This image taken by Charles E. Wildbore circa 1907 shows the rural mail delivery that operated in the Pohangina Valley. The background of scorched, leafless tree trunks and limbs draws the eye of the environmental historian. Palmerston North City Library, ID 2007N_Poh2_RTL_0852

This image taken by Charles E. Wildbore circa 1907 shows the rural mail delivery that operated in the Pohangina Valley. It is the background of scorched, leafless tree trunks and limbs that draws the eye of the environmental historian, rather than the mail cart or people in the foreground. Palmerston North City Library, ID 2007N_Poh2_RTL_0852

Why should we study New Zealand’s environmental history? and how is it different from “conventional” history?

These are the questions that Paul Star asks in his essay entitled Environmental history and New Zealand history, first written in 2008, but recently republished on Environment and Nature in New Zealand.

Star offers seven compelling reasons why it is important. And of course, the key difference between environmental history and history is that while people are the central players in conventional history, the relationship between people and the environment is the focus in environmental history. (more…)

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. (more…)

After a great session last week at University of Waikato, Hamilton, hosted by the History Department (see: How can environmental history shape the future?), Catherine will be doing the same talk at Massey in October. The Hamilton talk was attended by scholars of history (both faculty and students), ecologists, hydrologists, as well as environmental managers and practitioners, and stimulated some interesting discussion. (more…)

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…)

Episode 5 of the envirohistory NZ podcast series is now out. This episode explores the critical link between environmental history and the decisions we make about how we shape and live within the environment. To illustrate the importance of environmental history in helping to inform  environmental policy and planning decisions, this episode reflects on two recent natural disasters – the February 22nd Canterbury earthquake and the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in north-eastern Japan. (more…)

Last year, Lindsay Gow retired from his position as Deputy Secretary of the Ministry for the Environment after more than two decades leading environmental policy work in New Zealand. envirohistory NZ asked Lindsay to share his thoughts on how New Zealanders’ attitudes towards the environment and environmental issues have changed over this period:

The first change has been in public and political opinion.

20 years and more ago environmental policy was very much the junior partner in the both government and public eyes.  Although the establishment of the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation came out of a reaction to the rapacious “think big” developments, it was not easy to get policy issues and ideas launched.  We found that the onus of proof was against, not in favour of environmental protection. (more…)

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