December 17, 2017


TABLE OF CONTENTS    July, 2014 | Vol. 19, No. 3


coverPresident’s Address: Toynbee as Environmental Historian by J. R. McNeill

The Tin Frontier: Mining, Empire, and Environment in Southeast Asia, 1870s–1930s by Corey Ross

Relieving Mongols of Their Pastoral Identity: Disaster Management on the Eighteenth-Century Qing China Steppe by David A. Bello

American Bottles: The Road to No Return by Robert Friedel

Warfare and Ecological Destruction in Early Fourteenth-Century British Isles by Philip Slavin


Gallery Editor’s Note by Neil M. Maher and Cindy Ott

E is for Elephant: Jungle Animals in Late Nineteenth-Century British Picture Books by Alix Heintzman

Where the Wild Things Are Now by Sara St. Antoine





Issue 19.3 – July 2014

The release of our July issue coincides with the second annual World Congress of Environmental History in Guimarães, Portugal. The conference theme, “Environmental History in the Making,” captures the dynamism of our field by pointing both to past as process and to scholarship as creative activity. Both the history and the historiography – the lived experiences and the expressed understanding of them – are essential in the “making” process. All five articles in this issue illustrate this mutuality between history and historiography, and the process of making environmental history, particularly well.

John McNeill’s 2013 Presidential Address is the most self-consciously concerned with Environmental History’s making. McNeill argues that Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) ought to be counted among the field’s first practitioners. Toynbee primarily focused on the rise and fall of civilizations and was known for his drive to globalize the study of history but, as McNeill shows, Toynbee frequently incorporated geography and climate as well as politics and economics into his analyses of historical change. He even attempted, in 1973, to write a history of “the encounter between Mother Earth and man,” though the book failed to truly engage with that relationship on an ecological level. Nevertheless, McNeill suggests, “Although obscured by his own ponderousness and pretentiousness, and the enormity of his output, Toynbee pointed the way to environmental history.” McNeill challenges us, then, to reconsider the origins of our field and to broaden the spectrum of who and what makes history environmental.

Like McNeill, all the authors in this issue explore aspects of environmental history in the making. Rather than tracing the contributions of particular scholars, however, they follow a variety of developments that elucidate the myriad ways nature and culture conjoin. Corey Ross maps out the path along which Southeast Asia became a commodity frontier in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In “The Tin Frontier,” Ross vividly describes the processes by which new mining technologies physically remade Malaysia’s landscape – horizontally across the terrain and vertically into its deeper strata – and cogently argues that “colonial ideologies of nature, race, waste and industry … were deeply embedded in the project of European imperialism.” Ross demonstrates that ideas about nature, culture, and technology coalesced to create a resource frontier that connected local Malaysian production, consumption, and environmental change to global social, economic, and political developments.

David Bello keeps our attention riveted on Asia in his article “Relieving the Mongols of their Pastoral Identity.” Like Ross, Bello investigates the interface between notions of ethnicity, the politics of imperialism, and the material realities of place during the last of China’s dynasties, the Qing (1644-1911). Bello clearly shows that Qing efforts to maintain political control over the pastoral herders of Inner Mongolia faced consistent environmental disruptions, which required disaster relief, often provided in agrarian, rather than pastoral forms. “This assistance helped to alienate Mongols from their herds,” Bello suggests, and predates the more commonly accepted cause for this shift in Mongolian pastoral identity: the arrival of ethnic Chinese agrarian migrants. Harsh environmental conditions, paired with problematic disaster relief policies unmade both the Mongolian pastoral identity and its associated ecosystem.

Robert Friedel’s article is also a story about unmaking, although perhaps in another light, it could be seen as a story about over-making. Friedel delves into the complex and debated history of the American bottling industry, suggesting that the move away from the practice of requiring bottle deposits and returns toward the use of one-way containers was not due to technological developments or corporate decisions, but instead was attributable largely to new concepts of consumer convenience. Friedel compellingly argues that “changing retail practices, promotions by materials and container manufacturers, and the construction of new ideas about ‘convenience’ among consumers” made the more environmentally sustainable returnable system economically unsustainable. Now instead of rinse, return, reuse, most beverage containers make a one-way trip from the bottler to the consumer, burdened with an uncertain future.

Philip Slavin, in “Warfare and Ecological Destruction in Early Fourteenth-Century British Isles,” reveals the devastating results when war and natural crises coincide, especially in pre-industrial societies. War plagued the British Isles between 1296 and 1328; the region also suffered from famine from 1315 through 1317 and experienced what is known as the Great Bovine Pestilence of 1319-1320, among a host of other environmental crises. Slavin argues that such a coincidence of crisis was particularly difficult for “organic age” societies like those of the British Isles because they “were more directly dependent upon local land and subsistence resources, … and were, therefore, more vulnerable in the face of warfare that targeted natural and agricultural resources.” Slavin concludes that warfare exacerbates natural crises exponentially and in complex ways and that militarization of landscapes is not a modern phenomenon. In this case, as Slavin effectively shows, war, famine, and pestilence made a landscape of death in the British Isles early in the fourteenth century.

— Lisa M. Brady, Editor in chief