Environmental History

Research Aims
Detail of a miniature of bees collecting nectar and returning to their hive, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210,

Detail of a miniature of bees collecting nectar and returning to their hive, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210,

Environmental history investigates humans’ changing ecological entanglements over time. Its practitioners work over different time periods and geographical regions and draw on methodological ideas and practices from various scholarly traditions such as history, archaeology, geography, visual art and the natural sciences.

This interdisciplinary approach is what makes environmental history such an exhilarating field, yet it can also be what divides it. Environmental historians often belong to different departments and faculties, and at Oxford they are yet to share a sub-institutional affiliation. Hence, they are not always informed of relevant work done by their colleagues within the same University.

The Oxford Environmental History Network wishes to foster a virtual community of environmental historians in Oxford. The aim of the network is threefold:

  • To connect researchers confronting similar conceptual and methodological challenges, even if working across different regions and time periods
  • To showcase environmental history research being undertaken at Oxford and elsewhere
  • To publicise relevant events and opportunities occurring both at Oxford as well as internationally

Those listed below have an interest in both teaching and research surrounding the topic of of environmental history.

A talk by Professor Sarah S. Elkind

Fishing and the Global History of Conservation: Preliminary Comparisons of Past and Present

Tuesday 10 December 2019
Tea and coffee from 10:00, Seminar at 10:30
Colin Matthew seminar room, History Faculty

In her talk for the OEHN, Sarah S. Elkind will present a segment of her new project which aims to investigate the global history of resource conservation, its environmental justice consequences, and their implications for managing global climate change.


oen event

Associate Professor of History, University of Notre Dame
16.00-17.30, Thursday 11 October, 2018.
Lecture room, Faculty of History, University of Oxford.
41-47 George St, Oxford OX1 2BE
Followed by drinks. All welcome.



Ecologies of Knowledge and Practice

Japanese Studies and the Environmental Humanities

Postgraduate and Early Career Workshop
St Antony’s College, University of Oxford

27th and 28th October 2017 



Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey

The Oxford Environmental History Network in conjunction with the Centre for Global History will be hosting a workshop - ‘Writing histories in the era of the Anthropocene’ - in late May 2018. This postgraduate workshop will be led by Professor John Brooke, author of Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey.

More details to come.

Related Centres and Projects
Environmental History Working Group (EHWG)
environmental history working group

The Environmental History Working Group (EHWG) runs informal meetings for those interested in studying the past in ways that recognize the interactions and interconnectedness of animals, plants, humans, other beings, and the environment. We make space to talk about exciting developments in our fields, new ideas and approaches, and to have interdisciplinary conversations. We try to keep discussions and presentations informal, and we encourage anyone at all interested in these kinds of approaches to join our meetings, regardless of research specialism or presumed existing knowledge. Our sessions are mainly attended by graduate students and undergraduates who were considering writing a dissertation or embarking on further study in the field, but all are welcome.

For further information or to join the EHWG mailing list, please email environmentalhistoryworkinggroup-owner@maillist.ox.ac.uk.

Meeting Details:

Meetings are held each term on even weeks in the History Faculty. Meeting details will be released at the beginning of each term.


Ryan Mealiffe (MPhil History) ryan.mealiffe@history.ox.ac.uk

Ruka Hussain (MSt History of Art) ruksar.hussain@hmc.ox.ac.uk

EHWG Trinity Term 2024 Schedule

Time: 12:30pm to 2:00pm

Meeting Location: History Faculty, Merze Tate Room

Week 2 (2nd May)

Ben Stemper, “The Nature of Utopia: The ecological foundations of Joseph Déjacque’s anarchist utopianism (c. 1850s)”


In 1858, the anarchist Joseph Déjacque began to serially publish his vision of a future anarchic utopia titled L’Humanisphère. He sketches a hyper-advanced future society free from want and coercion, where humanity and nature coexist harmoniously in an anarchist ecumenopolis. This obvious ecologism, however, rests on the foundations of a highly idiosyncratic ecological understanding of politics generally and utopia in particular. Drawing on the influences of Charles Fourier and Pierre Leroux, I aim to elaborate Déjacque’s utopianism, which emerged directly out of his understanding of nature and humanity’s position within it. Politics follows nature, not the other way around.

Week 3

Ashmolean Tour

(Details TBA)

Week 4 (16th May)

Mim Pomerantz, “Ecological Automatism: Photography and Non-Human Creativity in Minotaure (1933-1939)”


The review Minotaure published its first issue in 1933, nine years after the poet and critic André Breton officially inaugurated the Surrealist movement with the publication of the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). As Surrealism entered the 1930s, many members of the movement became increasingly critical of the promises of what Breton called “pure psychic automatism” (or creativity in the absence of consciousness) as the best method for generating creative impulses. One interest that emerged in response to the perceived shortcomings of “pure psychic automatism” was an increased consideration of plants, animals, and insects as creative agents. Many of the most important texts articulating these new notions of thought-in-nature were published in Minotaure. Such texts include Roger Caillois’ exploration of biomimicry in insects, Max Ernst’s probing of the mysteries of forests, and André Breton’s analysis of coral’s uneasy status between plant and mineral. These essays were all accompanied by photographic illustrations. This dissertation considers how ecological actors were assigned agency in Minotaure and how the accompanying photographs were marshaled as evidence of non-human creativity. 

Week 6 (30th May)

Ruka Hussain, “Science, Ecology and Romanticism in George Catlin’s travelling ‘Indian Gallery’”


Over the course of five visits to the American West in the 1830s, George Catlin (b.1796) created a collection of Native American portraits and artifacts, which he toured using a range of performance strategies such as lectures and audience participation. While most scholarship focuses either on figurations of the ‘vanishing Indian’ in his paintings or the museological aspects of his gallery, my paper characterises Catlin’s work as occupying a point of juncture between European and American romanticism, and between literary/artistic Romantic movements and burgeoning scientific disciplines. I apply to visual culture the suggestion of Bruce Greenfield, who argues that American romantic literature, particularly Thoreau, provided imaginative ‘first contacts’ through which readers could ‘know’ the land. Catlin’s gallery, however, provided frontier simulations that were multi-sensorial, engaging a more embodied form of knowledge. I also develop the work of Richard Sha, who argues that Romanticism was linked with science via the role of the imagination. By considering the spatial-temporal experiences of particular forms of visual culture, I chart the ways in which Catlin’s gallery engaged (historical) imagination and sewed lines between ecology, anthropology, and history.