Clio's New Greenhouse

Peter Coates looks at how environmental history is pushing its way up the agenda.

Since the 1960s, social historians have added new wings and storeys to the Muse of History's mansion to house various neglected members of the human family and those who study them. The latest addition is a greenhouse, grafted on to accommodate the natural world and the environmental historian. For whether concerned with high politics or forgotten folk, most historical endeavour up to now has dealt exclusively with intra-human relations.

Environmental history's basic assumption, however, is that human activity takes place within a larger, more natural history and that historians would do well to include this in their purview. The objective is to reveal the various relationships over time between humans and the rest of nature, a task which entails looking at the impact of economic and political systems, ideologies and technologies on the non-human world as well as at how natural forces act as historical protagonists.

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