More recent fields of history, like environmental history, provide an alternate perspective from which academics can view various events throughout history. These perspectives tend to be focused on cultural history, but can also explain how environment can shape politics. Ted Steinberg explained this example of environmental history within cultural history: “Rather, West Africans, especially women, domesticated one important species of [rice] and later successfully brought the knowledge necessary to grow the crop to the North American continent.” Furthermore, more traditional history can be explained by environmental history, as seen when William Sewell writes: “‘The core procedure of capitalism—the conversion of use value into exchange value or the commodification of things—is exceptionally transposable. It knows no natural limits; it can be applied not only to cloth, tobacco, or cooking pans, but to land, housework, bread, sex, advertising, emotions, or knowledge, each of which can be converted into any other by means of money.’” Sewell argues that capitalism is built on the basis of the limited resources that make up nature. Every part of history occurs in an environment, so that same environment inevitably plays a role in all parts of life in politics.
Unfortunately, environmental history is limited because historians tend to think of people as the actors in history, rather than non scentiant forces, like environment. Women make up half of the world’s population, so their involvement in history is undeniable and active, but the environment itself, though ubiquitous, does not appear consciously active the way women or various ethnicities do. As seen when Steinberg writes, “For the vast majority of the profession, nature is little more than a pretty scene or, at most, a preface to the more important social and political story that is about to unfold.” The current history climate is simply based around human interaction with other peoples or things, and change is a slow moving process. Environmental history may break from this current limit, but it will take time and additional support.
Ted Steinberg, “Down to Earth: Nature, Agency, and Power in History,” The American Historical Review 107, no. 3 (June 2002): 798-820