Essays in Natural History and Agriculture (TREDITION CLASSICS)

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Alfred Crosby explored in this context the role of bio-ecological factors in the Europeanisation of large parts of the world, in particular South America.

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He argued that there are two distinctive ecological realms. The second area covers roughly the tropical belt of the world map 1. The biological differences between both zones defined the success of European settlement. Between and about 50 million people emigrated from Europe and most of them settled in the temperate zones where they have been extremely successful. In the tropical zone, European settlement practically failed and the causes for this phenomenon are of an ecological kind.

The ecological system of the Old World was extremely aggressive in comparison to the ecological system of the Americas and the other white settlement colonies. The invasion of European diseases, such as measles and smallpox, and the introduction of animals and plants caused a disaster among the indigenous populations and ecosystems. The fate of the Central and South Americans empires is well known. Their where practically decimated by disease after the arrival of the Spanish at the start of the 16th century.

Before the European conquest the Mexican population is estimate to have numbered between 25 to 30 million. By , less than 50 years after the first contact with Europeans, the population had shrunk to about three million. In their new environments, European crops and cattle flourished better than in the Old World and they adapted quickly and overwhelmed many local species.

In this way they provided a sustainable environment for the European settlers and without the success of the European ecological system in the colonies, it is unlikely that the settlers would have succeeded in occupying North America, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia in only a few generations. William McNeill discussed in his book Plagues and Peoples the importance of epidemics and disease in world history. Degradation of the natural world Another important leitmotif in environmental history is the degradation of the natural world caused by human activities.

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A good example of this theme can be found in the introductory chapter of Clive Ponting's A Green History of the World in which he describes the decline of the civilisation on Easter Island, which was in part caused by environmental degradation. Ponting's green history is one of degradation and devastation of the natural world caused by humans.

Ponting points out that:. This is a rather gloomy vision of history, however, one cannot hide from the fact that past human action has affected the planet on a global scale, changing the natural world. But to present most changes as decay caused by humans is probably a rather narrow-minded approach because the natural world itself is never static but always evolving. It is changing so rapidly and leaves such a deep imprint on human society that we might search in vain for a recognisable stable state of nature.

He argues those different representations of "wilderness" and "nature" have political and ideological dimensions. The task of environmental historians is to dissect these representations, reconstruct them, trace their origins and place them in their historical context. In doing so historians can show how little these ideological perceptions have to do with the real natural world.

In the words of Stephen Budiansky, most perceptions of nature are "good poetry but bad science". One of such perceptions is that nature is capable to quickly recover from human interference, especially if aided with good management policies.

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Many proponents of the free market economy favour this perception because it does not require any action or interference from humans, or narrowly defined the free market. On the other side of the perception spectrum we find the idea that nature is very vulnerable and easily damaged by human activity.

Therefore humans must be cautious about any development and even regarded as acting outside of unspoiled nature. The cultural filter According to Pepper each perception or myth functions as a cultural filter that determines how adherents of different perceptions perceive the environment at the present day and in the past. Oelschlager uses the concept of the cultural filter in his book The Idea of Wilderness and his thesis is that the perception of wilderness depends on the historical and cultural filter humans used in different periods.

They are mental categories, concepts that try to describe the real world. These past concepts might differ from ours but we must careful in judging it because is always easy to be wise after the event. By studying the social and historical filters, historians can reconstruct a perceived environment and explain particular opinions and actions of distinctive groups. This will help us understand how others and ourselves arrived at the present set of attitudes and ideas and to evaluate them critically. This will also help us to identify misconceptions in environmental thinking and perceptions about nature.

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On Providence Philo Colson, F. Lives, Volume I: Theseus and Romulus. Three written essays of words each are also required; essay prompts can be found on the scholarship application. To deal with environmental issues in a pertinent way, political and institutional frameworks must play a very important role, a feature that the formal analysis of optimal control theory is far from acquiring. Letters Demosthenes De Witt, N. The next section presents the methodological procedures to be used, starting with a qualitative approach to the environmental literature, seeking to find a workable definition of natural capital, in order for sustainability to be appraised. His correspondence offers an invaluable picture of aristocratic life and literary culture in the 2nd century.

It will contribute to stimulate the development of new environmentally sound concepts and attitudes. These people are portrayed as having lived in harmony with the land and not disturbing its natural balance through the application of technology or demographic pressure.

This idea is also an important force in political arguments used by native people especially in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Unfortunately for these people recent historical, archaeological and anthropological research showed has that their ancestors were capable to manipulate and modify the natural world to their advantage through the use of fire and hunting. Pre-historic settlers of the America's, Australasia and Europe might have been partly responsible for upsetting the ecological systems and the extinction of many grazing animals through over hunting and persistent burning of large areas.

According to Beinart and Coates these early migrants were aggressive colonisers in their own right. They concluded that the revival of "aboriginal ideas" of nature by descendants of native people "is a powerful ideological statement rather than good history".

Humans and the physical world The preceding pages have dealt with the intellectual and philosophical side of environmental history. But what is the place of humans in the natural world? Human history is not only the story of the impact of its actions on the physical environment. It is also the story of human reaction to the changing natural world. It is the story of climatic change, slow geological processes, species extinctions and biological changes. The history of the relation between humans and their natural surroundings is a tale of interaction and no one way street.

The following paragraphs will focus on the importance of the natural environment in the development of human history from prehistoric times up to the Middle Ages. Where do Humans fit into nature? It is possible to apply all kinds of definitions to our species, such as intelligent, tool-using, social, able to think abstractly, conscious of the environment and of time. Organised in massive groups and armed with technology we manipulate the environment, transforming the face of the earth to satisfy our needs.

It is only during the last 2. Up to about 10, years ago the various human species lived the same kind of life: that of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Then at the end of the last Ice Age, around 10, ago some people in the Middle East and slightly later in other places began to cultivate some edible plants and domesticate animals.

In a process that took centuries or even millennia, agriculture and stockbreeding became the major forms of subsistence. This development occurred first in the so-called Fertile Crescent in the Middle East but during the following millennia agriculture developed independently in the Yellow River Valley, the Indus Valley, in New Guinea, in the region south of the Sahara and in Mexico and Peru.

These regions are called the core regions of agriculture. It is very likely that humans manipulated nature much earlier than the first development of agriculture. An intriguing question is why prehistoric hunter-gatherers did abandon their way of life in favour of agriculture? The classical explanation is that in the core regions the climate changed and humans and animals were forced to retreat into refuges around rivers and in oases.

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They had to look for more efficient ways to produce food. The solution was agriculture. This so-called 'oasis hypothesis' was first introduced by Childe in But research in recent decades has made clear that the pattern is more complicated. Pollen records and lake sediments point to a wetter climate at the start of the Holocene, not a drier.

The same applies to Mexico. The result of this was that plants, the ancestors of our major agricultural crops, spread over larger areas.

In this way the plants became more abundantly available than before. The savannah landscape that developed attracted large herds of animals. Some species were domesticated and stockbreeding became the dominant means of subsistence. Childe's hypothesis was related to the whole area of the Middle East. But it is very likely that the most important recourses were found in the area immediately adjacent to where people lived. This led to diversity in the development of agriculture.

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Agriculture probably did not originate in a few core regions but over large areas. The problem is that the evidence is very sparse and scattered over enormous areas. The rise of agriculture and domestication led people to give up their nomadic life and settle down. In this way the first villages came into being and became the forerunners of the first urban concentrations. The oldest known walled city in the world, Jericho in Israel, dates from BP. The development of urban centres sparked off a cultural revolution that transformed humankind radically.

Social hierarchies, specialisation, art and science emerged. Societies evolved from tribal bands via chiefdoms into states. This cultural revolution speeded up with the development of metallurgy and writing. It caused also environmental degradation. The most damaging activity was undoubtedly agriculture.

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It transformed complete landscapes. According to Roberts the link between people and nature weakened with the advent of complex agricultural societies. In Europe the majority of wildwood remained untouched for a long time. The fate of the early agriculturists was interwoven with the habitats they occupied.

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In the Middle East the local impact was much greater due to sedentary settlement and permanent farming. In Europe farming took for a long time the form of shifting cultivation. According to Roberts this epoch was the 'high tide' of upland farming in the British Isles. A combination of climatic change and human misuse of fragile environments afterwards caused the decline. It was believed for a long time that when the Romans came to the British Isles they encountered a dense, inhospitable and undisturbed forest wilderness.