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Hope and Environmental History: A Prospectus for Research

Sat, April 1, 3:00 to 4:30pm, The Drake Hotel, French

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


In his 1993 presidential address to the ASEH, William Cronon named declensionism a key challenge of environmental history. “There’s something odd about an academic subject that seems to require such an antidote to despair,” he noted. Nearly twenty-five years later, environmental historians have devoted little systematic effort to developing such antidotes. Addressing this gap, this roundtable explores the analytical possibilities of despair’s antithesis—hope. It situates hope as a valuable subject of environmental historical research. Hope is a historical force that drives change. As people professionally interested in how and why change happens, we must take hope more seriously than we have done.

Tina Adcock, Dorothee Schreiber, and Tina Loo investigate hope as an analytical construct. Surveying recent philosophical and geographical approaches to hope, Adcock identifies those of greatest utility to environmental historians. Schreiber demonstrates how multispecies anthropology, science studies, and Indigenous studies can enrich hopeful stories in environmental history. Loo considers hope’s association with power—the structural, material, and ideological contexts sustaining hope; its ability to animate the powerful and powerless—by exploring Inuit and government scientists’ postwar efforts to conserve Canada’s barren-ground caribou. Other panellists narrate other post-1945 histories of hope and the environment. Sketching the intellectual biographies of leading postwar Canadian resource scientists, Mark McLaughlin identifies hope as key to their ecological research and resource management strategies. Philip Wight illustrates how French existentialist responses to the nuclear arms race presaged the ways that climate scientists and activists mobilize ideas of hope today. Using case studies from ecology, urban studies, and cultural studies, Libby Robin outlines the search for a twenty-first-century “expertise” of hope beyond climate science, which has failed to generate hope for the future.

If possible, the program should link this roundtable to the one entitled “The Pedagogy of Hope,” as the two were conceived together.

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