History and Ecology

Historians look at cause and effect, not just facts
Historians look at different kinds of causes
This book asks what can scientific understanding of the natural environment (ecology) tell us about the causes of historical events?  To what extent can ecology explain where European expansion succeeded and where it failed?

This book: we need to use ideas that come from the science of ecology to understand these particular historical events

The nature of science
What is the difference between ecology and environment? 
An ecologist is a scientist, an environmentalist is a concerned citizen
Darwin's ship, the Beagle
What are the different ways we can put history and environment together?
Step 1: the Crosby book is looking at how ecology shapes human history

How did Europe go out, starting in the 15th century, and dominate the rest of the world?
Why did they decide to try? How did they do that?  How come they succeeded?

chinese repeating crossbow
Dates back to 210 BC.  For more information see The Chinese Repeating Crossbow

This seems natural to us, but it is odd and surprising.  A couple of centuries earlier China was way ahead of Europe in technology, including gunpowder.  Why did the Europeans do it when the Chinese didn't? 

man plowing with
We can understand this by looking for ecological explanations.  Use the ideas of ecology to look at what human beings do, where they go, and what happens when they get there.   Europeans went to climates similar to their own and took their own livestock and plants. 

But why did European plants and animals win rather than lose the competition with native species?

Historians don't usually use ecological arguments--what is this field of environmental history?
balanced rocks

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
Hist 124
last updated 1/11/10