Although I’ve been teaching US Environmental History at UMW the last few years (and a seminar on American Wilderness), and although I write about perceptions of landscapes in my research, I haven’t really done much scholarship I’d consider environmental history as such (cultural history involving environments and landscapes, sure). But I do obviously have some background, and that’s prompted me to think more explicitly about how to tie my interest in historical ideas about landscapes/environments with material environmental conditions and change.
Way, way back in grad school I took a class with Mike Davis that was centered around his book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. My research paper for the class took a totally different direction, looking at climactic disruptions in the Great Lakes region during the French and Indian War, and how that exacerbated the wartime social and economic conditions in New France and the communities of its Native American allies. I drew some on the usual sources you’d expect–journals and letters and reports from military officers and soldiers and colonists and captives, treaty records, etc.–as well as some that might not have been so expected, namely tree-ring data indicating regional weather patterns in the 1750s and 1760s. Ultimately I was making an argument about the dramatic changes to Native subsistence patterns during the war itself, and during the period that followed as the British government instituted new policies that further pressured Native subsistence. It was fun, but undoubtedly only a preliminary foray into that type of work, and I set it aside for years afterward. When I tried to return to it about a year ago, the website from which I had drawn that data was gone, and so I turned to other work instead.
But when I recently committed to writing an essay on how the introduction of Dutch/English agriculture to the Hudson River corridor in the 17th century upset Native subsistence patterns, I went hunting again, this time with the promise of a more immediate payoff. I eventually landed on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) page of Paleoclimatology Data, where lo and behold, it looks as though the data I used earlier has been expanded, refined, and set alongside a ton of other types of scientific evidence useful for thinking about environmental history. This is at once (1) incredibly exciting; (2) potentially illuminating; (3) absolutely daunting. Here’s hoping I’m somewhat successful locating useful data and putting it to work in conjunction with the written historical accounts with which I’m far more comfortable working.
And for any interested parties, I have at least one on-campus presentation in Spring 2016 to discuss my ongoing progress.