According to the American humorist Ogden Nash, ‘God, in his wisdom, made the Fly. And then forgot to tell us why’. This long-standing mystery has apparently been resolved by John F. McDiarmid Clark, who argues that the fly’s main purposed was to allow early Victorian amateur bug-hunters to become 20th-century professional entomologists.
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.
Debates, disputes, and even injustice lay just beneath the outward signs of vaunted Victorian technological progress. The ascendancy of the imperatives of industrialization and urbanization over all other considerations was not inevitable or automatic; there were moments when those imperatives were challenged and rival ones championed.
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 environmenta