The Role of Environmental History

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

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Fourth Blog Post

“Boxers and Saints” by Gene Luen Yang is an effective tool for teaching the events of the Boxer Rebellion in a nonspecific, entertaining way.  This graphic novel set is best used by students that either do not need to know the fine details of the rebellion and just need to know the overarching concepts, or already know what occurred and need another creative way to approach the material.  However, students should use additional resources when reading the graphic novel. The “Boxers” book follows the character of Little Bao to tell the tale of the Boxers using fantastical elements to provide the Boxer perspective during the conflict. For example, the ritual causes a physical change in the Boxers, this provides a visual on how the Boxers saw themselves after their spiritual possessions.  The fact that Little Bao is possessed by the first emperor of China tells the reader that the Boxers supported traditionalism. Of course no physical change occurred in real life, but the transformation works well as a metaphor. The narrative uses fictional characters to portray actual actors in the Boxer Rebellion, so a student that only needs to know the poor, rural people stood up to the westernization of China would be encouraged to read this graphic novel.  However, if a student were to need more detail and facts about the events in question, they should look elsewhere for more academic works. For students reading the graphic novel, it is massively important to know not all characters and events in the set actually happened, some are merely relatable ways to portray difficult concepts, like the opera masked girl, her existence is simply a way to show the sacrifices the Boxer had to make for their country. “Boxers and Saints” by Gene Luen Yang would be best used in an early high school/middle school classroom, provided the teacher is there to point out the true and the made up.  Any classes of higher grades should have additional readings to appropriately cover the Boxer Rebellion. In other words, readers should readers should enjoy the graphic novel, but they should also have a more trustworthy source to be able to identify the important points in the text, something like “History in Three Keys” by Paul Cohen.

Yang, Gene Luen, and Lark Pien. Boxers and Saints: Boxed Set. New York: First Second, 2013.

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Third Blog Post

I have chosen to do my literature review on works that describe early Jamestown’s interactions with Native Americans and vice versa. The first text I have found is “Pocahontas and the English Boys” by Karen Ordahl Kupperman. While the title of the book does sound informal, the contents of the book are purely academic. The main focus of the book is to highlight the important role the young played in the colonizing of Virginia. The book is the most modern work on the subject, being opened to the public in March of this year. The perspective provided by the text is the most interesting part. Kupperman did the work to put together the Native perspective on Jamestown, and it is truly fascinating. Most texts on this topic are western based, and this text provides each sides view and reminds the reader that everyone involved were actually people. My biggest issue with the book is that I want to read every word, not just skim it. I am actually a little excited for this project now, whereas before I got this book, I was dreading it.

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Second Blog Post

In Robert Citino’s Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction, Citino highlights three main approaches to military history: new military history, traditional operations history, and a newer approach that focuses on memory and culture within military history. The major points about new military history are that it better covers marginalized groups and that it is much more storied an approach than its name puts off. The longevity of new military history is seen as Citino writes, “Until fairly recently, historians of the medieval and early modern periods were much more in touch with the symbiosis between war and society” (Citino). Citino’s big point about operational history is important because essentially people like to read it, as seen when Citino writes, “Millions of people continue to read these books, and someone is going to be writing them” (Citino). He then goes on to further exemplify his superiority complex over popular history authors because why not? Citino’s major point about the newest military history approach is that by looking at what societies choose to remember and what they choose to forget, a greater snapshot of their culture is provided. This stance is evident as Citino writes, “Standing alongside these histories of memory, and intertwined with them, has been a growing recognition of the determining role of culture in military affairs” (Citino). I found Citino’s need to constantly hold himself over the popular history interesting and amusing. He just kept coming back to it. You’d think winning awards as an author would quell all that insecurity, guess not.

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First Actual Blog

Academic history demands much more focus on the truth than popular history. Of course, verified sources are massively important to academic history. The only way to obtain any true credibility is to base research on actual fact, and popular history is less likely to follow this requirement. The reasoning for this difference comes down to audience and the person writing the history. A non historian is more likely to use a less legitimate source and a popular audience is less likely to catch this. However, a historian’s works are more likely to be scrutinized by those in the know (their audience), so they spend more time verifying their sources. Furthermore, non historians are more likely to succumb to emotion and myth than true historians. Humans like to either see all the good or all the bad when looking back in time, so an untrained writer is likely to unintentionally bleed more of their biases into their writing than a historian. Don’t get me wrong, historians are definitely biased as well; however, they should be better at focusing on hard fact than a popular history writer. All of these differences come down to one key characteristic: academic history should be more reliable than popular history. All of the standards that have been mentioned are important because they make academic history, ideally, more accurate.

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My name is Jarod Markle. I’m a student at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia and a historical interpreter at Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown. I am also a member of the Patawomeck Tribe based in Stafford, Virginia. This site contains coursework for my History 297 course, and should have more of my earlier papers in the future. Thanks for visiting the site!

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