This post was co-authored with Meredith Denning.
On November 14th, we had our first meeting to discuss the topic “Canada and the World.” Though we began our conversation with questions of national borders and the issues or problems with containing Canadian environmental history within them, the exchange switched to an interesting exploration of borders more generally. We discussed not only borders among countries, but also those among disciplines, scales of analysis, temporalities, and research methodologies.
The participants commented on the long tradition of historical geography in Canada and its untapped potential for many environmental historians, as well as the wide world of environmental history literature. The group acknowledged the necessity of reaching outside of one’s own geographical focus—and indeed outside of Canadian and US environmental history—to draw from the varied environmental history literature that stems from an assortment of historical traditions. Some examples that might be useful for Canadian environmental historians are environmental history from Latin America and South Asia, which heavily draw from subaltern and post-colonial history. Or perhaps one might look to East Asian environmental history and its strong connection to economic history, as well as the history of water control and earth-moving projects. European and African environmental history are outgrowths of traditions of landscape and forestry history. In addition, African environmental history is a rich resource for understanding intersections among colonial and post-colonial histories and environmental analysis. Transcending these borders certainly takes some work, but it is something the group seemed to agree was important for environmental historians of Canada and in Canada to work towards.
Perhaps New Scholars could push to not only read environmental history about other regions available in English and French, but also to read scholarship in other languages and attend international conferences. For those of you who are inspired to connect with the international community of environmental historians, there are many ways to do so, and many of these places offer funding opportunities to participate, as well. The European Society for Environmental History has summer schools, funded workshops, and a conference every year. The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society offers fellowships, and also partners with Renmin University in Beijing to hold a conference every year. The Nordic Centre in Shanghai organizes various workshops related to environmental history, including the most recent which is called “Closing the Gap – How Technology Changes Spatial Relationships between Humans and Animals.” To reach out from the comfort of your desk, some networking communities to take note of are Le Ruche, a francophone environmental history network, and Historical Climatology.
Moving back to our meeting, we also discussed case studies as frames of analysis, something that Mica Jorgensen writes about here. While thinking about the advantages and limitations of case studies, however, something else to consider going forward might be how we define a case study. It is a very interesting question. Considering that all participants had different thoughts on what borders were, we might have different thoughts on what entails a case study, too. If you have thoughts, please write to me, or comment below. And what do you think about borders more generally? What borders do you face in your work? How do you overcome them?
Our first discussion was great, and in January, we will have a discussion called “Writing Environmental History” to discuss how we think and write about the environment and its relationship to our projects. Please let me know if you would like to join, and have a wonderful holiday season!
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