Manawatu River

Manawatu River, ca 1870. Note shacks on flanks of the river. Photograph taken by William James Harding 1826-1899. Ref: 1/1-000339-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

I have been dipping into my recently acquired copy of Making a New Land, the revised edition of Environmental Histories of New Zealand (see: Environmental histories of New Zealand – Making a New Land). In particular, the conclusion really resonates with me:

Environmental history can and should be more than history with nature added in. Otherwise it may rest as a history of environmental ideas, or of wilderness, which is indeed its origin in the United States. The discipline of geography gave it a far broader base in New Zealand as long ago as the 1940s; today historians, geographers, Maori and legal scholars, archaeologists and landscape ecologists are working productively together as we intend this book to demonstrate. But to develop an edge environmental history needs to frame its stories in ways that engage not only those interested in the past, but also those whose role it is to analyse and to manage environmental behaviour now and in the future. [my emphasis]

As someone who also works in the field of environmental policy, I could not agree more. And I hope too that I will make at least some small contribution to this understanding, – the connection between the past and future environmental behaviour and governance – through the publication of an environmental history of the Manawatu. Indeed, the motivation for the book is as much about the future as it is about elucidating the past.