In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.
An Initiation Into Environmental History
By Giacomo Parrinello
I first heard of something called “environmental history” as a new MA graduate in history. I had completed an MA thesis on the political cultures, experiences, and languages of radical left organizations in Italy from 1968 to 1977, and I was tired of endless documents on upcoming revolutions that never happened. Crazy enough to aspire to a doctorate in Italy in the late 2000s, I was looking for a new topic, possibly with a stronger anchorage on the materiality of human social life. I ended up with earthquakes—so much for the anchorage. Yet it was certainly different from what I had done up to that point, and I was inexplicably happy about the idea of dealing with crumbling houses, reconstructions, and experimental urbanism. I asked for the advice of a friend, at that time a lecturer in history in Bologna, and we went out for a beer to discuss my rather vague ideas. He seemed enthusiastic about the project. He told me the topic could relate to a new branch of historical studies called environmental history. It’s new, it’s growing and it’s interesting, he said; you should have a look at it. I followed his advice, and began with an Italian book suggested by my friend. After reading the book, I was convinced that I wanted to be supervised by the author. I succeeded in convincing the author and managed to get a three-year doctoral scholarship in Siena, and so it all began.