Environmental History: Post by EMP 510 Guest Bloggers

The featured article in Orion Magazine, “Out of the Wild” by William Cronon, is presented in the form of a conversion between himself and Michael Pollan. While this conversation touches on a multitude of topics surrounding nature, ecology, and our relationship with the natural world; the theme throughout the conversation is the importance of environmental history and storytelling.

Environmental history “renders connections visible” through the role nature plays, not only in our day-to-day lives but, the ways in which it has been altered over time to create the world we experience today. As Pollan states “history is inescapable” because it is embedded in every part of the human experience. In this conversation they use the example of Point Reyes National Park, California. When visiting Point Reyes it seems to be a wild place with beautiful ridgeline forests, but it has a history that “blurs the lines between wild and cultivated” because the recent past shows evidence of human cultivation in the old agricultural lands, and therefore it is not a truly “wild” place. But does knowing this history take away from the beauty of the place? I would agree with Cronon in saying ‘no’. Cronon goes on to make some excellent points about environmental history and the way places such as Point Reyes force us to realize how interconnected we are as humans to the nature that we tend to think is completely separate from us.

The Point Reyes example is just one of many stories of how humans have altered nature over time and the way knowing the history can change the perception of what we are seeing. The centrality of stories and the environmental history of our lands are the underlying themes through which Cronon and Pollan are able to have a compelling conversation on interesting topics related to the human-nature relationship.


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