July 2011


What do these three – seemly unrelated – photographs have in common? They all feature in an upcoming talk by Dr Catherine Knight exploring how environmental history research can shape the future, through policy and planning decisions which take account of the environmental past. This question has become increasingly topical both here and internationally, particularly in the wake of a series of natural disasters that have led to many questioning the wisdom of thinking that as humans we can control the forces of nature through engineering and technological solutions. (See for example: Is there such a thing as a natural disaster? The lessons of environmental history) (more…)

Though my implement of choice for environmental history is the pen (or more accurately, the keyboard), I am known to pick up a spade from time to time. Specifically, to plant native trees on land in the Pohangina Valley, about 40 kilometres north-east of the Manawatu provincial “capital” of Palmerston North [click here to view location].

When I do so, I am deeply conscious of the fact that I am undoing the toil of hardworking men who “broke the land in” only a century ago, transforming the Manawatu – at the time described in a government advertisement as “the waste land of the Colony” – into productive farmland. (more…)

In a recent essay published in the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand newsletter, University of Canterbury Professor of Geography Eric Pawson asks why people are becoming more – not less – vulnerable to environmental disasters. Recent events, such as the recent Canterbury earthquakes, the Japan earthquake and tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Victorian bushfires of 2009 have brought this question to the fore. The primary reason for this increasing vulnerability has been our growing confidence in the human ability to control nature through engineering and other means, leading us to disregard the recurrent and inevitable threat posed by natural hazards. (more…)

I recently sent this photo from the envirohistory NZ banner to the Stirling University Research Centre for Environmental History and Policy to be used on their related links page. When I did so, I thought it may be a good opportunity to share the “back story” of the photo.

The photo is taken by veteran photographer, Paul Knight, of a farm just north of the Horowhenua town of Levin [click here to view location]. The farm, called Nikaunui, meaning “many (or big) nikau palms” in Maori, is a large sheep and beef farm, owned by the Kilsby family,* a family with a long history in the district. (more…)

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