Environmental history is all about the relationship between human beings and the natural environment. It is about the way humans have transformed the environment over time. Without human beings, environmental history wouldn’t be nearly so interesting, and there would be the added complication of there being no one around to record it!
New Zealand has a fascinating, and, for scholars and researchers – conveniently “compact” – environmental history. Despite a relatively short human presence here, people have managed to transform these islands from a largely forested land only a few hundred years ago into one now largely bereft of lowland forest. The rural landscape has largely become one of rolling green hills and pasture, dotted with the odd bush fragment or copse of trees. But it is not just the appearance of the landscape that has been transformed – our highly modified “natural” environment only performs a fraction of the ecological functions it once did – for instance, there are now few hill-country forests to regulate water flow, and even fewer lowland swamp forests to filter and regulate water (among many other important ecological functions).
And increasingly, we are experiencing the consequences of this loss of the “ecological functionality” (to put it mechanistically) of our environment – in the form of floods, landslips, loss of indigenous biodiversity and degraded soil fertility.
This website stems from the recognition that to understand the environmental issues we are facing today, it is essential to understand our environmental past – the way the environment once was, the way we have transformed it, and the implications these human interventions have.
Through short articles, reader contributions, links to research, articles, other sites and resources, this site aims to stimulate discussion and exploration of the way we relate to our environment through history. And, perhaps most importantly, what lessons we can learn about our relationship with the environment into the future. [Photo: Nikaunui morning, by Paul Knight]
envirohistory NZ in the news:
March 27 2010 – envirohistory NZ featured in the Manawatu Evening Standard “Down memory lane” column, by Tina White. The story, entitled “Living our landscape”, outlines the thinking behind the website, and some of the Manawatu stories it explores. To read the article, click here.
Jan 14 2010 – A story on envirohistory NZ, entitled “Sharing environment history online” features in the Kapiti Observer and Horowhenua Mail. Click here to read Kapiti Observer 14 Jan 10 article.
May 2010 – envirohistory NZ founder, Dr Catherine Knight, interviewed by Dr Jan Oosthoek, an environmental historian based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and founder of the Environmental History Resources website. Click here to listen to the podcast (Podcast 35: Mountains, the Asiatic Black Bear and conservation in Japan and New Zealand). In the interview, Catherine talks about the impetus for establishing the website, some of the recurrent themes of the website, and her environmental history research and publications, including aspects of Japans’ nature conservation history, and comparative work on Maori and Japanese perceptions of the environment. Links to articles mentioned in the podcast are on the Publications page.