Author: The Environmental History Timeline is written and compiled by Prof. William (Bill) Kovarik.
Photo: The photograph of then-President Theodore Roosevelt and Sierra Club founder John Muir (above) was taken May 15 or 16th, 1903 at Glacier Point in Yosemite Valley, California during a presidential visit of the park. The Library of Congress does not have the exact date or the photographer’s name, but the original stereographic photo was distributed by Underwood & Underwood. The photo was selected as the Environmental History Timeline’s signature image because in their lifetimes the two men represent complementary themes: “wise use” of natural resources and political service (Teddy Roosevelt) versus “preservation” of wilderness for future generations and political advocacy (John Muir). An interesting appreciation of Muir, written by Roosevelt, is available on the Sierra Club’s biographical resources for John Muir.
Background: The Environmental History Timeline originally appeared in Mass Media and Environmental Conflict, a book written by Mark Neuzil and William Kovarik published by Sage in 1996. The book won an American Library Association “Choice” award as one of the best academic books of 1997.
The first web publication of the timeline was on 6/18/96, and it was expanded and redesigned in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2012. The timeline soon took on a life of its own, generating thousands of hits and many inquiries from attorneys, historians, school teachers, environmental groups and magazine writers. Some of these included the Associated Press, China Youth Daily of Beijing, Smithsonian Magazine, researchers working with Bill Moyers, Adam Werbach, members of Lloyds of London insurance market, the Encyclopedia of Sustainability, and others.
The information in the timeline is often updated following conversations with other environmental historians, especially colleagues in the American Society for Environmental History and the European Society for Environmental History.
Educational and funding status: This is a non-profit educational web site with no sponsor or external financing whatsoever. It remains the work of one academic historian with input from a community of historians.
Your ideas are welcome: The Environmental History Timeline could use your comments or corrections. Email me directly at bill.kovarik at gmail.com (And please include something in the subject line to indicate the connection to the Environmental History Timeline, such as the initials EHT ).
Copyright statement: This site is protected under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 and subsequent revisions. You are encouraged to link to the site, but I discourage copying and reproduction of the site elsewhere on the Web. That is primarily because this is a “live” document constantly under revision. Copies are static, and unfortunately, incomplete versions of the site come up in Web searches rather frequently. Thus, these copyright claims are also made under the Berne Convention as part of the author’s moral rights.
Also, I agree with GMU professors Daniel I Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig when they say: “We advocate a balance between the rights and needs of the “owners” and “users” of intellectual property, but a balance that favors the enlargement of the “public domain”—taken here to mean not just the formal realm of works with no legal copyright protection, but also more broadly the arena defined by fair use and the sharing and dissemination of ideas and creativity. To see intellectual work entirely as “property” undercuts the norms of sharing and collaboration that are integral to a field like history.”
Research: The Environmental History Timeline is based in part on the author’s original archival research in U.S. federal and industrial archives and also on the generally untapped mass media record. Therefore, some of this material will seem entirely novel. While most secondary references are listed in the bibliography, time does not permit an extensive listing of primary references. I will respond to scholarly inquiries insofar as possible.
Historiographic considerations: The Environmental History Timeline blends the topics of conservation, public health, technology regulation and concepts of nature together in a single continuum. It is intended for a general audience and is focused mostly on what former ASEH president William Cronon would call “political history” — history of the conservation movement, man-made disasters, and international laws and regulations. This approach has the advantage of breadth and brevity but is rather constrained in terms of depth, In that respect, the timeline is only a starting point in understanding environmental history. I suggest consulting the Timeline’s bibliography or the “essential reading” sections in each area.
As you’ll see in the bibliography, most of the pre-1970s histories in this area focused either on public health or conservation. Environmental history was the topic of several books and articles in the 1970s. By the 1980s the field was opening up quickly, and articles such as White’s “American Environmental History: The Development of a New Historical Field” started appearing, indicating a move to the mainstream.
Environmental history is an interdisciplinary field, and there are numerous attempts to organize and categorize the various subject areas it deals with. For instance, Cronon also notes two other approaches to environmental history: 1) narratives about changing material relations between people and the environment, and 2) cultural and intellectual history of people’s ideas of nature and the ways in which our image of ourselves projected out on the natural world shape the way we relate to it. (See Cronon’s “The Uses of Environmental History,” Environmental History Review 1993 17(3):1-22.)
Another noted historian, Samuel P. Hayes, sees the conceptual areas of environmental history as including the 1) effects of human pressures on the environment, 2) the relationship between the environment and economic development, and 3) the effects of humans on the environment of urban areas. (See Hayes, “Toward Integration in Environmental History,” Pacific Historical Review 2001 70(1): 59-67.)
Environmental history often overlaps with history of technology, and Jeffrey Stine and Joel Tarr mention six broad areas where this occurs: 1) history of technology textbooks, 2) cities and the environment, 3) public health and occupational health and safety, 4) industry and manufacturing, 5) natural resources, and 6) environmental policy and politics. History of technology, Stine and Tarr note, has usually focused on technological “progress,” while giving short shrift to environmental variables and consequences. (See Stine and Tarr, “At the Intersection of Histories: Technology and the Environment,” Technology and Culture 1998 39(4): 601-640.)
Comparing social history and environmental history, Ann Taylor notes that social historians tend to be particularistic, splitting society into groups. Environmental historians tend to be holistic, glossing over differences and divisions within society. Taylor says that despite these differences, social and environmental history should reinforce one another. The relationship between nature and man is linked to social inequality, and the environmental crisis and rising social inequalities are interdependent. We can better understand the American relationship with nature by studying the unequal burdens and
rewards of resource exploitation. (See Taylor, “Unnatural Inequalities: Social and Environmental Histories,” Environmental History 1996 1(4): 6-19).
Continued dialogue on these points comes up on the email list H-ENVIRONMENT@H-NET.MSU.EDU which is highly recommended. To subscribe, simply send a message with the subject “subscribe H-Environment” to LISTSERV@H-NET.MSU.EDU
Thanks and good luck.
Professor William (Bill) Kovarik, Ph.D.
c/o Radford University, Box 6932, Radford VA 24142.