onto a certain nation and even class of people which assumes that their major histories happened in isolation, independent of factors such as environmental and cross-cultural.
I understand this concern, but I perhaps in my bias am more sympathetic as I begin this class to the traditionalist approach to recording history: through the nation-state lens. I think, historically, humans have fundamentally begun engaging with history through genealogy. The exercise of understanding our familial origins is a social necessity that gives social cohesion and sometimes vital information for one’s survival. Therefore, I theorize this is why the nation-state lens emerged for better or for worse. I think in the modern era of history, it has become necessary to record histories of others who do not posses the training or expertise to do so. Further, I think this lens of understanding history through a multivariable lens is simply good historical analytic practical.
I do not disagree that history needs to evolve in present day to account for the influences of a globalized world. History is a science and it must adopt and be agile to change. I think traditional nation centric history can evolve and should not be discredited our even severely revised. I do however disagree with those who hold eurocentric historians and nations accountable for promoting a nation centric approach to history. The degree of globalization four or five centuries ago was far less than it is today. That it the key variable when we must analyze how history was recorded then and how it is now in this globalized context.
While taking a global approach allows for more diverse underrepresented minorities to be given prominence and recognition it might do so at the expense of magnifying their actual contribution to historical events. It also is concerning that history will be compartmentalized into socio relevant identifiers so as to account diversity for sake of accounting diversity. Revisionism does seem problematic in these cases. I do not mean to say that incorporating nonwestern perspectives is wrong. No historian is worth his or her salt if they can not acknowledge the perspectives of all the sides they have credible sources for. Especially concerning topics such as colonialism during the Columbian era when most sources are dominantly European it fails to give voice to the subjugated populations and correctly relate their experiences. This is the shortcoming of history and I mean in no way to harm any attempt that is made to fix this. I caution only against improper contextualization as it relates to revisionist assaults on Eurocentric historiographies and magnifications of global and significant influences of local events and the local minorities present.
I am excited by the prospect of global environmental history. It’s a very ambitious approach and one that is well needed in the field today. Especially as environmental phenomena such as climate change influences events and histories on a global scale. The hypothetical complex situation that I raised in class that global environmental history allows to be assessed, is carbon emissions. Oil refiners in Houston are polluting vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the air. This in turn is causing global warming and the acidification of the ocean. One such consequence I hypothesized would be the following case study. Coral reefs surrounding Australia are beginning to bleach because of ocean acidification. The loss of coral reefs contributes to a reduction in tourism as people will no longer travel there with the absence of this beautiful ecosystem. This in effect wreaks havoc on the economy and then subsequently political turmoil ensues. A global environmental history approach will allow the consideration of oil refineries in Houston to be related to political upheavals in Sydney Australia. With climate change, nothing happens in isolation as we live in one world. One collective biosphere.
This class excites me. It represents the intersection of my interests in history and environmental studies. t will be fascinating to understand history from a non western lens and dive into histories of lesser known stories in Africa. Again, I do not argue against global environmental history but raise a few cautions. I’ve always been one to carry a healthy level of scepticism, perhaps to a fault.