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The Environment as a Historical Actor: Web Resources

John Maunu


     "Environment as historical actor" is an AP World history theme as well as a subject of university teaching and research. John R. McNeill (see Tom Laichas' interview with McNeill in the links section of this article below) provided perhaps the first 20th Century world history classroom suitable text on this subject, when he wrote Something New Under the Sun (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000) in 2000. This was the first to argue that human activity during the twentieth century provoked environmental change on an unprecedented scale. In 2006, J. Douglas Hughes published What is Environmental History (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2006), a small user-friendly volume that offers an introduction to the subject suitable for classroom use, but traces the evolution of the methodology and growth of the field in ways that approximate a manual for doing as well as thinking about environmental history. An anthology with essays from many prominent scholars addressing the environment in world history has recently been published under the editorship of Edmund Burke III and Kenneth Pomeranz (ed.), The Environment and World History (see ). This 2009 work features an introduction by Pomeranz that questions and critiques all previous environmental history done by World Historians. This collection of articles will compel world historians to "up their game," a task made easier by Burke and Pomeranz's excellent select bibliography on environmental history, which is divided by topic and global regions. Much the same is expected from J. R. McNeill and Erin C. Stewart, eds., A Companion to Global Environmental History now in preparation for publication by Blackwell Press. As the number of these works increase and the need to translate this scholarship into the classroom becomes an even greater challenge, the editors at World History Connected have pledged themselves to address this dilemma through Forums devoted to exploring environmental history, book reviews, and classroom-ready materials. This issue's Forum, book review section and this article are merely the first steps in fulfillment of that commitment.

Teaching Environmental History: 

A website by Environmental Historian William Cronon supports the teaching of this growing field. It offers  links and resources, as well as lesson plans on the interaction of humans and the environment at

An excellent site on Environment history 8000 BCE to the present is offered at

Prehistoric human interaction with environment in Hudson River, NY is addressed at

A Prehistory environmental Website and mirrored site with Environment history NEWS is found at and

Tom Laichas of World History Connected conducted an interview with Dr. John McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun (2000) which is on offer at

Many resources, syllabi, lesson plans, etc. that can be used to learn about Environmental History, Environmental education and environmental ethics are provided by the University of California, Berkeley at: and and

For similar sites, see and

For Duke University's Forest/Environmental History Society links, see

For Google book entries for Environmental histories resources and links see:

For many links to environment and natural history, see:

Timelines and links for environmental history can be found at: and,

For journal articles on the environment, see: (which offers blogs, podcasts, etc. if you can wind your way through this site).
BBC article May 2009 explains new history of the Seas
Topical Treatment
Asia to Americas Migration and many environment articles and lessons.
Indus Valley River history and human interaction.
Amazon Rain Forest and human interaction.
Africa 21 pp. pdf "Physical geography" from National
International Fresh Water agreements.
New American Sahara:  Desert under our feet.
Climate Change and effect on 500 million desert dwellers, June, 2006.
Effects of desertification on Arab-Berbar Relations—Case Study 2007.  Note other examples at head of page and "Conflict and Environment Studies."
Could Warming cause greatest Migration in global history?  June, 2009.
Virtual Global Journey-"Journey of Mankind."  Virtual map linking human migration with climate.
John Pottage, "Early Humans and their Environment," 2003.
2 pp. pdf-end of review on Peace Parks and James Nations review of People on the Move:  Reducing Impact of Human Migration on Biodiversity."
Turkey Vultures disappearing in Kenya—dramatic example of human interaction with environment and effect on an important ecological figure, the vulture.
Dr. John A. Mears, Southern Methodist University, article on international "Borderlands" and human interactions.
Dr. Richard Foltz, University of Florida, asking, "Does Nature have historical agency?" Environmental history and saving the planet.
Wood in history.
Pompeii as an example of environmental disaster.
Dr.  Micah Muscolino, Georgetown University, on China and environmental history.
Environment history of Latin America, 2004 syllabus with readings.
Envirolinks with many places to explore environmental issues. 
This website has material on agriculture and horticulture of Ancient Egypt. 
Short summary of farming; scroll down to the civilizations listed which, if clicked, will go into more detail for that civilization's farming.
Yes, Wikipedia can deliver interesting and relevant information and links for any topic, in this case, environmental history.
If you scroll down, there is a section on environmental change.
Contemporary environmental information.
Environment effect on migrations—and modern economic and population figures.
Matthew Sanderson on modern "Globalization and Environment:  Implications for Human Migrations.
"What is Human Migration" with environment comments in pdf.

Lesson Plans:
Note three themes, the first being Human environment.  Also note Human Geography at top of page with lessons.
Interactive history lessons—note Environment examples.
14 global environment lesson plans for high school, plus more links and stories.
A few lessons, charts on humans and the environment for high school level.
Many lessons and links grades 9-12th.
Washington State environmental lesson plan as to Native rights.
Great article on Environmental forces in European history.
Lessons on environment and health.
Smithsonian Lesson Plan on Oceans and weather.
Images of Prairie/Frontier Life-Lesson Plan for Images.
Environment in World History—chart for student assignments. 
Interactive Silk Road map.
National Geographic Environment site, note two videos on Food sustainability and the Ocean floor.
1930's Dust Bowl as historical actor—Lessons.
Extreme oil lesson plan.
Missouri River flooding lesson plan using ART and primary source documents.
Green Romanticism syllabi-university course outline—Did the Romantic poets and artists pave the way to the "Environmental movement?"
Resources and lessons on Lakelse Lake in Canadian British Columbia.  Interesting look at watershed erosion and effects on Native people as a continuity in World history.
MSNBC video (12/12/2009) on Environment/Climate and global conflict.
A lesson plan for
Yellowstone, the Artist, and Environment.
Kelly Roark syllabus on teaching environmental history in Arkansas.
Illinois River and human interaction....all of these "American" environmental lessons in these last few links can be easily adapted to similar global examples, ah, compare and contrast, continuity and change over time themes.  Nile, Amazon, Indus River Valley, etc. al...all have had and have challenges due to human interaction. 

John Maunu is an AP World History Reader/Table Leader and AP/Collegeboard World History consultant teaching AP European and AP World history at Grosse Ile High School in southeast Michigan.



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