Conference Report (Beijing, China, 25–27 May 2017)
By Katrin Kleemann
Historians like traditions and they like to invent them. Helmuth Trischler, director of the Rachel Carson Center and head of research at the Deutsches Museum, made this remark as he looked back at the conference’s five-year history. In May 2017, international scholars came together in China for the fifth time since 2012 to discuss environmental history. Jointly organized by the Center for Ecological History (CEH), the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (RCC), the conference took place in Beijing at the Renmin University of China from 25 to 27 May. Its 24 participants came from North and South America, Africa, Europe, and of course Asia.
Should professional historians maintain their independence and objectivity as researchers, or should they address the social use of their field? Are there fundamental conflicts between the two? Do environmental or ecological historians need to become more useful and practical in addressing such global problems as climate change, intensified food production, and biodiversity loss? If so, how and to what extent? What significant insights can our study of the past offer?
These questions formed the foundation of a roundtable forum published in the first issue of the new Journal for Ecological History, edited by Renmin University’s Center for Ecological History. Our new blog series on “The Uses of Environmental History,” which launches later this week, has been adapted from the pieces presented there. Together, these contributions demarcate the evolution of environmental history over the last four decades and project a broader outlook for its future.
“Riches of Nature, Limits of Nature: Donald Worster and Environmental History”
Report on an International Conference (Beijing, China, June 26-28, 2016)
In June of 2016, the Center for Ecological History (CEH) along with the School of History at Renmin University of China, hosted an academic conference honoring environmental history’s doyen Donald Worster (RCC alumnus). The theme was “Riches of Nature, Limits of Nature: Donald Worster and Environmental History.” Inspired by the publication of his latest book entitled Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of American Abundance (Oxford UP, 2016), the CEH invited more than two dozen environmental historians (among them were many of Worster’s former graduate students) from all over the world to thank him for his stimulating example and to present him with the long-term effects of his writings and teaching. Continue reading “Riches of Nature, Limits of Nature”
This piece was originally published in Edge Effects on July 12, 2016
In Shanghai’s Natural History Museum there exists a full-sized re-creation of an African plain, complete with a herd of spooked zebras in perpetual flight from a crouching lion. It was neither the zebras, nor the two large taxidermy elephants across the crowded walkway, however, that caught my attention. Toward the right-hand wall stood a tall tree crowded with monkeys. Continue reading “Workshop: Transformations of the Earth”
28–31 May 2015, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China
Co-sponsored by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich, and the Center for Ecological History, Renmin University of China
Nuclear power plants, bullet trains, factory farms, and ancient rice paddies are all forms of landscapes transformed by technology. They express a relationship between humans and the natural world. Like all technologies, they have been shaped by their environmental conditions and in turn have reshaped the earth into new environments.
This conference seeks to include papers on such topics as the transformation of plants, animals, and genes into “organic machines,” the impact of water or electric power production on natural systems, mining as an intervention in nature, the perception of nature through the changing lens of technology and innovation, and the ecology of industrialization. Other issues of interest include the meaning of the “Anthropocene” and its cultural implications, Western vs. non-Western views of the line separating nature from technology, theories of hybridity and techno-imperialism, and concepts of envirotech histories.