Recap of the First World Congress of Environmental History

By James Lewis on August 21, 2009

The first World Congress of Environmental History concluded two weeks ago in Copenhagen, Denmark. There were more than 500 attendees from all over the world. In addition to sending two people to the conference, the Forest History Society was also a sponsor.

I’m happy to report that forest history is alive and well and thriving in all four corners of the globe. In nearly every one of the ten sessions there was at least one forest history panel—not just a paper but an entire panel. In addition, other panels had forest history papers sprinkled among them.

Many areas, regions, and eras were examined and discussed, from ancient Mediterranean forests to German forests in the 1980s and 90s.  While the breadth of topics was impressive, it was also enlightening to learn how historians are making use of research from fields like archeology, geography in its many forms (cultural, agricultural, etc.), and ecology, in addition to traditional document and image research. Given the new tools and information about forests coming out of these other disciplines, it is important to share the observation of Richard Tucker from the University of Michigan: More and new research needs to be done on logging companies and their role in the forest. I agree—it’s time to revisit this topic and move beyond the traditional institutional accounts and look at what, where, and how they operated in the forests. The intersections of forest history with other fields like military history were also great to encounter and point to new, exciting areas for forest historians to explore and consider.

It was also energizing to see how well attended the sessions were. A couple of panels in larger rooms had standing-room-only crowds. Lively discussions took place in the sessions and afterward. And, in fact, in two countries! (Okay, so Saturday’s sessions were held across the Baltic Sea in Sweden. But it still counts!)

I encourage you to look at the abstracts of the papers presented at the conference and you’ll see what I mean when I say forest history is alive and thriving around the world.