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Scale and Circulation: Bringing History and Geography Together in Global Environmental Histories of Empire

Sat, April 1, 10:30am to 12:00pm, The Drake Hotel, French

Session Submission Type: Panel


Our session brings together traditions in both history and geography in the writing of global environmental histories within the context of “empire”. Over the last decade or so, a growing body of literature has emerged on the integration of histories of the environment with “global” and “world history”. Drawing from the French Annales School, works emphasize the “long duree” or “deep history.” Some scholars have studied how global biophysical processes s have connected disparate regions across the world. Some have adopted Immanuel Wallerstein's "modern world system" to understand environmental transformations on the global scale, while others have examined the role of scientific knowledge in enabling global commodity flows and, in turn, environmental change. Geographers have also contributed to global environmental histories from different intellectual trajectory. Early 19th-century biogeographers such as Humboldt studied humans, climates, and environments as part of European imperial expansion. Geography's tradition is deeply rooted in environmental determinism and racism. The rich and contentious past has forced critical scholars to confront the ways geographers explain the impact of climate and environment on humans. More recently, historical geographers have been studying the spatialities of globalization, and the role of networks in shaping commodities, peoples, knowledges, plants, and animals.

This session focuses directly on the “spatial turn” in global environmental history focused on “empire” as a scale of analysis. What are the relations between history and geography? What does it mean to integrate key geographical concepts as “scale”, “region”, and “place” in the writing of global environmental histories? How do scholars in the humanities and geophysical sciences define an “event” in the biophysical and human realms? How do we account for non-human agencies in these assemblages? What methodologies help foster interdisciplinary work on the histories of the environment among the natural sciences, the social sciences, and especially, the humanities?

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