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

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

The “Kingdom of Taranaki” – is there truth behind the epithet?

I have often heard the region of Taranaki referred to as the “Kingdom of Taranaki”, owing to the fierce independence displayed by its long-time residents – particularly farmers, and particularly in relation to property rights. While the epithet is used facetiously, it is often underpinned by a sense of admiration for this feisty independence. But is there a reality to this perceived feistiness, and if so, is there some historical reason for 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

Were the Scottish really greener?

Did Scottish and Irish settlers bring particular land management practices with them to New Zealand? In particular, did the Scottish have a strong conservation ethic which made them “greener” than their fellow-settlers, as is sometimes claimed? These were some of the questions addressed by Professor Tom Brooking (University of Otago) at a conference in Aberdeen which explored the environmental histories of Scottish and Irish migrants to countries of the “New World” such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

At the conference, United Kingdom based Environmental Historian Dr Jan Oosthoek interviewed Prof. Brooking and asked him about the environmental practices of Irish and Scottish settlers in New Zealand. He also asked him to talk about what makes New Zealand’s environmental history unusual and unique.

Photo: Scottish-born politician, explorer and conservationist, Sir Thomas McKenzie (standing, centre) with party in Southland, between 1908-14. McKenzie was instrumental in making Fiordland a national park and was a founding member of the Forest & Bird Society. Used with permission from Alexander Turnbull Library ref PA1-0-307-42.

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