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Ecological Imperialism in the Age of Industry

Sat, March 17, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Riverside Convention Center, RC F

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


Alfred Crosby’s classic thesis—in which the nature of Old World ecologies (particularly domesticated plants and animals, and crowd diseases) translated into material and biological advantages upon European contact with the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Antipodes, with devastating consequences for New World ecologies and Indigenous people—has dominated the environmental history of empire since its publication in 1986. And while it offers a compelling explanation for the nature of environmental transformation in the early modern period, Crosby’s model is less apposite when it comes to the era following the Great Divergence, circa 1800. The collection of changes that ushered in what many now refer to as the Anthropocene—rapidly spreading industrialization; the expansion of global capital; new transportation and communication technologies, especially telecommunications and steam-powered transport on land and sea—have profoundly altered the nature of imperial expansion, colonization and postcolonial trade. This round table brings together scholars working on empire and environment from the Pacific to the Caribbean during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to ask, what does ecological imperialism look like in this age of industry? Can environmental historians continue to think along Crosbian lines, albeit with modifications, for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Or must a new model be proposed to understand the interplay between empire and the natural world under such intensified conditions of anthropogenic environmental change? What would such a framework look like? Presenters will discuss these issues from a range of geographical perspectives: the Pacific; Australasia; the British World; Latin America; and Nishnaabe-kiing (Indigenous North America).

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