Another day, another spillover. Is history repeating itself? Sure, in some respects, but no, not really. Novel human diseases may emerge every year, but not like this. SARS-CoV-2 has pulled off what countless other pathogens have failed to: it’s globalized and become endemic. Sequence data indicates that the spillover happened in late November. Since then well over four million confirmed cases and 290,000 deaths have been reported in more than 215 countries and territories. Worse yet, it is next to certain that millions of more COVID-19 cases (severe, moderate, mild and asymptomatic) have gone unconfirmed and that official tallies omit tens of thousands of lives lost to COVID-19. A large percentage of the world’s population has been in “lockdown” for weeks. The first wave is ongoing in some regions; in others the second has begun. Months into the pandemic, it’s starting to sink in that this disease isn’t going anywhere soon if at all. This is a crisis unlike any other. That’s not to say it’s worse than any other novel disease emergence. It’s not. Read more on the blog.
In 2011, I visited Lebanon’s Shouf Biosphere Reserve to see what I could discover about the history of the country’s forests. Located on the slopes of the Barouk range of the Lebanese mountains, the reserve covers five percent of the national territory. Seated in an old house in the town of Maaser El Shouf, beside a traditional wood-burning stove, I asked the Biosphere’s director Nizar Hani about the history of deforestation and conservation. Hani was eager to discuss the Biosphere’s efforts to save them. The reserve was created in 1996, when several villages had donated a portion of their communal lands that were included along with state-owned land. How had this public-private partnership resulted in the most substantial conservation effort in the country’s history? For him the answer could be found in Lebanon’s religious heritage and, in particular, the beliefs of a religious sect centered in Shouf mountains. “The Druze have a special relationship with the environment,” Hani told me. Read more on the blog.
Captain François Roudaire (1836-1885) was convinced that a large inland sea could be created in the Sahara Desert across southeastern Algeria and southern Tunisia. The French military surveyor received funding from public and private sources in the 1870s to carry out feasibility studies on that region’s chotts or shebkas, seasonal salt lakes that are sometimes found below sea level. The centerpiece of his proposal was a long canal from Tunisia’s coast on the Gulf of Gabes to low-lying chotts in the interior. Once the Mediterranean began to flow into the desert, Roudaire believed, the Saharan climate would become cooler and the rate of precipitation in the region would increase. His announcement in the widely-read Parisian periodical Revue des deux Mondes in May 1874 that French engineers could build “une mer intérieure en Algérie” stirred up the imaginations of the capital’s political, social, and scientific elite. Read more on the blog.
In my introduction to the undergraduate history major, we read John Lewis Gaddis’ The Landscape of History, wherein he discusses the fundamental problem of trying to put ourselves in the shoes of people we can never meet and whose thoughts we can only guess at. My recent research trip to Argentina highlighted for me a related problem that environmental historians must face: the difficulty of looking at a present environment that can be just as fundamentally different from the past as historical people were. Read more on the blog.
Environmental History and Archaeology: A Summer Spent at the Excavation of a Late Antique Infant Cemetery in Umbria, Italy
For environmentally-minded historians, and particularly for those of us who study periods that suffer from a scarcity of written sources, archaeological data can be crucial. Excavations give insight into past material culture, providing information about past societies that is absent from the written record and offering tangible evidence of human interactions with the natural world. Yet, despite its many benefits, interpreting archaeological data isn’t easy, and shouldn’t be taken on lightly by those unfamiliar with the field. This summer, I had the opportunity to spend five weeks excavating at La Villa Romana Di Poggio Gramignano, a Roman villa-turned Late Antique infant cemetery in Umbria, Italy. Read more on the blog.
Georgetown Environmental History recently sat down with renowned Brazilian environmental historian José Augusto Pádua in Rio de Janeiro to have a conversation about fires and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. We asked him about the relationship between fire and deforestation, the history of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, and who is responsible for the recent surge in deforestation. Check out the video on our blog for his answers.
Professor Bathsheba Demuth Lecture on Whale Culture and Adaptation in the Bering Strait, October 10, 2019, 5:00-7:00 pm
Georgetown Environmental History is hosting environmental historian Bathsheba Demuth of Brown University, who is presenting research from her critically acclaimed book Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. Her talk is Thursday, October 10, at 5:00 pm in the McShain Lounge in McCarthy Hall. See our coming up page for details.
Professor Abigail Agresta Talk on Natural Disaster Response and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Valencia, September 30, 2019, 2:00-3:30 pm
Georgetown Environmental History is hosting environmental historian Abigail Agresta of George Washington University, who is presenting research from her current book project about natural disaster response and Christian identity in late medieval Valencia. Her talk is Monday, September 30, 2019, at 2:00 pm in ICC 662. See our coming up page for the abstract and other details.
Georgetown Environmental History is hosting dendro-climatologist Kevin Anchukaitis of the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, who is giving an interdisciplinary lecture on volcanic eruptions and climate history. His talk is Tuesday, September 17, 2019 at 12:30 pm in 239 Regents Hall. See our coming up page for the abstract and other details.
Environmental history (EH) is still in its infancy in academia, particularly on a global scale, when compared to other fields within the discipline of history. The practitioners of economic history, for example, are preparing for their 19th world gathering in Paris. The most recent World Congress of Environmental History (WCEH) was only the field's third, and it presented environmental historians from around the world with a great opportunity to meet fellow scholars in global EH. The conference also highlighted regional expansions and, more broadly, a global growth of an environmental way of doing history. Read more on the blog.