Environmental history: as much about the future as about the past

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. Continue reading

Environmental histories of New Zealand – Making a New Land

Making a New LandA new edition of the New Zealand environmental history classic, Environmental Histories of New Zealand, is out this month. Entitled Making a New Land, it has six new chapters with the existing ones revised. (You can read more about the book here.) I have put my order in for my copy already (and for my local library too).

This book (well, not this exact one – I haven’t got it yet!) is close to my heart. I discovered it when I was writing my Masters thesis about the Japanese treatment of nature through history (see publications page – it’s near the bottom). Continue reading

The meaning of landscape

LMoeraki bouldersast week I attended the New Zealand Geographical Society Conference, where I presented on bush burning in the Manawatu. It was an excellent opportunity for those interested in environmental history/historical geographies, with a whole day of panels dedicated to these themes, including a panel focused on the life and works of Kenneth Cumberland (who although a geographer, explored historical geography through much of his work). Continue reading

History shaping the future – NZHA conference

Next week’s New Zealand Historical Association Conference features a special four-person panel dedicated to environmental history. The panel is entitled: “History shaping the future: how environmental history research can inform environmental policy and management”, and will feature papers by Professors Katie Pickles and Eric Pawson (both from Canterbury University), Professor Tom Brooking (Otago University) and Dr Catherine Knight (envirohistory NZ). Continue reading

How did the Korean War change the NZ landscape?

I have been reading the recently published Seeds of Empire: the Environmental Transformation of New Zealand, and have made a few surprising discoveries. One was how much of an impact the Korean War had on the New Zealand rural landscape. The War led, in fact, to the last phase of geographical expansion of the productive rural landscape, or the “farming frontier”, as the authors put it. Continue reading

How can environmental history shape the future?

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) Continue reading

Is there such a thing as a natural disaster? The lessons of environmental history

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. Continue reading