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Preview: Exploring Environmental History

Exploring Environmental History

Published: Thu, 21 Dec 2017 05:09:34 +0000

Last Build Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2018 07:30:25 +0000

Copyright: K.J.W. Oosthoek

Kangaroos and tanks: histories of militarised landscapes in Australia

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 05:09:34 +0000

Military operations can have repercussions for environments and landscapes a long way from the battlefields. In the case of Australia most military action during the 20th century happened far from its shores, apart from the incidental bombing by the Japanese of Darwin and a few other northern coastal towns during World War II. It is therefore surprising that an Australian historian, Ben Wilkie, Honorary Research Fellow in Australian Studies at Deakin University, researches the environmental histories of military conflict. This edition of the podcast explores some of these histories of militarized landscapes in Australia, and the evolution of Australian Defence Force environmental policies in the twentieth century with Ben Wilkie.

Music Credits

"Battlefield Taikos" by rocavaco; "Too Small to Sweat" by Stefan Kartenberg. Tracks available from ccMixter

Media Files:

The Watery ally: military inundations in Dutch history

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 08:56:22 +0000

For centuries, the Dutch have fought against their arch-enemy: water. But, during the Dutch War of Independence in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Dutch found an ally in their arch enemy. Their struggle against Spain seemed almost hopeless because the rebels were facing the best trained, supplied and funded European army of that era. As the underdog, they turned to water and used it as a weapon against the Spanish by planning and carrying out a number military inundations, intentionally flooding enormous swaths of land to stop or even defeat the enemy.

However, it is possible that during the Dutch Wars of Independence the province of Holland could have been permanently flooded and lost to the North Sea. The Spanish, hurt by the military inundations, hatched a secret plan that aimed at defeating the Dutch by turning their watery ally against them. Luckily, this plan was never carried out. While Holland survived, the Dutch constructed a line of fortifications and waterworks to facilitate military inundations, which became known as the Dutch Water Line. This militarization of the Dutch landscape had profound long term political, social and environmental consequences for the province and the region.

Episode 77 of the Exploring Environmental History podcast explores these social, political and environmental issues with Robert Tiegs, Adjunct Professor at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada.

Music credits

"Fear and Hope" by reusenoise

"Our Lives" by @nop
"Death of a Music Box" by Hans Atom

All tracks available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Water pollution in the Dutch Peat Colonies of Groningen, 1850-1980

Wed, 10 May 2017 03:38:00 +0000

In the mid-19th century the first potato starch and strawboard factories were established in the Groningen Peat Colonies (Veenkoloniën) in the Northern Netherlands. The number of factories increased until there more than thirty in 1900. These industries brought jobs but also water pollution and stench caused by the released thousands of cubic metres of waste water into the canals. For most of the 20th century pollution was not an issue but the industry realised that tons of useful minerals and organic substances were “wasted” by dumping it with the waste water into water courses. Experiments were set up to extract useful minerals and other substances for the production of fodder or fertiliser. None of these efforts resulted in solving the water pollution problem of the Groningen Peat Colonies. The pollution persisted until the latter quarter of the 20th century.

Episode 76 of Exploring Environmental History investigates the origins and extent of the water pollution in Groningen and why it took more than a century before the problem was solved. It will highlight why the early experiments failed and the consequences of this for water quality in the province of Groningen.

Media Files:

Water resilience in Western Australia since European Colonisation

Thu, 06 Oct 2016 12:06:29 +0000

When European Settlers arrived in Western Australia they brought their own conceptions of water security and agriculture with them. Initially the land around what is now Perth was presented as a green and pleasant land. But the reality was very different.

The water supply of south Western Australia fluctuates throughout the year and as a result, ground water resources and their demand rise and fall in response to prevailing patterns of rainfall. The flow of rivers varies according to the amount of rain the Westerlies bring to the region, leading past engineers to classify the region around Perth as a ‘hydraulically difficult country’. This tough reality complicates agricultural production in the region and turns Perth's suburban green spaces and gardens into a political hot potato. Add climate change into this already fraught mix, and it is expected that the current drying trend will contribute to further desiccate this already dry land. The title of a recent book about the water history of Western Australia, “Running out?”, seems to refer to this uncertain future.

However, “Running out?” authored by Historian Ruth Morgan of Monash University in Melbourne, is by no means a story of doom and gloom. It argues that Western Australians have a strong sense of their vulnerability to water scarcity and climate variability and this has long fueled environmental anxieties. To understand these real or perceived perceptions of water vulnerability, Morgan’s book places those anxieties in their ever changing historical contexts. This edition of the podcast explores the history of these water anxieties with Ruth Morgan and asks the question - what lessons can be learned from the water history of Western Australia.

Music credits

River” by Jeris

Nightmare (Australian Mix) - Cardboard Love” by DJStupid

Out in the rain” by offlinebouncer

All tracks available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Environmental History of Tidal Power in the Severn Estuary

Sat, 10 Sep 2016 12:28:27 +0000

In recent decades the interest in renewable energy from sources such as wind, solar and tidal power has steadily increased. However, this interest in harnessing “mother nature’s” energy is not new. Over the past 160 years the Severn estuary has been the focus of numerous proposals to provide a transport route over the estuary, improve navigation and to exploit its large tidal range to generate electricity. As a potential source of predictable, renewable and carbon-free power with the potential to supply up to 5 per cent of current UK electricity needs, such interest is understandable. Despite its potential, the latest proposals, like all its predecessors in the past century and a half, have failed to secure government and public support to build a barrage in the Severn estuary.

How is it that a barrage still hasn’t gone beyond the drawing board? And why are companies, scientists and politicians still willing to invest time, effort and money in further proposals? Alexander Portch, a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Bristol University, investigates these two questions. Although the past 150 years is the main focus, Alexander also investigates earlier efforts to harness tidal power of the Severn and how the activities of people whose lives were bound up with the estuary’s daily tides have shaped the estuary and lands bordering it. This episode of the podcast features an interview with Alexander Portch and his work on the history of the Severn Estuary.

Music Credits

"Stockholm" by timberman, available from ccMixter

"Begin (small theme)" by _ghost, available from ccMixter

"Easy Killer (DGDGBD)" by Aussens@iter, available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Cultured nature: The Nature Scenery Act of the Netherlands

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 12:22:43 +0000

When thinking of national parks most people think of famous examples like Yellow Stone and Yosemite in the United States or the Serengeti in Tanzania. These parks are large in scale with an emphasis on wild life conservation and the preservation of scenic landscapes. Human activity and presence are restricted and regulated and people are visitors.

In smaller and densely populated countries like Britain or the Netherlands, the creation of large national parks is complicated. In these countries landscapes are far from natural and humans are part of the fabric of the landscape. For this reason, it is difficult to restrict human access and activities to create national parks.

In the Netherlands nature and human activity are almost inseparable because about half of the country is at or below sea level and is reclaimed or drained. Consequently, the landscape of the Netherlands is mostly the product of human intervention and can therefore be described as a cultural artefact. As a result, formal protection of landscapes and wildlife came late. One of the early attempts to create protected conservation areas came in 1928 with the Natuurschoonwet, freely translated as Nature Scenery Act. This Act was mostly about protecting country houses set in park like settings.

Wybren Verstegen, Senior Lecturer in economic, social and environmental history at the Free University Amsterdam has researched the Dutch Nature Scenery Act. On this episode of the podcast he discusses the Scenery Act and puts it in an international perspective. Wybren suggests that as an area of study, landed estates have been overlooked  by environmental historians.

Music credits

"Southern Delight" by Stefan Kartenberg, available from ccMixter

"soaring" by urmymuse, available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Contested climate: the debate on the climatic influence of forests - episode 2

Thu, 26 May 2016 12:05:33 +0000

How does one go about researching over a century of newspapers on the topic of the climatic influence of forests resulting in a few million hits? This was the daunting task facing Stephen Legg, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in History in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University. His research into the 19th century debate of climatic influence of forests in Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States led him to trawl through tens of thousands of articles online collections such as Trove. This second of two podcast episodes with Stephen Legg, explores the practical and methodological issues surrounding the use of online collections of historical newspapers.

The second half of the podcast focuses on the relevance of the 19th and early 20th century debates on forestry and climate in the light of modern climate change. Can such parallels be drawn or does such “presentism” distort the history of what people thought at the time? These are not just important questions for historians of climate change but for environmental historical research in general.


Music credit: Silica” by fluffy, available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Contested climate: the debate on the climatic influence of forests – episode 1

Mon, 16 May 2016 03:08:26 +0000

Dating back to classical antiquity in the western world, the contested notion that climate was changing due principally to the human impact on forests was strongly revived in the mid-nineteenth century. Foresters and botanists, many of whom were employed as public servants, led the revival. They argued on the basis of the lessons of history and scientific evidence in an attempt to shape government policy on forest management. Much of the concern with the impact of forests on climate would have remained the almost exclusive domain of scientists, were it not for the role of journalists in popularising and politicising the idea. Throughout the latter half of the 19th and first quarter of the 20th centuries, newspaper coverage of the debate transformed a dusty scientific enquiry into a vibrant but increasingly polarised public debate. An increasingly widespread popular article of faith, the twin ideas of climate change and forest influence persisted until at least the 1920s buoyed by a sympathetic press and growing bands of conservationists. Ultimately, however, the ideas were debunked by climatologists and rejected by mainstream science.

Stephen Legg is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in History in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University. In this episode of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast Stephen discusses the development of the debate surrounding the influence of forests on climate, the role of the press in shaping and communicating scientific ideas and how it illuminates the broader role of science in society. He also compares the engagement of governments, science and the press internationally, and how this debate in turn related to ideas about conservation and climate change.

Music credits: Silica by fluffy and C120-12string-guitar-arps by Javolenus. Both available from ccMixter.

Media Files:

Somerset, a ‘green and pleasant’ energy landscape?

Sat, 20 Feb 2016 12:03:30 +0000

With its agro-pastoral landscape of hedgerows, fields, and rolling hills and levels, often-sleepy Somerset may be the very picture of rural England – the quintessential ‘green and pleasant land’. To reinforce this, the area gained a variety of landscape and environmental designations over the course of the twentieth century, including Exmoor National Park and the Quantock, Mendip and Blackdown Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

At the same time the Somerset region is a twenty-first-century hub of energy production that faces further intense energy development, both renewable and non-renewable. It is the site of the Hinkley Point nuclear power stations A and B, and, potentially C, as well as new supersized transmitter pylons. It is also increasingly – often controversially – dotted with wind- and solar-power projects.

To what extent are the two faces of Somerset in conflict with one another? After all, Somerset has a long, proud record of historical energy provision, if its coal mining and other industrial activities are taken into account. How is it that inconsistencies between public expectations of landscape beauty and energy security have developed?

As a historian of the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge, Jill Payne has worked on the historical dichotomy between energy provision and the aesthetics of landscape and environmental protection in South West England. In this episode of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast series, Jill explores what people have come to expect in terms of energy security and how this squares with the issues involved in the desire to protect and preserve landscape and environment in ‘green and pleasant’ England.

Music credits: Marcos Theme by Loveshadow and "Out in the rain" by offlinebouncer, both available from ccMixter.

Media Files:

The Oldest Geordie: Environmental History of the River Tyne

Tue, 15 Dec 2015 00:52:59 +0000

Rivers are at the heart of defining the identity and lifestyle of many cities around the world, and that is nowhere stronger than in Newcastle on Tyne in the Northeast of England on the banks of the River Tyne. The people who live on the banks of the Tyne are fiercely proud of their river. Once the river was an industrial powerhouse of the British Empire, and by the 1880s the Port of Tyne exported the most coal in the world, and the river was amongst the world's largest shipbuilding and ship-repairing centres.

There has been much consideration of how the River Tyne has shaped Tyneside and Tynesiders, but very little appreciation of the enormous extent to which people have shaped the river. To bear out this invisible history of the river, historian Leona Skelton, a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant at the University of Bristol, has worked on a research project that challenges us to think from a river’s perspective and to include in our river histories the flow pathways which rivers ‘wanted’ to follow, regardless of the changes that humans have forged upon the river. On episode 69 of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast Leona challenges us to look at a river as an historical actor with its own agency.

Leona’s Research was part of the British Arts and Humanities Research Council funded environmental history initiative “The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures”, that focuses on environmental connectivities that have emerged in Britain since industrialisation.

Music credits

"So Cold" by @nop, available from ccMixter

"Clash" by zorza, available from ccMixter

"Healing" by Stefan Kartenberg, available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Religion and the Origins of American Environmentalism

Wed, 28 Oct 2015 00:33:29 +0000

Ever since Lynn White’s 1967 essay on “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”, it is common to read in many publications that Christianity is both too anthropocentric and not much concerned with the protection of nature and the environment. Subsequently the environmental movement has developed along very secular lines using science to underpin their arguments for the protection of nature and the environment. For religion there seems no place amongst modern environmentalists. But in the late 19th century and early 20th century this was quite different and early American conservationists were often deeply religious but had no difficulties in combining this with new scientific ideas about nature. A recent book entitled Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism shows that religion provided early environmentalists both with deeply embedded moral and cultural ways of viewing the natural world which provided them with the direction, and tone for the environmental causes they advocated. It reveals how religious upbringing left its distinctive imprint on the life, work, and activism of a wide range of environmental figures such as George Perkins Marsh, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, E. O. Wilson, and others.

This podcast episode explores the history of conservation and religion in America with Mark Stoll, Associate Professor of History at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas. He is the author of Inherit the Holy Mountain.

Media Files:

Out of this world: environmental history of near-Earth space

Mon, 10 Aug 2015 05:39:40 +0000

Since the early days of the Space Age spent rocket stages, decommissioned satellites, and rubbish of all kinds have contaminated near-Earth space. At present more than 100 million pieces of human-made debris ranging in size from dead satellites to flecks of paint whiz around the Earth at incredibly fast speeds. This cloud of space junk poses a threat to our space infrastructure on which we now depend so much for navigation, communication, Earth surveillance, and scientific and industrial data collection, because even small fragments of a disintegrated spacecraft can seriously damage other satellites. Does the creation of space debris mean that humanity has extended the “industrial sphere” into near-Earth space? Historian Lisa Ruth Rand, A PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses this question on episode 67 of Exploring Environmental History. She also examines why environmental historians should study the expansion of humanity beyond earth and other space environmental history related issues. Music credit “The Astronaut” by timberman, Available from ccMixter[...]

Media Files:

The UK National Grid: history of an energy landscape and its impacts

Fri, 06 Mar 2015 02:10:50 +0000

We take electricity for granted and do not think of where it comes from when we switch on a light or use an electrical appliance. But behind the electricity coming out of a wall socket lays an entire energy landscape of poles, wires, electrical substations and power stations. It is imposed on the landscape like a gigantic web, a grid that has become almost part of the natural scenery.

Just over a century ago this electricity grid did not exist. Power generation was local or at best regional and often based on the burning of coal or the use of locally produced gas. In less than a century the grid covered the entire United Kingdom and many other countries. It revolutionised our lives, the way we worked and it made air in cities a whole lot cleaner. But how did the development of this energy landscape impact on the landscape and environment? What were the social and economic consequences of the expansion of the grid?

This history is now researched by Cambridge based PhD candidate Kayt Button. Her project is part of the British Arts and Humanities Research Council funded environmental history initiative “The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures”, that focuses on environmental connectivities that have emerged in Britain since industrialisation. Episode 66 of the Exploring Environmental History podcast features Kayt’s work and discusses the development of the UK National Grid, and how it changed people’s lives, its environmental impacts and how the past informs the future development of the grid.

Websites mentioned
The Water and the Power Project website
Blog posts & poster by Kayt Button

Music credits
"Dance of the Pixels" by Doxent Zsigmond and "Snowdaze" by Jeris, available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Environmental history of a hydrological landscape: the soughs of Derbyshire

Wed, 11 Feb 2015 06:48:14 +0000

Under the Peak District of Derbyshire is an subterranean network of drainage tunnels, the so-called soughs that were used to drain the lead mines of the region. Up till the 16th century most lead mining In the Peak District done on the surface and miners followed horizontal seams. By then the surface seams were exhausted and miners had to sink shafts to reach rich underground seams. By the 17th century most mines were down to the water table. To prevent the mines from filling up with water drains or ‘soughs’ were cut through the hills to a neighboring valley. The construction of soughs changed the hydrological landscape of the Peak District, both below ground and above. In some cases the soughs not only drained mineshafts but also the small rivers above, which as a result were dry most of the year. The construction of soughs also reduced the flow of watercourses powering the mills of the early Industrial Revolution. This led to legal conflicts between sough builders and others who relied on the availability of water. Petitions were submitted to the courts and many of these court cases rumbled on for decades. During the 20th century the soughs were largely forgotten but recently the soughs have been rediscovered for their industrial heritage on the one hand, and their detrimental effect on the hydrology of the landscape, pitting heritage values versus ecological restoration, creating a new battle ground of interests. This edition of the podcast examines the environmental history of the Derbyshire Soughs with Carry van Lieshout, a historical geographer at the University of Nottingham. She works on a research project that investigates the environmental and cultural history of the Derbyshire soughs in order to inform understandings of this largely forgotten cultural landscape and to develop management and conservation strategies for underground heritage.   Website mentioned The Water and the Power Project website Music credits Like Music (cdk Mix, 2013 & 2014)" by cdk, available from ccMixter[...]

Media Files:

Tin: a historical perspective on a networked resource

Sat, 24 Jan 2015 13:08:20 +0000

The history of human civilization is closely linked to the exploitation of mineral resources. It is no coincidence that the periodization of prehistory and antiquity has been chosen according to the main metals in use: stone, bronze and iron. It shows the centrality of the exploitation and production of these mineral resources in human history. Since the Industrial Revolution metals have become global commodities, including tin. The importance of tin increased with the invention of canned food in the 19th century, and during the 20th century with the rise of the electronics industry. Both of these factors made tin a strategic resource not seen since the days that it was used in the production of bronze for weaponry.

A new edited book entitled Tin and Global Capitalism, 1850-2000: A History of the “Devil’s Metal”, explores the evolution of the global tin industry, from mining through the trade networks and the politics surrounding the strategic importance of tin. Interrogating the rhetoric of “strategic” raw materials is important in order to understand the social, political, and environmental effects of displacement of communities, environmental degradation and pollution, and ‘resource conflicts'.

This edition of the podcast explores these themes with the editors of Tin and Global Capitalism: Andrew Perchard, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University; Mats Ingulstad, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Historical Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU); and Espen Storli, Associate Professor in History at the NTNU.

Music credits
: "Where You Are Now" by Zapac, 
"Nightride" by remaxim, 
"Unfriendly Me" by Martijn de Boer (NiGiD). All available from ccMixter


Media Files:

Climate variability and population dynamics in prehistoric Australia

Mon, 27 Oct 2014 00:28:18 +0000

The first people to settle in Australia, ancestors of present day Aboriginals, arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago. They took advantage of the lower sea levels that were the norm throughout the last 100,000 years and were the result of a cooling global climate - part of the last ice age cycle. The first people who entered Australia encountered a cooler and drier continent than at present. From about 35,000 years ago global temperatures and water availability declined even further culminating in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), about 21,000 years ago. At this time, the Australian continent entered its driest and coolest period since modern humans colonized it. By 12,000 years ago the climate warmed rapidly, sea levels rose and climate began to ameliorate.

How did populations in Australia respond to these climate fluctuations? This episode of the podcast explores this question with Alan Williams, an archaeologist and graduate student in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University in Canberra, and an Aboriginal Heritage Team Leader at AHMS Pty Ltd. Alan’s research explores the responses and adaptations by Aboriginal people to climate change through time.

Music credit: "Homesick" by keytronic, available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Who is responsible for global warming?

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 10:58:00 +0000

Who is responsible for global warming? That is a question that has dominated recent climate negotiations, most notably the failed 2009 climate convention in Copenhagen. Developing countries were putting the responsibility for historic carbon emissions and thus global warming on the developed nations. Developed nations on the other hand demanded that developing countries reduced their carbon emissions. The developing countries refused this because they felt that the rich nations had to reduce their carbon emissions and allow developing nations to continue to emit carbon in the quest for economic development. The rich nations in turn argued that we are all in it together and that from now on developing nations will be the greatest carbon emitters. The deadlock over historic carbon emissions remains to this day. A recently published article entitled Counting carbon: historic emissions from fossil fuels, long-run measures of sustainable development and carbon debt attempts to uncover whether the developing countries have a point about the historic responsibility for carbon emissions by the developed nations or whether this question is more complex altogether. The lead author of the Counting Carbon paper, Jan Kunnas, an independent researcher from Finland who was until recently affiliated to the University of Stirling in Scotland, discusses the question of historic responsibility of carbon emissions on this episode of the podcast.

Music credits: Where You Are Now by Zapac, available from ccMixter

Media Files:

The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progresss

Thu, 14 Aug 2014 00:20:00 +0000

Australia is a country of extremes: it can be extremely hot and dry but also wet and prone to very big floods and its soils are poor and thin. Regardless of these extremes farmers have carved out livelihoods in his hostile environment. It is the story of how Australian farmers have tried to grow food and cotton, and conserve the environment, with all the environmental ignorance, the violence and courage that marked this endeavour. A new book entitled The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress. An Environmental History journeys to the inland plains of Australia and tells the story of how the arrival of modern agriculture promised ecological and social stability but instead descended into dysfunction. This episode of the podcast features Cameron Muir, a researcher at the Australian National University and author of The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress. This fascinating book brings together the fields of environmental, cultural and agricultural history as well as political history. It is a true tour de force that starts in regional Australia but also touches on the global food system.

Music credits: Over and Outback by Martijn de Boer (NiGiD), River by Jeris, 2013/B by unreal_dm. All available from

Media Files:

Origins, entanglements and civic aims of the early forestry movement in the United States

Tue, 27 May 2014 03:55:00 +0000

While the origins of forestry in the United States have been the topic of sustained interest amongst environmental and forest historians, the history of the early forestry movement itself remains neglected. This is partly due to the manner in which later professional foresters often air brushed their “forest sentimentalist” predecessors out of the story and forest historians focused their narratives on of the development of forestry science and the modern Forestry Service, isolating that institution's history from the broader social movement in which it originated.  This broader movement advocated forestry not just as a means to produce timber for an increasingly industrialized nation but also as a vehicle of social reform and religious awakening. One of the pioneers in this movement, and a key advocate of Arbor Day, village improvement and forestry education, was Connecticut educator Birdsey G. Northrop. This episode of the podcast explores the alternative origins, entanglements and civic orientation of early forestry in the US through Northrop’s forgotten tour of Europe’s Forestry Schools in the summer of 1877. This journey and the impact it had on American forestry is a theme studied by the guest on this episode of the podcast, Jay Bolthouse, a PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences at the University of Tokyo.

Music credits: Where You Are Now by Zapac, Greensleeves Jazz by Doxent Zsigmond, One Way by Rey Izain. All available from

Media Files:

A sustainable common future? The Brundtland Report in historical perspective

Thu, 20 Feb 2014 12:18:00 +0000

The term sustainability and phrase sustainable development were popularised with the publication of Our Common Future, a report released by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. Also known as the Brundlandt report, it introduced the widely quoted definition of sustainable development: -development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs-. The report argued that economic development and social equity were necessary in order to protect the environmental and that the goals of economic well-being, equity and environmental protection could be reconciled if social and environmental considerations were systematically integrated into all decisions affecting the economy. Since the publication of the Brundtland report sustainable development has been widely accepted as a guiding principle, and yet the concept remains elusive and implementation has proven difficult. This is caused by the fact that economic development, social equity, and environmental protection are contradictory areas that are difficult to be reconciled. As a result the report is seen by many as a landmark in environmental politics and diplomacy while others decry it as a missed opportunity.

In a newly published book entitled Defining Sustainable Development for Our Common Future. A History of the World Commission on Environment and Development Iris Borowy critically examines the history and impact of the Brundtland Commission. The book explores how the work of the Commission brought together contradictory expectations and world views in the concept of sustainable development as a way to reconcile these profound differences. This episode of Exploring Environmental History examines these contradictions as well as the historical context of sustainability with the author of Defining Sustainable Development, Iris Borowy. She is a researcher at the Institute of History, Theory and Ethics in Medicine of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany.

Music credits: Where You Are Now by Zapac, Piano 8 by AT by Martijn de Boer (NiGiD), Life Isnt Everything by Hans Atom. All available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Environmental Humanities: something new under the sun?

Sat, 18 Jan 2014 10:33:00 +0000

Solutions to environmental issues such as climate change, toxic waste, deforestation and species extinction, have been mainly framed as scientific, technological and economic problems. The slow progress of dealing with these issues has made us realise that science and technology do not have all the answers. Increasingly the humanities are called upon to provide perspectives on the environment and natural world that includes humans and human cultures.  In response the environmental humanities have emerged as a new research arena that aims at infusing a humanities perspective into complex issues surrounding environmental problems and questions of the place of humans in the environment itself and of what the human actually is.

In this edition of the podcast Thom Van Dooren, Senior Lecturer in the Environmental Humanities at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, explores what the environmental humanities are and why it has so rapidly emerged in recent years. Thom’s current work focuses on the philosophical and ethical dimensions of species extinctions. In the second half of the podcast Thom discusses his work on the Hawaiian Crow or Alalâ, which is extinct in the wild, and how this research connects the humanities with ecology, biology, and ethology. Music credits:

Where You Are Now by Zapac, Ch'i Burger by panu, Extinct by unreal_dm with vocals by Kara Square. All available from ccMixter

Media Files:

Events in the collective environmental memory of humanity

Wed, 18 Dec 2013 13:43:00 +0000

What are the most important events in the collective environmental memory of humanity? In the spring of 2013 a group of environmental historians from around the globe was confronted with this very question. They were asked to nominate one event that, in their opinion, should be part of this collective memory. This was part of a survey for a special issue of the journal Global Environment on environment and memory. The twenty-two entries that were returned provide an interesting window in what professional environmental historians regard as world changing environmental events that should be remembered by all of us. The events suggested are a colorful mix including animals and bombs, dust and climate, organic and mineral resources, the old conservation movement and the new post-1970 environmental movement. In spatial terms, events were scattered over all five continents as well as the entire globe.

The guest on this episode of the podcast is Frank Uekotter, the organiser of the collective environmental memory survey. He discusses what the spatial and temporal distribution of the entries as well as the obvious silences and omissions tells us about our historical imagination and the present direction and focus of the discipline of environmental history.

Music credits: Where You Are Now by Zapac, 1973 by Doxent Zsigmond, nervoso con las guitarras by norelpref. All available from ccMixter

Media Files:

The power of the wild

Mon, 25 Nov 2013 01:07:00 +0000

The power of the wild is an idea that has been important in western thought as a place of refuge or separation where we can feel the power of nature. It is a place where humans are not in control and their power is limited. Using nature as a category of power creates a dichotomy between humans and nature, which is problematic because humans are very much part of eco-systems in which we live. Is it then valid for historians to invoke models of power dynamics to study past interactions between humans and nature? This was one of the questions considered at a workshop held at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, England in April 2013. The participants of the workshop also examined if a nature reserve like Wicken Fen can be made wild again, a process called re-wilding.

In episode 53 of this podcast series Dolly Jorgensen argued that no re-wilding is needed but that the wild is all around us, even in urban settings. In this episode of the podcast Paul Warde, reader in history at the University of East Anglia, argues that the experience of the wild is hard to find in an urban environment, even an urban park or in a nature reserve in densely populated England. The question is then if rewilding of an heavily dominated human landscape like Wicken Fen is possible and can be returned to a "wild state". This desire of rewilding Wicken Fen also led to the question whether such a rewilded area would be truly wild.

Music credits: Truth and Fact (Orchestral) by Zapac, available from ccMixter. Into The Garden by Loveshadow, available from ccMixter. Etincelle by Oursvince, available from Jamendo

Media Files:

The nature of South African environmental history

Tue, 19 Nov 2013 04:34:00 +0000

On 14 and 15 November 2013, the 44th symposium of the Australian Academy of the Humanities was held at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. This year the meeting focused on the burgeoning field of the environmental humanities and the symposium was entitled The question of nature. The first two sessions of the symposium were devoted to an important component of the environmental humanities: environmental history. The symposium opened with a keynote address by leading environmental historian Jane Carruthers, Emeritus Professor at the University of South Africa. Her talk entitled The question of nature, or the nature of the question?, explored the nature and purpose of environmental history in South Africa.

In this episode of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast professor Carruthers argues that the European settlers were not able to manage South Africa’s environment within its limits because they misinterpreted the nature of African nature and it created a legacy that still endures. She explores why and how environmental history has an urgent role to play in addressing this legacy and should contribute to discussions about issues such as environmental and social resilience and sustainability as well as social justice. Jane Carruthers argues that environmental historians are well equipped to raise questions related to environmental and social issues particular to emerging countries such as South Africa.

Music credits: Where You Are Now by Zapac, available from ccMixter. Lhasa by Nic Bommarito, available from The Free Music Archive

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The IPCCs Fifth Assessment Report: a historical perspective

Thu, 03 Oct 2013 01:18:00 +0000

On 27 September 2013 the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its highly anticipated summary for policymakers, in advance of its fifth assessment report that will be published in early 2014. This special espisode of the podcast, explores briefly the origins of the organisation that produced this landmark report and, in more detail, the difficult international negotiations that have used the IPCCs findings since its inception. This historical overview ends with the question whether we can learn anything from previous problems of atmospheric pollution, in this case the Great London Smog and the ozone hole, to tackle global warming. The podcast concludes with a brief interview of historical climatologist Dagomar Degroot and his response to the summary of the fifth assessment report from the perspective of climate history. Dagomar is a PhD Candidate in environmental history at York University in Toronto, Canada.

Music credits: Alice In the City by Doxent Zsigmond and Improvisation On Friday by Alex. Available from ccMixter. Forward by Northbound, available from Free Music Archive

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Desire for the Wild – Wild Desires? The trouble with rewilding

Sat, 28 Sep 2013 03:00:00 +0000

It is undeniable that human influence is now felt in almost every ecosystem, region and ocean of the world. As a result wilderness or wild nature is becoming less abundant. In response to this less wild world, landscape and ecosystem restorations are undertaken all over the globe. One of these places is the wetland area of Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, England, where the National Trust is attempting a landscape scale restoration. This programme is not just about restoring but also rewilding the landscape. A big part of the Wicken Fen restoration involves the introduction of large grazers: Konik ponies and Highland cattle. In April a workshop was held at Wicken Fen entitled: Desire for the Wild, Wild Desires? Re-wilding in a world of social, environmental and climate change. This workshop considered what wild and rewilding of nature means and what history can contribute to efforts to rewild and restore landscapes and ecosystems. The guest on this podcast is is Dolly Jorgensen, a historian of Science and the Environment based at Umea University in Sweden. Dolly presented a paper at the workshop on how rewilding has been an argument meaning different things to different academic sub-groups, all with a different historical notion of when was wild. Dolly deconstructs the different meanings of rewilding, and also follows the trail to find wildness all around us. This podcast is the first of two episodes exploring the Desire for the Wild, Wild Desires? workshop. Music credits: Where You Are Now by Zapac and Cm 105 bpm by Admiral Bob. Available from ccMixter.

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Scientific and environmental diplomacy and the Antarctic

Wed, 18 Sep 2013 02:06:00 +0000

Antarctica is a unique continent because is mostly covered in ice and, importantly, it is the only continent that has never been settled by humans until scientific bases were established in the 20th C. This makes it an international space which has implications for the environmental regulatory regimes that have developed over time as well as the way we view the continent. Without a popular tradition of natural history, or amateur ornithology, or locals dependent on wild resources from which a conservation ethic might emerge, it was trained, international biologists who led the development of nature protection and conservation in Antarctica.

The guest on this podcast episode is Alessandro Antonello, a PhD candidate in the School of History at the Australian National University Research School of Social Sciences, in Canberra, Australia. In this podcast he explores the scientific, environmental and diplomatic aspects of Antarctic history, in particular from the inception of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. He also examines changing conceptions of the Antarctic in the second half of the 20th century and places this in a wider historical context.

Music credits: Where You Are Now by Zapac and 2012Piano by snowflake. Available from ccMixter.

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The Scottish forestry experience and the development of forestry in India

Thu, 04 Apr 2013 12:16:00 +0000

Since at least the 18th century Scotland has been the centre of forestry knowledge in Britain. Many foresters and botanists trained on Scottish estates went into the colonial service in during the 19th century and what they brought with them was a unique set of forestry skills. This paper examines the influence of Scottish foresters on the development of empire forestry in British India. Scottish-trained foresters aided the adaptation of continental forestry models, mainly German and French, to the Indian conditions, drawing on their experience gained in Scotland. Returning from their service in India they went on to advocate the creation of a forestry service in Scotland, which resonated with landowners who believed that forestry would make the Highlands more productive. This podcast is the registration of a seminar talk given by Jan Oosthoek in the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, 22 March 2013.

Music credit: Where You Are Now by Zapac.

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Conquering the Highlands. History of the afforestation of the Scottish uplands

Tue, 26 Mar 2013 10:06:00 +0000

By the end of the nineteenth century, Scotland's woodlands were reduced to about six per cent of land cover. Over the course of the twentieth century, foresters worked to establish timber reserves in the Scottish Highlands, creating forests on marginal lands that were not easily adapted to forestry following millennia of deforestation. Using a variety of techniques and strategies drawn from modern forestry practices, the Scottish uplands were afforested in the twentieth century, tripling the forest cover. The creation of new forests to serve strategic and economic interests, however, altered the ecology of the Scottish uplands and eventually came into conflict with the interests of environmentalists in the late twentieth century. This fascinating history of the afforestation of the Scottish uplands is explored in a new book by environmental historian Jan Oosthoek called, Conquering the Highlands: A History of the Afforestation of the Scottish Uplands. To learn more about this book, this episode features an interview with the author.

Music credits: Lark in the Morning. The Atholl Highlanders by Slainte and Scotland the Brave by Shake That Little Foot.

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Kielder: the story of a man-made landscape

Fri, 22 Feb 2013 01:40:00 +0000

Around the world, rural landscapes have been transformed by human activity as never before. In England, one of the most striking locations of such anthropogenic changes is Kielder Forest and Water in Northumberland. Since the 1920s, this site has seen a massive tree planting effort, creating one of the largest man-made forests in Western Europe. During the 1970s a large dam and reservoir were constructed at Kielder in order to create a secure water supply for the industries at Teeside. As a result Kielder has witnessed significant and dramatic environmental changes over the course of the twentieth century, as it was transformed from a pastoral agricultural landscape, to that of a commercial forest and finally it received the addition of a large man-made lake.

To tease out how people have experienced and perceived the man-made environment of Kielder, the Kielder Oral History Project was conducted. On this episode of the podcast, the two researchers carried out the Kielder Oral History project, Professor David Moon of the University of York and Dr Leona Skelton of Durham University, will discuss some of their findings.

Music credits: Memories of an Old Dog by Fireproof_Babies, Where You Are Now by Zapac.

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Remaking wetlands: a tale of rice, ducks and floods in the Murrumbidgee River region

Wed, 05 Dec 2012 01:26:00 +0000

Before the arrival of Europeans and their agriculture, Australian ducks only had to compete with other native birds and animals, as well as Aboriginal hunters. However, the introduction of water intensive agricultural activity by Europeans changed all this and in particular rice cultivation has altered most river systems in Australia, and as a result the habitat for ducks.

The guest on this episode of the Exploring Environmental History podcast is Emily OGorman, an Associate Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research of the University of Wollongong. She is an expert on Australian flooding and river history and examines on this podcast the ways in which ducks as well as people negotiated the changing water landscapes of the Murrumbidgee River caused by the creation of rice paddies.

Music credits: Forecast by cdk, Where You Are Now by Zapac.

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Canine City: Dogs and Humans in Urban History

Tue, 20 Nov 2012 00:40:00 +0000

In the modern urbanized world it is often forgotten that throughout history humans have been very dependent on animals for their survival and livelihoods. Until recently most humans in the developed world share their cities with animals, in particular those that provided transport or energy for all kinds of labour. Most obvious of these are horses and donkeys. But none of these animals has such as long symbiotic history with humans as dogs. Today, most dogs in the developed world are kept as pets. However, urban dogs have also been economically as well as culturally important. The history of urban dogs is a story that has hardly been told. This was also noticed by Chris Pearson, Lecturer in Twentieth Century History at the University of Liverpool in the UK, and he is working on a research project entitled Canine City: Dogs, Humans, and the Making of Modern Paris. In this episode of the podcast Dr. Pearson talks about this project and the role of dogs in modern urban history.

Where You Are Now by Zapac, Copy me in B minor by My Free Mickey. Available from ccMixter

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Explorations in historical climatology

Tue, 24 Jul 2012 04:57:00 +0000

For many historical climatologists cold, wet and stormy weather worsened life for most European people and harmed the economy during the early modern period. Warmth on the other hand is generally regarded as a beneficial thing but too much of it is also harmful. This all seems to make sense if one ignores the Dutch economic miracle which transformed a small piece of land on the edge of Europe into the first modern economy just as the Little Ice Age entered its coldest phase. How is this possible in the face of climatic stress?

This is one of that questions that Dagomar Degroot, a PhD Candidate in environmental history at York University in Toronto, Canada, addresses on this episode of the podcast. His research explores the issue of how the changing climate of the Little Ice Age influenced the cultural, military and economic histories of the Dutch Republic during the early modern period. In addition, Dagomar will discuss the pitfalls of determinism and indeterminism in historical climatology, the sources available to historian’s researching climate and the relevance of historical climate research for present day debates about global warming and climate change. Finally, he will talk about the importance of blogging for the historical profession as a tool to communicate research outcomes to a wider audience.

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Medicinal plants in New Zealand: bridging the gap between medical and environmental history

Tue, 19 Jun 2012 02:47:00 +0000

Medical historians often presume that 19th century European settlers of New Zealand and other parts of the world relied on the emerging inorganic medicines and colonial doctors to maintain their health. However, there is also another story that seems to be overlooked: that of the use of medicine plants by settlers. For these medicinal purposes settlers introduced many new plants from overseas. The guest on this edition of the podcast is Joanna Bishop, a PhD student at the university of Wiakato in Hamilton, New Zealand. She is working on a study uncovering the story of the introduction and use of medicinal plants in New Zealand and their botanical, medical as well as environmental histories.

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Silent Spring at 50: a comparison perspective

Wed, 21 Dec 2011 13:25:00 +0000

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”. This publication is often regarded as the beginning of the modern environmental movement, in particular in the US. Silent Spring documents the effects of pesticides on the environment, and in particularly on birds. In addition, Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and government officials of accepting industry claims uncritically. Silent Spring had a profound impact on the development of environmental consciousness and led to the regulation of the use of pesticide in North America and Europe.

In order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring this episode of the podcast explores the significance of this book with Mark Wilson, a PhD candidate at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, England. Mark has written a study which compares the response to Silent Spring in the US and Britain. He also agues that Silent Spring is a typical product of its time that was closely connected with the Cold War and the rise of the counter culture at both sides of the Atlantic.

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A transformed landscape: the steppes of Ukraine and Russia

Wed, 27 Jul 2011 12:44:00 +0000

The steppes of Ukraine and Russia were once a sea of grass on rolling plains on which pastoral nomadic peoples grazed their herds of livestock. From the eighteenth century, the steppes have been transformed into a major agricultural region. This process started after the region was annexed to the Russian Empire and settled by migrants from forested landscapes in central and northern Russia and Ukraine and also from central Europe. By the twentieth century, the former steppe landscape had almost disappeared, save a few remnants protected in nature reserves (zapovedniki).

In this podcast episode, David Moon, professor of Russian history at Durham University, UK, talks about his recent visit to the Ukrainian steppes. In addition to conventional historical research in archives and libraries in Odessa, he travelled through the steppes, visited nature reserves, and met scientists to help him understand how the landscape had been transformed over time. This episode provides fascinating insights into the environmental history of the steppes and the way that environmental historians go about studying the history of landscapes and environments.

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Teaching and discovering environmental history online

Mon, 11 Jul 2011 15:40:00 +0000

From 27 June to 2 July 2011 the sixth conference of the European Society took place in the city of Turku in Finland. The meeting consisted of many parallel sessions on a wide range of topics exploring the interactions between human societies and nature in the past. This podcast will report on a paper discussing the results of a novel experiment in environmental didactics involving the web and e-learning technologies carried out by Martin Schmid of the Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen-Adria University Vienna and Rogerio Ribeiro de Oliveira of Pontificia Universidade Catolica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They used web technologies to teach an intercontinental course in urban environmental history involving classes in Rio de Janeiro and Vienna. The second part of the podcast reports on a roundtable entitled Towards an online environmental history of Europe. This panel discussed the technical, structural and thematic issues of an online environmental history of Europe which is under development by the Rachel Carson Centre for Environment and Society in Munich. The project, dubbed Arcadia, will be an encyclopedia-like resource with articles in the form of localized histories and each entry will include time, theme and location metadata as well as information about relevant organizations, people and species in order to visualize it on a map and make the material searchable. The site will provide visitors with exploratory tools to aid the discovery of material. The Arcadia online environmental history will be launched in early 2012 as part of the umbrella Environment and Society Portal.

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Energy utopia or dystopia? - A historical perspective on nuclear energy

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 05:55:00 +0000

For the past decade nuclear energy has been increasingly promoted as a carbon neutral source of energy. The Japanese Tsunami of March 2011 threw a spanner in the works when the Fukushima One nuclear power plant was flooded destroying its cooling system. The accident highlighted the potential hidden risks of nuclear technologies and fuelled fear of radiation and contamination of the environment with nuclear materials among the general public. Considering past nuclear incidents it is doubtful if the Fukushima emergency will prevent the construction nuclear plants in the long run. On this episode of the podcast Horace Herring of the Open University in Britain will explore the utopian origins of nuclear energy and how it became a dystopian illusion. He argues that economics and distrust in science and big government undermined nuclear energy more than environmental or health concerns.

Music credit: LOVELESS by Caster Seven, available from ccMixter.

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Reframing a vision of lost fens

Sat, 18 Dec 2010 22:31:00 +0000

Wetlands were once common over a large part of eastern England. Of these so-called fens only two percent survives today and most of it is now situated in nature reserves. One of these reserves is Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. Today Wicken Fen is the focus of a controversial proposal to radically expand the area of managed wetland around the reserve and to return arable land to its former wetland condition. On this podcast we interview Stuart Warrington, Nature Conservation Advisor for the National Trust at Wicken Fen, about these proposed changes and the role of history in recreating the wetlands.

The second half of the podcast is devoted to a talk delivered by Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam University. In his talk Ian analyses the attitudes towards the fens over the centuries and how these influenced the desire to drain thousands of square kilometres of wetland. He also considers the rich wild life in these wetlands and what a rich resources these provided for its inhabitants.

Music credit: Mechanics in Love (Cue 3) flac Stems by boomaga, available from ccMixter.

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Slavery, fossil fuel use and climate change: past connections, present similarities

Wed, 08 Dec 2010 20:54:00 +0000

What is the connection between the abolition of slavery, the Industrial Revolution, the use fossil fuels and climate change? Jeff Mohout of Birmingham University recently discussed this question in an article in the journal Climatic Change. In this episode of the podcast Mohout presents his idea that that slaves in the past and fossil-fuelled machines at present play similar economic and social roles: both slave and modern societies externalised labour and both slaves and modern machines freed their owners from daily chores. Consequently, modern society is as dependent on fossil fuels as slave societies were dependent on bonded labour. Mohout also suggests that, in differing ways, suffering resulting (directly) from slavery and (indirectly) from the excessive burning of fossil fuels are now morally comparable. The pocast concludes with some suggestions of the lessons which may be learned from the abolition of slavery in the 19th century for dealing with modern climate change and the associated energy transition.

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The draining of the East Anglia Fens: social unrest, design flaws and unintended environmental consequences

Wed, 06 Oct 2010 15:40:00 +0000

This episode examines the history of the Fens of East Anglia in England. The Fens originally consisted of wetlands which have been artificially drained since the Middle Ages and continue to be protected from floods by a system of drains, dams and pumps. Much of this work was carried out during the 17th century. With the support of this drainage and coastal protection system and because of its fertility, the Fens have become a major agricultural region in Britain. The story of the reclamation of the fens is one of social unrest, design flaws, money problems and unintended environmental consequences. The guest on this episode of the podcast is Julie Bowring, a PhD candidate at Yale University and she is in the final stages of writing up a dissertation on the so-called Great Level of the Fens in Cambridgeshire, England.

Music credit: The Pond by Chuck Berglund, available from ccMixter

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The First World War and the transformation of forestry in British Columbia

Mon, 19 Jul 2010 09:48:00 +0000

During the Second World War thousands of foresters left British Columbia and other parts of Canada to serve in the Canadian Forestry Corps in Europe. The Forestry Corps was set up to help European allies producing sufficient amounts of timber from their forests for the war effort. In Europe, these Canadian foresters were confronted with intensive forest management techniques, unknown to them back home. After the War British and other European governments appealed to Canada for tree seed to replant the devastated European forests. To meet this demand the British Columbia provincial government established a system for fir cone harvesting, seed extraction and overseas shipment.

In this episode David Brownstein of the University of British Columbia explains how the coincidence of the exposure of Canadian foresters to European forestry management practice and the post-war seed collection were to transform Canadian forestry, leading to the abandonment of the policy of natural regeneration.

Music credit: The Way by Pitx, available from ccMixter

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Island Environmental Histories: the Ogasawara Islands

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 10:48:00 +0000

Islands are complex ecological objects produced through flows of flora, coral polyps, human migration, and global capital. They are places that are constantly being changed through human and non-human action. Therefore, they are wonderfully rich sites for environmental historians, not to mention cultural, economic, and historians of science, to examine. They are less miniature worlds than they are places made by the convergence of worlds. In this podcast Colin Tyner, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, examines the Ogasawara Island group and it environmental histories. Colin will illustrate how different social, cultural and natural worlds converged on the Ogasawara Islands.

Music credit: Aerofonia by Mario Mattioli, available from ccMixter

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Mountains, the Asiatic Black Bear and conservation in Japan and New Zealand

Thu, 20 May 2010 13:00:00 +0000

This episode of Exploring Environmental History features an interview with Japanologist and environmental historian Cath Knight. In her spare time she maintains the blog envirohistory NZ which explores the environmental history of New Zealand. On the podcast Cath briefly talks about the origins and topics of the blog before exploring her work on Japanese environmental history. She will discuss Japanese conservation history, in particular in relation to the Asiatic brown bear and the conceptualisation of uplands and mountains in Japanese and Maori folklore.

Music credit: Time Decay by morgantj available from ccMixter

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Volcanoes in European history

Sat, 17 Apr 2010 20:40:00 +0000

On 14 April 2010 the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted for a second time in two month after having been dormant for just under 200 years. The second eruption caused an ash plume that was ejected into the stratosphere and transported by the wind to Northwest Europe and all air traffic was shut down. As a result the eruption became a major news story. A secondary reason why the eruption became a major news story is the fact that volcanic ash clouds have not affected Europe in such an immediate way in living memory. But looking at the historical record of volcanic eruptions it becomes clear that these events have affected Europe and other parts of the world in significant ways and sometimes even altered the course of history. This extra edition of the Exploring Environmental History podcast considers a small sample of such volcanic event events, including the 536 AD dust veil event, the Black Death and the Laki eruption of 1783.

Music credit: Revolve by hisboyelroy available from ccMixter

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Distance learning environmental history and Scottish forestry

Wed, 07 Apr 2010 12:27:00 +0000

The creation of a conventional classroom based environmental history course is challenging because of the diversity of topics involved. A distance learning course delivered trough the Web is even more challenging. This requires a different approach to integrate written material, audio, video, map material and online datasets and to put it in a coherent package to make it relevant to the context of each student. This edition of the podcast features Richard Rodger, Professor in Social and Economic History at the University of Edinburgh, who talks about a new distance learning masters programme in Landscape, Environment and History.

This interview is followed by an extract from a video lecture about Scottish forest history to illustrate the type of content that the masters programme has on offer. Jan Oosthoek talks in this interview about the importance of land management agencies such as the British Forestry Commission in influencing the appearance, nature and use of the landscape in modern times.

Music credit: Piano Sketch 01 by Mario Mattioli available from ccMixter

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Empire and Environmental Anxiety

Sat, 06 Mar 2010 16:55:00 +0000

At present there are many environmental anxieties related to pollution, species extinction, climate change, acid deposition and many others. However, environmental anxieties are nothing new and were also experienced during the colonial period of the 19th and early 20th century. Colonial authorities and settlers in the British Empire encountered unfamiliar environments and the combination with environmental changes caused by their activities led to widespread environmental anxieties. The most important concern was anxiety over climate change. In 19th century debates surrounding this issue, highly emotive, highly alarmist arguments were made that are very similar to the ones used today.

In this episode, James Beattie, Senior Lecturer at the Department of History of the University of Waikato in New Zealand explores these anxieties of settlers, scientist and colonial officials in India, Australia and New Zealand.

Music credit: Terra Incognita by ditto ditto available from ccMixter

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Environmental History of the 2012 Olympic site: The Lower River Lea

Wed, 10 Feb 2010 11:27:00 +0000

Former industrial sites are constantly reinvented and redeveloped reflecting changes in economies and societies over time. Nowhere else in Europe is regeneration of a former industrial site more spectacular than the 2012 Olympic site on the banks of the River Lea in West Ham, East London. The creation of the Olympic park promises the rehabilitation of the Lower Lea Valley by restoring its eco-system and revitalising the community of the area. The Lower River Lea has a long history, going as far back as the 11th centry, of industrial development and associated environmental degeneration. Jim Clifford, a doctoral student at York University in Toronto, talks in this episode of the podcast about the environmental and social history of West Ham and the Lower Lea River. He highlights that there have been attempts in the earlier 20th century to improve the Lea River’s environmental and social conditions but that the high expectations of these schemes were not always met.

Music credit: Trawnicing by Pitx available from ccMixter

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Green Colonialism in Zimbabwe

Thu, 07 Jan 2010 05:17:00 +0000

This edition of the podcast is devoted to the environmental history of colonial Zimbabwe. Vimbai Kwashirai, Lecturer in African History at Durham University, examines the debates and processes of woodland exploitation in Zimbabwe during the colonial period (1890-1980). He is doing this along the lines of Richard Grove’s thesis of Green Imperialism, but he goes beyond that by placing conservation and forest history into the broader social, political and economic history of Zimbabwe and the wider British Empire.

Music credit: Soon, this is it! by DrGoldklang. Available from ccMixter

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Historical climatology and the cultural memory of extreme weather events

Fri, 11 Dec 2009 10:25:00 +0000

In this episode Professor emeritus in history Christian Pfister, Fellow of the Oeschger Centre of Climate Research at the University of Bern examines the cultural memory of extreme weather events. In the past people experienced extreme weather in different ways depending on whether they lived in an agricultural society, an urban environment or in what profession they worked. Political and religious structures also influenced the response to weather related disasters. This coloured the narrative and memory of past extreme weather events and floods. Pfister demonstrates that this qualitative data is surprisingly objective and can be successfully used for climate reconstruction, producing surprising results.

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Environmental history of the Middle Ages

Thu, 26 Nov 2009 14:10:00 +0000

In this episode, Dolly Jorgensen, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway explains what the online Environmental History Network for the Middle Ages all about. Then she explores the main themes of medieval environmental history and talks about her own work on resource management and sanitation during the Middle Ages.

Music credit: Cello Frevo by short hopper, available from ccMixter

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Biological invasions, culture and biodiversity in South Africa

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 09:50:00 +0000

The guest on this episode of the podcast is William Beinart, Rhodes Professor of race relations and director the African Studies Centre in Oxford. Professor Beinart critiques Alfred Crosby’s idea of ecological imperialism. He argues that from the vantage point of Africa, part of the old world, Crosby’s discussion of asymmetrical plant exchange is problematic. Many species from the America’s were highly successful in Africa. He suggests that demographically, economically, and socially, the benefits have outweighed the costs of such invasive plants as prickly pear from Mexico and black wattle from Australia. The ecological costs have been greater but they are difficult to value. The podcast concludes with some brief comments on the relevance of a more flexible and less purist approach to concepts of biodiversity, and how this might be adapted to cater for transferred plants.

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Biological invasions and transformations in history

Mon, 12 Oct 2009 11:43:00 +0000

This episode of the podcast reports on a one day conference examining biological invasions in history that was held at the Universiy of Oxford in September 2009. This podcast highlights two papers presented at this meeting. Glenn Sandiford, a postdoc researcher at the University of Illinois, talks about his paper entitled: 19th century narratives on the introduction of carp in America.

The second guest on the podcast is Bernadette Hince of the Australian National University who presented a paper examining the history and impacts of invasive species on sub-Antarctic islands. The podcast ends with a brief summary of the themes and research issues that had emerged at the end of the conference.

Music credits: Finally (just guitars) by HC-7, available from

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Environmental history: an applied science

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 20:55:00 +0000

This podcast essay puts environmental history in a theoretical and practical framework and considers why this area of study differs from other flavours of history. It will discuss what the narrative of environmental is and how this is researched illustrated by some practical examples of how environmental historians work. Finally the podcast considers the ethical dimension and the pitfalls and advantages of the contemporary importance of environmental history as part of current environmental issues. This is part four of a four-part series of podcasts investigating the nature, methods and challenges of environmental history.

Music credits: Sand Castle by Pitx, Kokokur by Pitx Ana's Guitar, Open Window by Gurdonark. All available from

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Environmental history: a transatlantic perspective

Mon, 29 Jun 2009 09:08:00 +0000

In this edition Marc Hall, Assistant Professor at the Universities of Utah and Zurich, considers the question if there are different regional flavours of environmental history. He is well placed to do so with his transatlantic institutional affiliations. In addition he argues that environmental history has moved beyond the question of how we got into the environmental problems that we are facing at present. Now environmental historians consider how and why people have changed ecosystems and how in return the environment changes people in the way they act and think. This opens up a whole new set of question for historians to address making environmental history potentially a dynamic field. But what is the future of the field?

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Environmental history: definitions, methods and challenges

Tue, 09 Jun 2009 19:27:00 +0000

Environmental history is still a young field and in some respects quite undefined. Many practitioners as well as outsiders struggle to define its boundaries. The challenge that historians are now facing is how to cope with an ever expanding field and how to integrate not only data from other humanities but also the sciences. In this edition of the podcast Paul Warde, Reader in modern history at the University of East Anglia, agues that not defining the boundaries of the field or a common methodology is key to the success of environmental history but also its weakness. It brings excitement and new ideas to history but in the end, if environmental history stays too diverse; it is not clear where it is going. How to deal with this problem is one of the key issues discussed in this edition of the podcast.

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Donald Worster on environmental history

Tue, 26 May 2009 09:26:00 +0000

The guest on this episode of Exploring Environmental History is Donald Worster, Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas. He is one of the leading figures in the field of environmental history and has contributed much to its development and methodology. His scholarship and publications has stimulated historians, scientists and others to consider the relationships between humans and nature in history. In this interview Worster considers the nature of environmental history, the question if there are common methodological approaches that brings the field together and the challenges that lay ahead.

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Disasters, history and cultures of coping

Wed, 26 Nov 2008 16:16:00 +0000

The inter-relationship of human beings and the natural world, and the influence of the physical environment on a community’s social and cultural development, is very well demonstrated in societies that face the persistent threat and reality of disasters. A prime example is the Philippines. Although western social sciences typically depict disasters as abnormal occurrences, communities and individuals in the Philippines have come to accept hazard and disaster as a frequent life experience. Indeed, in a number of respects, Filipino cultures can be regarded as the product of community adaptation to these phenomena. Appreciating that there are both cultures of disaster and cultures of coping in all societies fosters an understanding of such events in terms of people’s vulnerabilities and their resilience to withstand them through strengthening existing capacities. In this episode of the podcast Greg Bankoff, professor of modern non-western history at the University of Hull explores how disasters shape the history as well as the social and cultural development of societies, in paricular that of the Philippines.

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Great Floods of Northumbria, 1771-2008

Fri, 21 Nov 2008 10:11:00 +0000

The topic of this episode of Exploring Environmental History is the history of severe river flooding in the north east of England. With the floods in the town of Morpeth in September 2008 fresh in the minds of people in Northern England it seems appropriate to look back in time to great historic floods and to see whether the rivers of Northumberland have produced even greater floods than those experienced recently. The guest on this podcast is David Archer, a retired hydrologist who worked for Northumbrian Water and the National Rivers Authority, and an expert on the history of floods in the North east of England. He will explore the great floods in the Tyne basin of the past 250 years and even beyond. In addition David will discuss what historical sources are used for the reconstruction of past floods and how such information can be used for current flood risk management.

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Environmental histories of settlement in Canada and New Zealand

Thu, 10 Jul 2008 18:29:00 +0000

This edition of the podcast is devoted to two countries of European Settlement: New Zealand and Canada. Both countries received a significant number of settlers from Scotland and Ireland. Did these groups bring a particular set of land management techniques with them that had a particular impact on the landscape and environment? Did a particular conservation ethic develop among Scottish and Irish settlers? Tom Brooking of Otago University discusses these questions in this podcast. In addition he is looking at the unique nature of the environmental history of New Zealand and how the country has become as cultivated as most “old world” countries.

In the second part of the podcast Alan MacEachern, a historian of the University of Western Ontario, explores the confrontation of European settlers with the extensive forests in eastern Canada through the Mirimichi fire of 1825. This fire is considered to be one of the largest ever recorded on the east coast of North America since European settlement. The fire took settlers by surprise because it was on a scale unknown to immigrants coming from a largely deforested continent. Alan discusses the causes of the fire, the responses to the fire and how it was reported in the European press.

Websites mentioned:

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Artifact or natural? The history of Flanders Moss in Scotland

Mon, 19 May 2008 22:30:00 +0000

This episode of the podcast returns to Scotland for a look at the environmental history of Flanders Moss, a raised peat bog west of Stirling. John Harrison, a historian from Stirling, reveals why the moss is the product of millennia of human use and exploitation. In addition he will address the questions what the moss looked before human intervention, why large parts of the moss were cleared during the 18th and 19th centuries, and some of the environmental consequences of the clearance. The podcast will also dispel the myth that the moss was once an impassible barrier, with Stirling Bridge the only place where it could be crossed. Finally, the history of Flanders Moss during more recent times, including a proposal to mine the peat to fuel a power station, and its role in the 21st century as the largest raised bog in lowland Scotland will be briefly discussed.

Website mentioned in this podcast: SNH NNR page

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Archaeology, History and Climate Change

Fri, 11 Apr 2008 11:39:00 +0000

This podcast highlights two papers presented at a conference entitled An End to History? Climate Change, the Past and the Future that that was held at the Birmingham and Midland Institute in Birmingham on 3 April 2008. The papers presented addressed the issue what we can or can not learn from the experiences of past societies which have coped with climate or environmental change. In this episode Gill Chitty, Head of Conservation of The Council for British Archaeology, explores the important contributions that archaeology can make to the national debate about climate change. Jim Galloway of the Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research in London, reviews the evidence of the impact of storm surges on the lands bordering the Thames Estuary during the fourteenth century.

Website mentioned in this podcast: Rescue!History:

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Urban air pollution in historical perspective

Sat, 16 Feb 2008 12:15:00 +0000

Urban air pollution is certainly not a new problem. During the Middle Ages the use of coal in cities such as London was beginning to increase. By the the 17th century the problems of urban air pollution are well documented. The Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries was based on the use of coal. In addition the burning of coal in homes for domestic heat pusehed urban air pollution levels further up with sometime disastrous results. The Great London Smog of 1952 resulted in around 4,000 extra deaths in the city, and led to the introduction of the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. The problems realated to air pollution, past and present, are well known but less known is the cultural history attached to air pollution. In this edition of Exploring Environmental History Stephen Mosley of Leeds Metropolitan Univeristy will explore how Victorians and Edwardians viewed air pollution and how they dealt with it. He also suggests that there is a continuation of perceptions of air pollution that links us with the Victorians.

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The environmental shadow of apartheid and rinderpest

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 15:01:00 +0000

Second of two episodes devoted to environmental history of South Africa. In this episode South African historian Phia Steyn explores the environmental consequences of the industrial development and militarization of South Africa during the Apartheid era and how it influenced environmental policies in the post-apartheid period. In the second half of the podcast Phia talks about her present research which looks at the origins of the African rinderpest outbreak and its consequences for the young Orange Free State in the 1890s.

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Botanists, colonists and local knowledge of nature in South Africa

Thu, 29 Nov 2007 10:11:00 +0000

First of two episodes devoted to environmental history of South Africa. South Africa is one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse countries in the world. Different cultures interpret and understand nature in different ways and that was nowhere more visible than in colonial South Africa. In this episode Elizabeth Green-Musselman, a historian of science, explores how a hybridized knowledge of nature developed in the cape colony blending local and European knowledge. The issues discussed include the impact of European cultivation, conflicts over natural resources and the role of naturalists in conservation and what they learned from local guides during botanical expeditions during the 18th and 19th centuries. The podcast concludes with a brief consideration of the benefits of the interactions and collaboration between environmental historians and historians of science.

Websites mentioned in this podcast: Missing Link Podcast,  African Environmental History

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The ozone hole, climate change and the Canadian Arctic

Sun, 07 Oct 2007 18:51:00 +0000

This edition of the podcast explores the story of the ozone hole during the 1970s and 80s and what lessons can be learned from this environmental problem for dealing with global warming. It suggests that not applying the cautionary principle to the ozone thinning in the 1970s led to the emergence of the so called hole in the ozone layer. In the second half of the podcast Liza Piper explores the question how the arctic environment shaped Northern Canadian society during the last stages of the Little Ice age and why this is relevant for the present.

Websites mentioned in this podcast: Nasa ozone website,; NiCHE website,

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History and sustainability

Sat, 15 Sep 2007 12:30:00 +0000

This edition of the podcast reports on a conference entitled History and Sustainability which was held at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences on 6 and 7 September 2007. The podcast explores how history can make contributions to the debate about sustainability and the education of sustainability. This is an exercise in thinking about the theoretical and methodological challenges that the discipline faces as well as the question of the place of environmental history in the academic spectrum and curriculum. Paul Warde, co-organiser of the conference, explains the rationale of the meeting, which is that sustainability, as a concept can only be understood historically because it is about survival over time. Sverker Sorlin, explains why we need to infuse the environment as a concept into historical thinking and that environmental historians play a crucial role in this process. Kate Showers, Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, talks about the importance of disciplinary synthesis for environmental history. Finally, Libby Robin of the National Australian Museum explores the the long now and the big here.

Websites mentioned in this podcast: Long Now Foundation website,; Missing link podcast,

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Humanities, Climate Change and Digital (Environmental) History

Tue, 07 Aug 2007 22:03:00 +0000

Mark Levene, founder of Rescue!History, discusses why historians and other humanities scholars should get involved and contribute to the debate and understanding of global warming. Bill Turkell, environmental and digital historian at the the University of Western Ontario, explains how historians can make better use of the web, looks at the developement of an online environmental history research infrastructure in Canada and how the use of programming languages can improve historical instruction.

Websites mentioned in this episode include:,,

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Environmental Connections: Europe and the Wider World

Thu, 14 Jun 2007 00:36:00 +0000

This special edition of Exploring Environmental History reports on the fourth conference of the European Society for Environmental History which was held at the Free University Amsterdam from 5 to 9 June 2007. The podcast will highlight some of the themes of the conference and includes interviews with presenters on the following topics: the history of pollution in the Franco-German border region, environmental history of the polar regions, marine environmental history and environmental history of war.

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Scottish Environmental History

Thu, 24 May 2007 09:52:00 +0000

Podcast exploring recent developments in Scottish Environmental History. Richard Oram, Director of the Centre for Research in Environmental History, University of Stirling, talks about how the entire Scottish landscape has been exploited for hundreds of years; the transformation of land management practices; energy resource management, including wood, peat and coal and how people responded to fuel shortages in the past; woodland management; the organisation of the landscape into Davochs and urban environmental history.

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Australian environmental and forest history

Fri, 26 Jan 2007 09:00:00 +0000

This podcast is entirely devoted to Australian environmental history. Libby Robin talks about the unique nature of Australian environmental history including the connection between deep and modern history, poor soils, fire, Aboriginal history and European settlement. John Dargavel, former president of the Australian Forest History Society discusses the issues and interests in Australian forest history.

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Climate history and a forest journey

Sat, 09 Dec 2006 18:10:00 +0000

In this episode climatologist Dennis Wheeler discusses the use of 18th and 19th century ship logs for historical climate reconstruction. In the second half of the podcast John Perlin talks about world forest history and the publication of the second edition of his book A Forest Journey.

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Marine Environmental History

Wed, 25 Oct 2006 23:23:00 +0000

In this edition Poul Holm talks about the development of the new sub-field of Marine Environmental History and the History of Marine Animal Populations Project. The second part of the podcast explores the history of fisheries on the River Forth at Stirling in Scotland. Finally, Petra van Dam talks about the fourth conference of the European Society for Environmental History, which will be held in Amsterdam in 2007.

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History of flood defences and waste

Sat, 22 Jul 2006 22:25:00 +0000

This podcast looks at the thousand year history of river flood protection in the Netherlands and reports on a conference exploring the complex nature of the relationship between modernity and waste.

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Resources, the past and the present

Wed, 24 May 2006 00:16:00 +0000

Report on the annual meeting of British Environmental Historians held at the Open University in Milton Keynes on 19 May 2006. The theme of this day conference was the use of sources in Environmental History. Interviews with participants cover the use of historical records in modern resource management, the Soil Association and Lady Eve Balfour and the history of the stratosphere.

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Rivers run through them: Landscapes in environmental history

Mon, 10 Apr 2006 15:50:00 +0000

Joint meeting of the American Society for Environmental History and Forest History Society held in St Paul, Minnesota, 29 March-1 April 2006. Snapshots of some papers presented and interviews with the president of the Forest History Society, with some participants and a short report on one of the field trips.

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Themes in environmental history

Thu, 16 Mar 2006 14:20:00 +0000

What are the important themes in environmental history? This podcast will examine some of the major themes in environmental history which have emerged over the past few decades. Themes include climate history, economic activity and the environment, fire history and pollution history, to mention only a few. The guest in this podcast is David Moon, Reader at the University of Durham, and he will talk about the environmental history of the Russian steppes.

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What is environmental history?

Thu, 02 Mar 2006 21:00:00 +0000

Environmental history is a rapidly expanding subfield of history. This podcast will introduce listeners to what environmental history is and why it is needed. In the second part of the podcast Fred Milton, a postgraduate student at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, talks about his work on the development of children’s environmental societies in the period between about 1870-1914 in Britain.

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