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Special issue - Environmental History

Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control / James Rodger Fleming

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Review Date: 01 February 2011

In 1842, the American popular magazine writer Eliza Leslie wrote a story entitled ‘The Rain King, or a Glance into the Next Century’, which was published in Godey’s Lady’s Book (p. 58). Looking forward to a fictional 1942, Leslie portrayed the so-called Rain King offering weather on demand to the residents of the Philadelphia area.


The Environment in World History / Stephen Mosley

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Review Date: 01 November 2010

This is a very small book on a very big topic. Not that I mean this in any derogatory manner. On the contrary, Stephen Mosley sets out to recount the environmental history of the world since 1500 in some 120 pages, as part of the series Themes in World History which aims to provide serious but brief discussions on important historical topics.


Contagion – Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics / ed. Robert Darnton

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Review Date: 01 September 2010

The concept of contagion is entangled with so many themes in the history of medicine that any on-line collection on the subject can hardly fail to generate interest among the scholarly community. Harvard University’s Contagion: Historical Views of Disease and Epidemics does not disappoint.


Exploring Environmental History: Selected Essays / Christopher Smout

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Review Date: 01 September 2010

Originally seeing the light of day as conference papers or seminar presentations, this collection of environmental history essays brings together a very personalised, and at times highly impassioned journey by Professor Christopher Smout reflecting how he turned his attention to this relatively new field of historical enquiry in the 1980s, a decade after the ‘great efflorescence of environmental history that occurred in America’ (p. 15).


A Cultural History of Climate / Wolfgang Behringer

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Review Date: 01 July 2010

I received the invitation to review this book during the same week – 16-20 November 2009 – that over 1,000 emails to and from climate scientists in the Climatic Research Unit at my university found their way into the public domain.


America’s Ocean Wilderness: a Cultural History of Twentieth-Century Exploration / Gary Kroll

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Review Date: 01 July 2010

A series of six biographical case studies, Gary Kroll’s America’s Ocean Wilderness: A Cultural History of Twentieth-Century Exploration examines the ways 19th-century conceptions of the American frontier were, during the 20th century, transferred to the oceans. Kroll shows how several prominent scientists and explorers advanced this conception of ocean wilderness by evoking similar language used to describe the American West.


Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment / Joachim Radkau

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Review Date: 01 July 2010

For readers like this reviewer, who do not read Germany fluently, the translation of Joachim Radkau’s Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment is a major event. This is probably the best available overview of the changing human relationship with the biosphere: a subject whose historiographical and political significance is becoming more and more evident.


The Environmental Legacy of Harry Truman / Karl Boyd Brooks

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Review Date: 01 July 2010

Karl Boyd Brooks, noted environmental historian and now Director of Region 7 of the Environmental Protection Agency, has edited an interesting volume of essays written primarily by environmental, political, and legal scholars, mostly by historians, that, in part, grew out of a 2007 symposium held at Key West, Florida, titled ‘Truman and the Environment: Los Alamos to the Everglades’.


Nature and History in the Potomac Country: From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson / James D. Rice

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Review Date: 01 July 2010

In the opening of his recent volume, Nature and History in the Potomac Country, historian James D. Rice informs his readers that the idea for the book began with what he perceived as a ‘hole in the map’ (p. 1).


The Culture of Nature in Britain 1680-1860 / Peter Harman

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Review Date: 01 July 2010

In our age of climate change and peak oil anxiety, environmental problems loom increasingly large in politics as well as everyday life. Yet even if ecology were to become the preeminent science, it is difficult to imagine a future where the authority of nature will form a unified source of morality, aesthetic value, and scientific truth. Such a world seems irretrievably lost to us.


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This special issue, featuring reviews of recent books and resources across the field of environmental history, was commissioned to coincide with the 79th Anglo-American Conference of Historians on the same theme. The concept of environmental history as a separate sub-discipline originates from the United States, coinciding with the emergence of environmentalist movements in the early 1970s. In Britain in contrast much work that might fall under the category of environmental history has instead been conducted within other areas of the discipline, whether that be the studies by W. G. Hoskins of medieval landscapes or the work of economic historians like Tony Wrigley on the history of coal. Though there are self-defined environmental historians working in Britain, it has been suggested that the subject would be better served by an attempt to establish the environment as an issue for all historians to consider rather than the creation of yet another new historical genre. A lengthy article on environmental history is available on the IHR's Making History website.

Special issues

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