Nature’s Past Episode 51: Has Environmental History Lost Its Way?

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NP Logo 1x1 12 July 2016

Episode 51: Has Environmental History Lost Its Way?

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Late last year in December, Lisa Brady, the editor of the journal, Environmental History, posted a provocatively titled blog article, “Has Environmental History Lost Its Way?” In that article, she reviews a round table panel from the most recent annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in which Mark Hersey, a historian from Mississippi State University challenged the audience to consider whether or not environmental history has broadened too widely in its scope and drifted from its methodological roots.

Two years earlier, Liza Piper, a Canadian environmental historian from University of Alberta, wrote a similarly provocative article in History Compass in which she argues “that Canadian environmental historians, even as they foreground nature as an historical actor, nevertheless continue to focus their attention and orient their investigations around questions of how human social, cultural, economic, and political power reshaped both nature and human experience in the past.”

These arguments garnered lots of attention online as environmental historians shared the link to Brady’s article via online social networks and discussed its arguments. Others have now written response articles attempting to answer her question. The discussion has focused on the question of whether environmental history should emphasize materialism and the use of environment as an analytical lens or proceed as a “big tent” that incorporates a wide range of scholarship regardless of methodology.

On this episode of the podcast, Lisa Brady, Mark Hersey, and Liza Piper discuss this question and further explore whether or not environmental history has lost its way.


Lisa Brady
Mark Hersey
Liza Piper

Works Cited:

Andrews, Thomas. Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Bolster, W. Jeffrey. The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Brady, Lisa. “Has Environmental History Lost Its Way?” Process: A Blog for American History

Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.

Crosby, Alfred. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1973.

Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Degroot, Dagomar. “Exploring the North in a Changing Climate: The Little Ice Age and the Journals of Henry Hudson.” Journal of Northern Studies 9, no. 1 (2015): 69-92.

Hersey, Mark. “Slavery and the Landscape of a Dismal Empire” Ohio Valley History 13, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 77-82.

Kheraj, Sean. “Borders and Ideas of Nature: Intersections in the Environmental Histories of Canada and the United States” Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 4 (2014): 604-609.

Piper, Liza. “Knowing Nature Through History” History Compass 11/12 (2013): 1139-1149.

McNeill, J.R. “Observations on the Nature and Culture of Environmental History” History and Theory. 42, no. 4 (December 2003): 5-43.

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.

Russell, Edmund. Evolutionary History: Uniting History and Biology to Understand Life on Earth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Walker, Brett L. “Environments of Terror: 9/11, World Trade Center Dust, and the Global Nature of New York’s Toxic Bodies” Environmental History, 20, no. 4 (October 2015): 779-795.

Worster, Donald. Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Worster, Donald. The Ends of the Earth: Perspectives on Modern Environmental History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Music Credits:

“Sunday Morning” by texasradiofish

“Gentle Romance” by Martijn de Boer (NiGiD)

“73 Strings” by Stefan Kartenberg

Photo Credit:

Hiking, Olympic National Park, 1945-1965.” Source: General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-2005, AR-28001001-ph001712, Washington State Archives. Original images held at the Washington State Archives, Olympia, WA.


Kheraj, Sean. “Episode 51: Has Environmental History Lost Its Way?” Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast. 27 January 2016.

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Sean Kheraj

Associate Professor and Vice-Provost Academic at Toronto Metropolitan University
Sean Kheraj is a member of the executive committee of the Network in Canadian History and Environment. He's an associate professor in the Department of History and Vice-Provost Academic at Toronto Metropolitan 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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