Committee for the History of Environment and Technology
We seek to integrate the history of technology and environmental history. Over the past three decades, these two specialties have developed separately with their own journals, professional societies, and graduate training. Despite this independent evolution, over time scholars in these two fields have come to focus on the central question of how humans have employed technology to shape the natural world. Not surprisingly, historians of technology and environmental historians approach this question from two very different directions.
Broadly speaking, historians of technology have taken an instrumental approach, concentrating on the specific means by which humans have manipulated nature - the machines, processes, and systems. During the last decade, technological historians have investigated how technological artifacts reflect the politics, values, and social structures of a particular culture, but the focus has been on understanding from whence the instruments - the tools and systems - came. While acknowledging that humans use technology to alter the natural world, most historians of technology have not wrestled with what they mean by "nature" or the "environment." In the history of technology today, "nature" is all too often an unopened black box.
In contrast, technology is frequently the black box in environmental history. Environmental historians have explored how the concept of nature has evolved in Western culture, and they have effectively analyzed the impacts that human actions have had on the environment. Drawing on ecology, demography, and other scientific disciplines, historians of the environment have developed models of how the environment responds to human activity. Yet for the most part, they have not delved into the details of the machines used to manipulate the natural world or the factors informing how individuals came to create and use different artifacts. All too often, industrialization is a process that just suddenly "happens" in the narratives of environmental history.
The Committee on the History of Environment and Technology aims to advance the study of the intersection of these fields through our research, teaching, and service. In particular, we seek to advance integration by looking at power and agency.