Appel à communications, “Pour une anthropologie historique de la nature”. Poitiers, 2-3 octobre 2015

L’objectif de cette rencontre scientifique est à la fois de discuter la possibilité d’un croisement entre l’anthropologie et l’histoire sur le thème de la nature (et de fixer ainsi les poins saillants d’une problématique commune) et d’articuler des propositions théoriques et empiriques à  quelques grands ensembles de questions. Quatre points ont été retenus : la rupture nature/culture en Occident et les autres formes d’appréhension de la nature ;  le symbolisme, les rites et les rapports aux existants ; le surgissement de la nature dans l’ordonnancement des sociétés ; et enfin, les relations entre politique et nature.

Consulter l’intégralité de l’argumentaire

Les propositions de communication (2000 signes, espaces compris) doivent parvenir par mail aux organisateurs avant le 30 mars 2015.

Contacts: et


Bison: The Original Climate Change Activists (on the practical relevance of environmental history)

Come back, we need you: Last of the Canadian buffaloesThere’s a lot that can be said about the relations between environmental history and science.  Historians often use scientific knowledge to figure out past environments; and of course science itself is a focus of historical study.
But the contributions of environmental history to science and environmental action get less attention.  At least, historical insight is certainly useful in guiding ecological restoration – figuring out how to bring back vanished landscapes or species implies knowing something about what came before.
But I just came across an interesting example of environmental history being useful in dealing with the future – with the climate change challenge.  My original source was the Gallon daily environmental newsletter, which led me to the University of California alumni magazine.  It turns out that compost can turn grasslands into effective machines for sucking carbon out of the atmosphere.  By encouraging growth of native grasses, they help lock up vast amounts of carbon in the soil.  It’s no panacea – definitely not outweighing fossil fuel burning – but it’s a help.
But the interesting historical thing is that environmental history provided the clues that this might actually work.  California’s rangelands used to have huge herds of elk and other ungulates, that by harrowing and fertilizing the soil (with their manure), encouraged abundant native grasses, which then sequestered tonnes of carbon.  Composting is, in a way, a return to that earlier kind of ecosystem.  And environmental history also shows how this could be applied elsewhere: bringing bison (and the grasslands ecosystem that they were part of) back to the Great Plains could probably make a serious dent in climate change.
Climate change research tends to be dominated by scientists – atmospheric physicists and energy engineers among them – but perhaps historians can play a bigger role than we might think.

— Stephen Bocking - Environment, History, Science

Internal colonisation of Norway

Beavers had survived in a small pocket near Aamli, Norway, longer than any other place in northern Europe. Even though Aamli had this remnant, the rest of the country had lost all of its beaver populations, just like Sweden, Finland, and the Baltic countries. Norwegians, just like the Swedes, would start reintroducing the animals to their lost ranges in the 1920s. Although the beaver population was naturally expanding in the southern counties, reintroduction projects allowed quick starts for northern communities where beavers would not have reached for many decades. Beaver reintroductions to the north would continue through at least the 1960s.

In 1925, three years after beavers had been released in Jämtland, Sweden, six beavers were released in Sørvassdalen in the municipality of Vefsn in northern Norway. The release happened on the property of the lumber processing company Nesbruket, but it is not clear from my sources who instigated the reintroduction. All of the animals had been caught in Aamli by Peder Jensen-Tveit, the beaver whisperer. They included a pair of adults, a pair of young adults, and a pair of kits. Unfortunately, the adults didn’t stay put and in the spring 1926, the female was shot. The younger pair remained in the release area two years but afterward they and/or their offspring moved to new waters — beavers were found in several nearby streams in 1933.

Release of beavers on the Sognli Jaktklubb property, August 1926. Picture was published in Aftenposten newspaper, 9 October 1926. Now in the DigitaltMuseum.

Release of beavers on the Sognli Jaktklubb property, August 1926. Picture was published in Aftenposten newspaper, 9 October 1926. Available in the DigitaltMuseum.

In 1926, another intra-country reintroduction of beavers in Norway took place in Sør-Trøndelag. The Norwegian industrialist Christian Thams, whose family fortune was based in mining, had established a hunting club called Sognli jaktklubb in 1907. Just like the hunters involved in reintroducing beavers in northern Sweden, Thoms and the other hunting club members were interested in wildlife conservation. One pair of beavers was released on the hunting club property in 1926 and another two pairs joined them in 1929. The reintroduced population appears to have built two beaver dens by 1935, but then most of the animals moved on to other nearby water courses according to O. Olstad writing in 1937.

While these beaver reintroduction projects had a conservation element, they should also be placed within the framework of making the countryside productive. Just as muskoxen were envisioned as potential meat and wool sources, beavers were potentially economic assets. This comes across in a newspaper article from October 1926, “De energiske kolonister i avsidesliggende dalfører” (The energetic colonists in remote valleys). The forest manager interviewed in the article was not particularly pleased with the recent spread of beavers because of potential damage to hardwoods, but he admitted that there were many international requests for beavers, especially from Sweden for reintroduction, so increasing the beaver population might pay. The beaver’s potential use as a pelt animal was also mentioned several times by the journalist who wrote the article. The journalist made one additional comment worth considering closer:

Here an experiment is underway with the setting out of beavers in districts where it has not been before — one tries to establish colonies in different places with the same amount of enthusiasm as the Danish government has when they send eskimos to Scoresby Sund and other places.

Two things strike me about this statement. The first is that the journalist doesn’t really know his history, since it is known that the beaver’s range extended through all of Norway in the past. The second is that beavers are being treated like nationalist colonists. They are being put to work, if you will, on behalf of the State as a way of claiming territory and making it productive. This is a reminder that reintroduction is always tangled up with understandings of what nature is for.

— Dolly Jørgensen, The Return of Native Nordic Fauna

Science in Different States: The Science Council and the Trudeau Government

Ursula Franklin Peace Medal

Ursula Franklin receiving the Peace Medal

By Henry Trim

The recent closing of research labs and scientific libraries across Canada has generated a heated debate over the proper relationship between science and the Canadian government. The fundamental short sightedness of these policies and their dire consequences for environmental research have been ably discussed on this blog by William Knight, at the Walrus, and by the CBC’s Fifth Estate among other places. How, one might ask, have past Canadian governments related to science and how did this relationship shaped Canadian politics?

The so-called Age of Ecology in the 1970s corresponded with a particular approach to scientific knowledge. At the time the government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau placed a very high value on what it saw as science. Elected in 1968, at the apex of scientists’ political authority in Canada, Trudeau approached scientific knowledge as the most effective lens through which to approach the world. Immediately after forming the government, it set about reorganizing the Canadian state in an attempt to transform policy making into an almost academic process of discussion in which “knowledge power” framed cabinet debates and clearly defined national priorities guided government bureaucracy. Unsurprisingly, Canadian politics proved resistant to this attempt to systematize them. The Trudeau government’s efforts did, however, have a significant effect on scientists place in Canadian politics.

The Science Council of Canada benefited perhaps the most from the Trudeau government’s view of science. Founded in 1965 to advise the Person government on Canadian science policy, the Council became a crown corporation in 1968 and a fixture in Canadian politics in the 1970s. Comprised of leading academic scientists and engineers as well as a few CEOs, the Council had implacable intellectual credentials. Its first Chairperson, Omond Solandt, was a leading figure in Canadian operations research (a highly statistical field and a forerunner of today’s big data). Taking its direction from Solandt, technical information dominated the Council’s reports as it drew on the infatuation with computer simulation, econometrics, and forecasting that swept in the late 1960s and early 1970s when everyone from renowned sociologist Daniel Bell to the environmentalists of Club of Rome used quantitative models to study the world and plan the future. In an act of political jiu-jitsu, the Council use the authority the Trudeau government vested in these forms of quantitative analysis to assert its independence while also strengthening its criticisms and policy suggestions.

The scientists and technocrats of the Science Council also embraced a second aspect of the Trudeau government’s approach to science. Namely, that it could be used to connect Canadians to their government and to inform discussion of Canada’s problems in the 1970s. While this privileging of science undoubtedly silenced some critics and could at times force discussion into a technical straitjacket, it also legitimized the voices of scientists when they warned to problems or suggested alternatives. The greatest example of the merger of technical analysis and public debate was the Council’s Conserver Society program.

In a 1973 report on Canadian natural resources, the Council informed Canadians that “[they] as individuals, their governments, institutions and industries, [must] begin the transition from a consumer society preoccupied with resource exploitation to a conserver society engaged in more constructive endeavors.”[i] The Council filled out this “conserver” approach more carefully in the following years and by the mid-1970s it had developed a well-defined approach to development that sought to balance needed economic growth with environmental protection, energy conservation, and social development. As this precursor to sustainable development generated interest among Canadians, the Council set up a Conserver Society Committee under the direction of Ursula Franklin, a socially active physicist and metallurgist who would go on to produce a famous series of Massey Lectures on “The Real World of Technology.”

To reach Canadians, Franklin founded the journal Conserver Society Notes to teach Canadians and their leaders about the Conserver Society and potential of sustainability. This journal helped the Council reach out to well-known environmentalists, such as Amory Lovins and to Canadian politicians interested in alternative development, most notably Premier Alexander Campbell of Prince Edward Island. Working with these figures, the journal and the Science Council produced studies of Canada’s unsustainable reliance on oil and the opportunities presented by solar energy and other renewables. By the late 1970s the Council and its environmental and provincial allies had pushed renewable energy on the federal agenda. In 1978 the government even announced a $600 million (in 1978 dollars) program to develop solar energy which drew heavily on the Council’s ideas.

Amory Lovins 1977

Amory Lovins 1977 (from Mother Earth News )

The success of the Science Council’s Conserver Society highlights how the government’s approach shapes the authority of scientists. While groups like the Science Council faced opposition and far more of their suggestions where ignored than accepted, the privileged place science had within the ideology of the Trudeau government granted them influence. The Council used this power to generate public debate and outline a program of alternative development, however, this had as much to do with its sense of social responsibility as its scientific credentials. In short, the place of science in the 1970s was as much about political ideology and conceptions of good governance as the production of scientific knowledge.

To say that science was politicized, is not to dismiss its importance. In the 1970s the Science Council used its relative power to criticize the Trudeau government and generate public discussion of alternatives. This assertion of independence and the Trudeau government’s willingness to accept these actions as legitimate and worthy of public support is what made the Council important. To me it is the unwillingness to accept or support other viewpoints is this concerning today. It is natural, if sometime regrettable, that the relative authority of different forms of knowledge will change as political ideologies and societies do, but if nothing “off message” is legitimate then it will take far more than better funding for environmental science to save us.


 Henry Trim recently completed his PhD at the University of British Columbia.

[i] Science Council of Canada, Report 19, Natural Resource Policy Issues in Canada (Ottawa: Information Canada, 1973), 39.


Environmental Science and Values: Lectures from my Environmental Science and Politics course

I just finished the first theme of my Winter term course on “Environmental Science and Politics”: two weeks of lectures on the relations between environmental science and environmental values.  Here are the slides from my lectures:

— Stephen Bocking - Environment, History, Science

New Book – Running Out? Water in Western Australia

Ruth A. Morgan UWAP, 320 pp, PB, February 2015. For nea […]

— Australian and NZ Environmental History Network

ESEH 2015 registration open, call for posters

ESEH2015 meeting registration open Registration for the […]

— Australian and NZ Environmental History Network

Coauthored Book by Verena Winiwarter Named Austrian “Science Book of the Year”

— Rachel Carson Centre LMU - News and Events

Appel à candidature. Ecole d’été thématique internationale “Villes et montagnes: risques environnementaux et sanitaires au prisme de l’histoire et des sciences sociales”. 26-29 juin 2015.

Le Laboratoire de recherche historique Rhône-Alpes (UMR CNRS 5190 LAHRA), en coopération et avec le soutien du CNRS, du RUCHE, de la Société européenne pour l’histoire environnementale, organise une école thématique du 26 au 29 juin prochains.

Elle se tiendra en région Rhône-Alpes du 26 au 29 juin, avec un séjour en résidence au Clos des Capucins (Yenne).

Le thème général porte sur “Villes et montagnes: risques environnementaux et sanitaires au prisme de l’histoire et des sciences sociales”.

Consulter le programme dans son intégralité

Les candidatures sont à adresser à Stéphane Frioux ( avant le 22 mars 2015.


2015 ESEH Summer School “Cities and Mountains”

The LARHRA (Rhône-Alpes Historical Research Unit), in cooperation with the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research), the RUCHE and with the support of the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH), is pleased to announce that a four-day thematic summer school Cities and Mountains. Environmental and Health Risks : A Socio-Historical Perspective will take place in Lyon, Yenne, and Grenoble immediately before the ESEH 8th International Conference (Versailles, 30 June – 3 July 2015).

There are three thematic clusters, around which young researchers are invited to apply:

Environmental and health risks in cities,
Environmental risks in mountains,
Mountain cities and towns as specific environments with specific issues

The summer school aims to gather around 15 graduate / post-doctoral students together with junior and senior scholars. Each participant is expected to give an oral presentation of 15-20 minutes which will be discussed in thematic sessions chaired by senior scholars. The four-day seminar will also feature lectures from scholars, field trips and informal discussion among scholars and students.

At the end of the School, students will have to produce either: a scientific poster about their work to be presented at the ESEH Conference; a draft of an article for the Arcadia project; or a report about the summer school (6-10 pages).

To apply, students are required to send to Stéphane Frioux (stephane.frioux [at] the following documents in English: (1) Curriculum vitae; (2) an abstract and outline of their doctoral thesis or other work that states the main challenges and research questions to be discussed at the summer school (500 words); (3) a letter of support from a faculty member.

There is no registration fee. All accepted participants will receive free accommodation, meals and transportation DURING the four-day seminar, but they are responsible for their own transportation to and from Lyon, France, where they should arrive on 25 June as the summer school will start on 26 June, in the morning.

Application deadline: 22 March 2015. Answer will be given before April 11.

Further details are available in the full call below.

— European Society for Environmental History