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The Nature of American Foreign Relations: Taking Foreign Relations History and Environmental History Together

Thu, March 30, 3:30 to 5:00pm, The Drake Hotel, Georgian

Session Submission Type: Panel


In September of 2008, Diplomatic History published a special forum on the connections between environmental history and diplomacy. The forum’s editors, Kurk Dorsey and Mark Lytle, had been calling for investigations of the overlaps between these historical subfields for more than fifteen years, but in 2008 the literature on these overlaps remained relatively sparse. Since then, literature on topics that bring together foreign relations history and environmental history has flourished, but these topical links have yielded only a very limited discussion of how combining the fields themselves might help shape new approaches to historical scholarship. With a few exceptions, case studies by diplomatic historians on specific resource conflicts have remained largely separate from environmental histories of issues that cross national boundaries or undermine governance structures rooted in the nation-state, and few historians have attempted to meaningfully investigate broader patterns of American foreign policymaking as if nature matters. In this panel, we will use a series of episodes from twentieth-century American history as a way to think about what some of the guiding interests of foreign relations history—and in particular, the concern over the nature, structure, and exercise of international power—can do for an environmental historian, and conversely, what taking nature seriously as a category of analysis can do for historians of American foreign relations. How have both material natural resources and changing American ideas about nature and natural resources helped to shape the nation’s international priorities over the past century?

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