We convened a special lunchtime meeting of Envirotech at the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) conference in Amsterdam, June 5-9, 2007. The meeting was a big success! With 23 attendees, we pulled in almost 10 percent of the registered participants of the meeting, which demonstrates the huge interest in envirotech issues worldwide. The participants came from many countries, including Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, UK, and US. For many of the attendees, it was their first time at an Envirotech meeting, so it was an excellent opportunity for older Envirotech members to make connections with European scholars and for the European researchers to meet each other.
The meeting was chaired by Dolly Jørgensen. We had reports on the current status of the book project (Ed Russell), the 2007 article prize (Frank Uekötter), SHOT sessions and new website (Finn Arne Jørgensen). Richard Wilk (Anthropology Department, Indiana University) announced that he is looking for manuscripts for publication as the editor of a book series “Globalization and the Environment” with Altamira Press (see http://www.altamirapress.com/series/).
The ESEH 2007 conference had the theme “Environmental Connections.” Jane Carruthers, University of South Africa, opened the conference with a paper titled “Environmental history: Revitalising connection, context and coherence in historical studies.” She argued that connections lie at the core of environmental history, giving it both its direction and its strength. Using the example of Dutch colonization of South Africa, she explored some of the ways environmental expectations led to challenges for both the Europeans and Africans in the early modern period. Carruthers emphasized that environmental history has the opportunity to tell histories across national and cultural boundaries. As a discipline, it has the opportunity to connect new sources – oral, visual, spatial, scientific – and connect new ideas and concepts – similarities, patterns, interactions, continuities, evolution, and differences.
A number of papers at the conference picked up on the theme by focusing on scientific, environmental and knowledge exchanges during colonization efforts, such as the transfer of irrigation technology, importation of botanical specimens and development of national park ideas. Other papers focused on later exchanges, such as the influence of European livestock science on Brazilian cattle ranching in the 19th and 20th centuries and connections between German and American wastewater treatment design.
The “connections” theme is particularly fitting for envirotech researchers as we work to show the connections between technology and the environment. Much of what Carruthers said about environmental history applies to the history of technology as well. The intersection of history of environment and technology has the opportunity to tell histories that cut across traditional boundaries of nation states, periodization, and historical disciplines.
ESEH normally meets every other year and we plan to continue meeting as a group there. But in lieu of a separate meeting in 2009, ESEH will meet collectively with a number of other environmental history organizations at the World Environmental History Congress August 4-9, 2009 in Copenhagen. Envirotech plans to meet at the 2009 Congress.
By Dolly Jørgensen
Originally published in the Envirotech Newsletter 2007/1