A network of interdisciplinary scholars studying past climate change
The April 2014 issue of Environmental History features an extended forum on climate history. The introductory essay focuses on two questions raised throughout the articles: (1)How does the study of climate history enrich the field of environmental history more broadly? (2) How can environmental historians contribute to present-day understandings of and responses to global climate change? The first contribution, by Adrian Howkins considers the history of Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys as a lens on contemporary climate science and the meaning of the Anthropocene. Georgina Endfield analyses the workings of vulnerability, resilience, and adaptation through past climate changes and extremes, with case studies from colonial Mexico. Lawrence Culver discusses the historical perceptions and cultural construction of climate through 19th-century American debates over expansion into the arid West and the myth that “rain follows the plow.” Sam White’s essay surveys the place of animals in climate history, emphasizing human use of animals as a key factor in past and present climate change vulnerability and resilience. Sherry Johnson considers the impact of smaller climate cycles and extreme events through a case study of Florida natives during the War of Jenkin’s Ear and the Stono Rebellion (1738-40). James Fleming traces the history of a medical metaphor of climate and climate change both in scientific and popular discourse, noting its effects on policy proposal including as geoengineering. Philip Garone details the practical and political significance of climate change for US public lands management and considers its consequences for our understandings of conservation, preservation, and wilderness. Finally, Mark Carey makes a case for a critical climate history: an active involvement of historians in climate change discussions, and climate models and scenarios that are better informed by history.