Global Environmental History of the Industrial Revolution: Work in (Slow) Progress

Global Environmental History of the Industrial Revolution: Work in (Slow) Progress

Prof. Dr. John R. McNeill, Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

Commentator: Prof. Dr. Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, University of Freiburg

This talk concerns the ecological impacts of industrialization, c. 1780 to c. 1920. Environmental historians have taken stock of the pollution effects of industrialization in Britain, Germany, the USA, Japan and elsewhere. And they recognize the impacts of burning fossil fuels upon the Earth’s atmosphere and climate. However, there is more to the environmental history of industrialization than that: there are “ecological teleconnections”. The best leather straps for textile mills came from bison hide from the American West. The best insulation for underwater cables came from the resin of a tree found only in Southeast Asia. All the fuels, fibers, ores, and lubricants necessary for industrialization had to come from somewhere, and before 1920 most of them came more or less directly from nature. And they had to come in ever-increasing quantities.This talk considers cotton und wool, lead and copper, palm oil and whale oil among other ingredients of industrialization, and the ecological perturbations that resulted from growing, harvesting, or extracting them.

Short Bio:

J.R. McNeill has held two Fulbright awards and fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur foundations as well as the Woodrow Wilson Center. His books include Something New Under the Sun (2000), winner of two prizes, listed by the London Times among the 10 best science books ever written (despite not being a science book), and translated into 9 languages; The Human Web (2003), translated into 7 languages; and Mosquito Empires (2010), which won the Beveridge Prize from the AHA and was listed by the Wall Street Journal among the best books in early American history. In 2010, he was awarded the Toynbee Prize for “academic and public contributions to humanity.”

Dr. Christoph Becker-Schaum
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