Environmental History

Part of book or chapter of book English OPEN
Kearns, Gerard (2004)
  • Publisher: Blackwell Publishing

There was a time when almost all Western geography could be termed environmental history. In the late nineteenth century, physical geographers explained landscapes by describing how they had evolved. Likewise, human geographers saw society as shaped by the directing hands of the environment. By the 1960s this had very much changed. Process studies shortened the temporal framework in geographical explanation and cut the cord between nature and society. Now, physical and human landscapes were seen as responding to short-term fluctuations around a long-term steady state. Between the homeostatic systems of the geomorphologist and the isotropic surfaces of the economic geographer, there seemed to be no congress. For a number of reasons, environmental history now enjoys a renewed significance within human geography. I want to explore four sets of reasons why this is so. First, I will look at the continuing importance of an ecological tradition in geography that was always more than mere environmental determinism. In the second place, I will explore how geographical reasoning has continued to be of interest in what we might term big-picture histories. Thirdly, I want to consider how environmental history was treated within Marxist geography. Finally, I intend to consider how the New Cultural Geography has treated the subject. I will conclude by examining some studies that draw upon the best from these four approaches.
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