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Method and Meaning in Canadian Environmental History, that is.

I’m happy to report that publisher Nelson Education has returned the rights of this 2009 undergraduate textbook to its editors and contributors, and we’re making it freely available to the world.* Just click on the NiCHE website’s Resources tab, then on the “Method and Meaning” cover — or just click here – and then click through to each of the 18 chapters for download or online reading.

Here, from the introduction, is the book’s guiding principle:

When approached about organizing a reader, William J.Turkel and I decided that we wanted students to learn about methodology, to learn how to do environmental history. Most history textbooks are created by bringing together articles from peer-reviewed, scholarly journals. Such articles assume considerable familiarity not only with the field’s content but also with how history is researched and written. It is apparently expected that students will learn how to do history by reading good history—a not unreasonable hope, but rather indirect. For this volume, Turkel and I asked contributors to use a case study that they had already worked on as the basis for writing a specially produced essay that explained their process, and how their specific fields (such as historical archaeology), sources (such as maps), and practices (such as microhistory) assisted them in telling the stories they wanted to tell. We asked the authors to imagine the reader looking over their shoulder and asking questions: Why have you chosen those sources? How did you find and interpret them? What kind of questions did you ask yourself or other people during the research? And we asked that they imagine this questioning reader be an undergraduate student.

Did we succeed? Well, we were edged out of the bestsellers list by the Twilight series. But as you’ll see, we got some great work out of some great scholars working in and around environmental history.  Cheers.


*Bill and I also rescued some print copies of the textbook.
The trees have already died, so don’t feel guilty: If you’d like paper copies, let me know.

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I am the author of Becoming Green Gables (spring 2024), The Summer Trade (with Edward MacDonald, 2022), & The Miramichi Fire (2020), & the editor of the print/open-access Canadian History & Environment series at University of Calgary Press. I was Director of NiCHE, 2004-15. Contact me at

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