Nature’s Past – Episode 19: Metropolitanism and Environmental History

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Nature’s Past Episode 19 – click to play | right click, ‘save as’ to download


In 1954, Canadian historian James Maurice Stockford Careless published an influential article in the Canadian Historical Review, titled “Frontierism, Metropolitanism, and Canadian History” which offered a new approach for understanding the course of Canadian history and the development of the Canadian nation-state. Instead of adopting the US model of a Frontier Thesis, which saw the expansion and development of the United States connected directly to the extension of a westward settlement frontier, Careless proposed a different model based on a Metropolitan Thesis which understood the development of the Canadian nation-state as a function of the interconnections between metropolitan centres and their regional hinterlands. Under this model for understanding Canadian history, the contours of the country’s expansion were determined not by a continuous line of frontier settlement but instead by the radial expansion of urban influence on rural hinterlands.


Careless’s notion of metropolitanism has since played a significant role in environmental history research, most prominently in the work of William Cronon in Nature’s Metropolis and other works in urban environmental history. Borrowing from Careless, this research examines the urban environment in its relationship to rural hinterlands, extending our understanding of the meaning of urban environments beyond the municipal boundaries. The exploitation of natural resources in distant hinterland regions in North America, as far as the northern reaches of the Canada, has in some fashion been influenced by urban consumer demands. Cities consume more resources than their physical footprint can supply and, therefore, they rely upon drawing in resources from an extended hinterland region.


As such, metropolitanism as an approach to understanding the interconnection between cities and hinterlands has been quite influential in environmental history. On this episode of the podcast, three prominent Canadian environmental history scholars debate the role of metropolitanism in environmental history research.


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Sean Kheraj is the director of the Network in Canadian History and Environment. He's an associate professor in the Department of History and associate dean of programs in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University. His research and teaching focuses on environmental and Canadian history. He is also the host and producer of Nature's Past, NiCHE's audio podcast series and he blogs at

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