Article

Environment and the Natural World

Susan Scott Parrish

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0021
Environment and the Natural World

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
  • African History
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  • Regional and National History

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One of the central tenets of environmental history is that the natural world does not constitute a mere background for human agency and social change but that plants, animals, climate, disease vectors, and geography are all crucial actors in history. Though scholars have been studying the movement of plants and animals across the Atlantic since at least the 1930s, Alfred W. Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Crosby 2003, cited under General Overviews) established a field of study and general awareness of the biological facts associated with European and African contact with the Americas. The Atlantic could then be seen as a vector of humanly introduced biological changes moving in both directions, with profound consequences for people and environments on both sides. That those who dominate in Atlantic empires owe much to biological luck is a part of this story, as well as how biology can be used as a tool of empire. Subsequent studies have been more emphatic than Crosby in showing how imperial powers consciously use biology as part of their arsenal. Important interventions involve the debunking of the concept of non-European peoples as somehow “a part of” nature (or of Europeans, for that matter, as completely in conscious control of nature). Work on the “ecological Indian,” on Indian adaptations to the environmental practices and biotic introductions of Europeans, on African practices of cultivation and pastoralism and how these were exported to the Americas, and on African adaptation of New World species in Africa are an integral part of the story.

Article.  4495 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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