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How many of us would happily make do without a fully equipped modern kitchen – even if it sometimes beats like a transplanted artificial heart at the centre of an artisan cottage stripped back to its original organic floorboards and fireplace?
I recall a discussion with my supervisor at the outset of my postgraduate research about whether I should use a database to organise my findings. I was nudged not to follow in her Linnaean footsteps with an index card system. Her tale of laying out thousands of cards on her office floor and connecting them with lengths of coloured string in order to visualise linkages drove the point home.
Debates, disputes, and even injustice lay just beneath the outward signs of vaunted Victorian technological progress. The ascendancy of the imperatives of industrialization and urbanization over all other considerations was not inevitable or automatic; there were moments when those imperatives were challenged and rival ones championed.
This year (2010), the world has seen a number of big earthquake disasters, like those that hit Haiti in January and Chile a month later. Disasters strike when least expected, and the death and destruction that follows represents critical tests of the ability of cities and nations to handle crises and to rebuild.
In our age of climate change and peak oil anxiety, environmental problems loom increasingly large in politics as well as everyday life. Yet even if ecology were to become the preeminent science, it is difficult to imagine a future where the authority of nature will form a unified source of morality, aesthetic value, and scientific truth. Such a world seems irretrievably lost to us.
In the opening of his recent volume, Nature and History in the Potomac Country, historian James D. Rice informs his readers that the idea for the book began with what he perceived as a ‘hole in the map’ (p. 1).
Karl Boyd Brooks, noted environmental historian and now Director of Region 7 of the Environmental Protection Agency, has edited an interesting volume of essays written primarily by environmental, political, and legal scholars, mostly by historians, that, in part, grew out of a 2007 symposium held at Key West, Florida, titled ‘Truman and the Environment: Los Alamos to the Everglades’.
For readers like this reviewer, who do not read Germany fluently, the translation of Joachim Radkau’s Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment is a major event. This is probably the best available overview of the changing human relationship with the biosphere: a subject whose historiographical and political significance is becoming more and more evident.
Most of us who have tried to write of time and place on a large scale resort to a broad framework of ideas, punctuated by an example or two from the literature or even from our own experience. As in his first edition, Donald Hughes does it differently: a series of footprints rather than a superhighway, as he puts it.
A series of six biographical case studies, Gary Kroll’s America’s Ocean Wilderness: A Cultural History of Twentieth-Century Exploration examines the ways 19th-century conceptions of the American frontier were, during the 20th century, transferred to the oceans.