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Online digital communication, networking, and environmental history


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This chapter examines the changing uses of online digital technologies for communication and networking in the environmental history research community. It offers a survey of the history of online environmental history activities and a snapshot of the contemporary uses of such technologies.
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Sean Kheraj and K. Jan Oosthoek, “Online digital communication, networking, and
environmental history”, in: Jocelyn Thorpe, Stephanie Rutherford and L. Anders Sandberg
(eds.), Methodological Challenges in Nature-Culture and Environmental History Research
(London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 231-245.
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18 Online digital communication,
networking, and environmental
Sean Kheraj and K. Jan Oosthoek
On January 23, 1996, Professor Dennis Williams from Southern Nazarene
University declared, “Today begins a new epoch [for] all of us who have been
discussing environmental history electronically for the past few years.” This was
the first message sent to the H-ASEH (later renamed H-Environment) email list-
serv, now more than twenty years ago. H-ASEH was the successor to the previous
ASEH-L email listserv that Williams started in 1991. While some environmen-
tal historians had previously communicated in smaller, closed computer networks
in the past, the advent of email listservs and the H-Net consortium was the
beginning of widespread online digital communication and networking among
environmental history scholars.
In the two decades since Williams posted that first message, online digital
technologies have opened up new avenues for the communication of research
findings and the development of research networks among environmental
historians. In fact, environmental historians have been leaders in the use of
online digital communications technologies in the environmental humanities.
As Cheryl Lousley (2015) recently wrote, “Among environmental humanities
scholars, it is the environmental historians who have been most adept at
reconfiguring scholarly research and communication in light of emerging digi-
tal possibilities” (Lousley 2015, p. 3). This chapter examines the changing uses
of online digital technologies for communication and networking in the envi-
ronmental history research community. It offers a survey of the history of
online environmental history activities and a snapshot of the contemporary
uses of such technologies. These technologies have influenced scholarship in
the field of environmental history in a number of important ways. First, they
have facilitated the development and growth of regional, national, and inter-
national scholarly networks. Second, they have extended the reach of
environmental history research findings making this research accessible to
communities beyond the academy, including educators, policy makers, journal-
ists, and public history audiences. Finally, environmental historians have
begun to make use of online digital technologies for the development of new
forms of scholarly publication.
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Creating online scholarly networks
From the early-1990s to the mid-2000s, environmental historians primarily used
online digital technologies for the development of scholarly research networks.
This was precisely the purpose of ASEH-L and H-ASEH. These email listservs
provided an online discussion forum for members of the American Society for
Environmental History and other users around the world. ASEH-L began in the
early-1990s with 300 mostly American subscribers and was hosted by Texas Tech
University before migrating to the H-Net system. Just as today, these email list-
servs created an international online forum for scholars in environmental history
to discuss common issues, post announcements about conferences and publica-
tions, and share other news.
In the first month, H-ASEH users posted sixty-one messages on a range of
topics. One of the earliest topics for discussion was a general conversation about
the state of the field of environmental history and how historians defined this
relatively new area of study. As editor of Environmental History, Hal Rothman
enthusiastically described the field as “one of the most exciting new disciplines
to emerge in the past two decades.” He wrote an early introductory statement
about environmental history, the ASEH, and the journal itself. “We intend for
the list to be the location of dialogue and debate about the field of environmen-
tal history,” wrote Rothman in January 1996, “as well as a place where books are
reviewed, new publications announced, and other matters of interest to the
members discussed and debated” (Rothman 1996). For the most part, this was
how environmental historians tended to use the listserv.
Conferences, workshops, symposia, and other events filled the early message
threads on H-ASEH as scholars made use of the listserv as a platform to adver-
tise various activities and meetings. Within a day, Charlotte Zoe Walker (January
24, 1996) from SUNY Oneonta posted the first conference announcement for an
event on multicultural perspectives on environmental writing. Ray Bromley
(January 29, 1996) followed up with an announcement about a one-day confer-
ence at the Lewis Mumford Center at the University of Albany.
Teaching issues arose early in H-ASEH discussion with historians seeking
advice on course development. For example, Robert Schwartz (January 29, 1996)
sought help with developing a new course on environmental thought in Europe
from 1600 to the present. Joel Tarr’s first message (January 29, 1996) on the list-
serv was a request for videos relating to Native American attitudes toward
nature. Within a month, Sarah Elkind was already working on creating an online
repository for syllabi and other teaching resources (Williams February 28, 1996).
While H-ASEH began as an online tool for members of the ASEH and much
of the early discussion focused on US topics, scholars studying topics and working
outside the US made use of the listserv to develop scholarly networks. For
instance, Mats Widgren (January 25, 1996), a geographer from Stockholm
University, reached out to find other scholars working on “the historical and
social contexts of intensive farming” (Widgren 1996). Richard Stuart (January 25,
1996) from Parks Canada sought information about environmental historians
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working on topics relating to Canada. Laxman D. Satya (January 30, 1996) started
an extended discussion of sources relating to the environmental impacts of British
colonialism in nineteenth-century India. And Horacio Capel from Universidad
de Barcelona shared a number of references to scholarship on conservation history
in Spain. The global reach of environmental history was evident in the early use
of this email listserv in the mid-1990s.
To reflect the increasing number of non-American subscribers of H-ASEH, 20
per cent of the 1200 members in early 2000, H-ASEH changed its name to H-
Environment. This change became particularly urgent with the creation of the
European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) the prior year. ESEH would
become one of the supporting professional organisations of H-Environment,
which was reflected with the creation of a new editorial board that included a
representative of ESEH and the appointment of a European list editor. Through
ESEH, the number of non-American subscribers of H-Environment continued to
expand (H-Environment editors, April 6, 2000).
Early discussions on H-ASEH differed somewhat from the way that environ-
mental historians use email listservs today. For the most part, discussion on the
current H-Environment listserv is dominated by announcements without much
back and forth conversation. In the first months of H-ASEH, however, it was
common for environmental historians to pose open-ended questions and gener-
ate some discussion among users. This most often took the form of seeking
resources for particular topics or issues in environmental history. On 5 February
1996, Tina Roberts (Roberts 1996), a graduate student at University of Maine,
started a discussion thread seeking resources on the role of women in the envi-
ronmental movement. This generated eighteen responses over the remainder of
the month with suggestions for further reading and references to particular
women in the environmental movement.
While most of the direct online interaction among environmental historians
in the 1990s took place on H-ASEH, scholarly associations also made use of
websites to share information and resources with their members. “Understanding
the past for its impact on the future,” read the header of the Forest History
Society website in early 1998. As one of the earliest environmental history asso-
ciations to establish a presence on the Web, Forest History Society led the way
by providing information about environmental history for its members and
general readers. Duke University started hosting the website in the mid-1990s.
In addition to providing information on membership, relevant archives, its oral
history program, publications, and awards, the Forest History Society website
included its extensive bibliography: an online version of a computer database
that the society had kept since the early 1980s. This quickly became one of the
most influential online resources for environmental history scholarship.
ASEH, and later ESEH, both established websites to share information with
members and provide resources about the emerging field for a general readership
(Figure 18.1). ASEH first started with a website directly tied to the H-ASEH/H-
Environment email listserv but eventually fully migrated to its own domain at in 2002. This website focused specifically on membership issues, the
Online digital communication 233
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society’s annual meeting, and the journal Environmental History. In 2007, ASEH
began publishing a digital version of its newsletter. ESEH first established its
website in 2000, constructing a similar site to that of ASEH and other historical
scholarly associations. It included membership information, conference details,
and links to additional resources.
The case of ESEH, in particular, illustrates the power of the Web to create
networks. An earlier attempt to create a scholarly environmental history associ-
ation, the European Association for Environmental History (EAEH), never
really got off the ground. The last print newsletter was published in 1995 and
then it fell silent. Without a ubiquitous communication tool, such as the Web, it
proved almost impossible to create an international network in the culturally and
linguistically diverse continent that is Europe. From the start, the website was a
central part of ESEH’s communication strategy. Here, scholars could sign up as
members and find information about the organisation, conferences, and publica-
tions (Winiwarter, March 31, 2001). A combined use with H-Environment
proved very effective and by the time of the first ESEH conference in September
2001 about 300 scholars had registered as members mainly through the website.
In recent years the website has diversified and is now linked to a social media
presence and H-Environment has mostly lost its function as a communication
channel for ESEH members.
Up to the early-2000s environmental history focused on issues in North
America and Europe, with more of the online content appear in English. More
recently, however, an ever-growing number of researchers from Asia, the South
Pacific, Africa, and Latin America have been joining what has become a global
environmental history community (Reinaldo 2008). This resulted in the creation
of the Latin American and Caribbean Society of Environmental History
(SOLCHA in Spanish) in 2004 and the Association of East Asian Environmental
History in 2009. Both societies had a web presence from the beginning but the
sites are not yet as thoroughly developed as those of the ESEH and ASEH. The
sites present basic information about the organisations, membership, conferences,
and news in the field. The sites play an important role in communicating and
organizing the biannual conferences of both organisations.
By the early 2000s ASEH, ESEH and H-Environment had established an
online presence that had helped to create international scholarly networks in
environmental history. But in large countries with relatively small and scattered
populations, in particular in Canada and Australia, it was felt that a more
regional focus was needed in order to connect scholars. This led to new online
initiatives of network building and online innovation during the first decade of
the twenty-first century. In 1997, the Environmental History Network was estab-
lished at the Australian National University with the aim to facilitate
communications among scholars working across a range of university depart-
ments, government agencies, businesses, and cultural and scientific institutions.
A few years later the network had established an online presence and encom-
passed all states of Australia and New Zealand, reflected in the new name of the
network: The Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network. The
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Figure 18.1 Three examples of early environmental history sites: ASEH (2002), ESEH
(2000), and EH website (1998). Note the simple structures and the lack of
interactive features
Source: Images courtesy of ASEH, ESEH and Jan Oosthoek.
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network became a successful bulletin board around which a diverse group of
researcher from around Australia and New Zealand coalesced. The site of the
Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network is closely linked to the
Centre for Environmental History at the Australian National University which
administers the site. The latter also has an active web presence and complements
the network with news and stories related to members of the Centre and the
wider research community in Australia and New Zealand.
In 2004, Alan MacEachern (University of Western Ontario) and a team of
environmental historians and historical geographers founded the Network in
Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), a new organization focused on
scholarship in environmental history in Canada. This team won funding from
the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to develop a
national research network and disseminate environmental history scholarship to
academic and non-academic audiences. In doing so, NiCHE leveraged online
digital tools in order to connect researchers across Canada. The organization
began with a traditional static website, but soon made use of online collaboration
software by Groove Networks to facilitate the development of collaborative
research papers and to lead real-time online discussions of issues and themes in
Canadian environmental history. In 2007, NiCHE relaunched its website using
the Drupal content management system. This allowed members to write and
submit their own content for the site. The commenting feature of the new site
also allowed members to respond to one another and generate discussion and
conversation. This use of user-generated content and commenting tools blended
the information sharing features of early environmental history websites with the
online engagement and interactivity of email listservs. In 2008, NiCHE started
publishing an audio podcast called, Nature’s Past, which further extended the
public reach of the network to communities beyond the academy.
Reaching wider audiences
While the development of scholarly networks dominated environmental histori-
ans’ early use of online digital technologies, some researchers also saw the
potential to use the internet as a communications tool to reach broader public
audiences. With environmental issues capturing greater public attention in the
1990s, some historians began to envision a public role for environmental history,
one that could be facilitated by online technologies. Dissemination of scholarly
work has always been important. Only a few decades ago this was mainly done
through scholarly journals and, in the humanities, the monograph. Some better-
known scholars contributed to public debate through newspapers, popular
magazines, and, in some cases, television and radio programmes. Overall, dissem-
ination of scholarly material was conducted through a number of limited media
with a limited reach. In 2004, Catherine Christen and Lisa Mighetto (2004) co-
edited a special issue of The Public Historian to coincide with the first joint
meeting of the ASEH and the National Council on Public History. In that issue,
they made note of the degree to which environmental historians addressed “the
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‘usefulness’ and uses of environmental history in a variety of forums, including
ASEH conferences, and in recent years also on the H-Environment web site and
e-mail discussion network” (Christen and Mighetto 2004, p. 10). Based on those
online discussions, they hoped to use the joint meeting of these two groups as an
occasion to ask how environmental history might benefit from the adoption of
public history’s approach to the dissemination of historical knowledge. Online
digital technologies would come to play a significant role in that effort.
Outside of the activities of the main scholarly associations, a few individual
researchers began to develop websites as resources for other researchers and
general audiences with an interest in environmental topics. These websites
served as some of the earliest online resources for the dissemination of environ-
mental history to audiences beyond the academy. In 1996 Bill Kovarik published
the first version of his Environmental History Timeline on the Web. This timeline
was originally published in a book entitled Mass Media and Environmental Conflict
(1996) earlier that same year. Over time the website and timeline evolved and
expanded to include more international topics and take the timeline back to
prehistory. At present the site also contains a blog with posts commenting on
current environmental events putting them into historical context, short biogra-
phies and material for students. The site stands very much on its own and is not
embedded in current online social media platforms which would extend the
reach of the site even further.
A site that is currently firmly embedded in a network of online social media
is Environmental History Resources. In 1998 this site began its life as a personal
website of Jan Oosthoek, then an environmental history graduate student based
in Scotland. The site was initially hosted by and called
“Environmental History Website” and was intended as a general resource for a
global audience. Within months the site was moved to the servers of University
of Stirling and renamed “Oosthoek’s Environmental History Homesite.” In 2005
the site was closed down by the University of Stirling and in early 2006
Oosthoek relaunched it as Environmental History Resources. Here Oosthoek
continued to focus on developing publicly accessible environmental history
resources that were intended not just for a scholarly audience, but a broader
public history audience. The site is used as a platform to explain the field to non-
experts, especially students new to the field and earliest content included a series
of introductory essays. In the spring of 2006 Oosthoek launched Exploring
Environmental History, the first environmental history audio podcast, which was
a significant departure from previous uses of online audio. Instead of recorded
lectures, Oosthoek produced a regular, edited, episodic series, which continues to
this day. More recently Environmental History Resources has added a dedicated
YouTube Channel with short introductory videos and the site is closely linked to
a network of online social media, including Twitter, Google Plus and the schol-
arly social network ResearchGate.
From the mid-2000s a new type of online academic presence emerged in the
form of blogging. A number of individuals (mainly graduate students and early-
career scholars) embraced blogging to showcase their work to a wider audience.
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Blogging among environmental historians developed not just as a form of self-
publication and promotion. Instead, it added to the academic processes of
research, writing, and debate. Blogging emerged as a productive scholarly activ-
ity as scholars turned research or a talk, a topic they are teaching about and even
commentary on current affairs into blog posts.
Since the late 2000s, several environmental historians have published regular
blogs about their research. For instance, in late 2009, Katherine Knight, an early-
career scholar, launched Envirohistory NZ, a blog about her own research and
conservation issues in New Zealand. The aim of the site is to “to stimulate discus-
sion and exploration of the way we relate to our environment through history.”
Many of the topics on this blog relate to her research and have ended up in a
monograph about the environmental history of the Manawatu region of the
North Island of New Zealand. Also in 2009, Sean Kheraj (York University)
started an academic blog about his work in Canadian environmental history,
featuring short articles about ongoing research, teaching, and current affairs. In
2013, Dolly Jørgensen (Luleå University of Technology), president of the ESEH
and contributor to this volume, started a research blog with a focus on her proj-
ect on the history of species re-introductions called “The Return of Native
Nordic Fauna.” This blog stands out as an explicit example of a project-focused
blog created with the intention of helping Jørgensen develop her ideas and pres-
ent preliminary findings from her broader research project.
Environmental historians have also collaborated on group blog initiatives,
multi-authored regular blogs with editorial teams. The Forest History Society
launched one of the earliest environmental history group blogs in 2008 called,
Peeling Back the Bark. This blog highlights the archives and photo collection of
the Forest History Society through numerous articles and features (Lehmen,
August 8, 2008). In 2011, Jim Clifford, then the project manager for the
Network in Canadian History and Environment, launched The Otter~La loutre
(originally called Nature’s Chroniclers), a group blog focused on Canadian envi-
ronmental history. Based on his experience co-founding and editing the web
publication,, Clifford developed a multi-authored group blog
model that saw the publication of hundreds of short articles each year. These
articles included a mix of research findings, opinion, historiographical debate,
and current events offering a rich, new form of scholarly communication and the
fostering of ongoing discussion among environmental historians in Canada.
Similar blogs have since emerged, including Edge Effects, a digital magazine
edited and published by a graduate student team from the Center for Culture,
History, and Environment at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
While many of these blog posts may never contribute directly to academic
articles, many others have ended up in published papers, book chapters, and even
books. As a result, blogging has become part of the online academic public land-
scape. According to digital historian Tim Hitchcock (July 28, 2014), blogging
has become “a way of thinking in public and revising one’s work, to make it
better, in public.” He argues that knowing that there is an audience forces schol-
ars to think a little harder about the reader, the standards of record keeping and
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attribution that underpins research. Indeed, as Jørgensen (September 6, 2013)
found in the case of her own research blog, “With a little time commitment, a
love of writing, and a desire to share insights, having a research blog can be an
integrated part of the research process” (Jørgensen 2013).
Online social networking
Within the past few years, new online social networking technologies have
emerged, assuming some of the former scholarly networking features of email list-
servs and early website development. Online social networks represent a great
opportunity to create communities that go well beyond the traditional limits of
academic networks to include not only professional historians and practitioners
of other disciplines, but also policy makers, other educators, and journalists.
Environmental historians tend to use Twitter most actively for online social
networking, but they can also be found on Facebook and Google Plus. Users
share links to articles and other media relevant to the field. They also debate and
discuss key issues and themes. Some scholars use online social networks to organ-
ize panels and workshops for annual conferences and other meetings. On Twitter,
they also adopt specific hashtags for conferences in order to share and discuss
conference papers in real time. Social networks are good for creating communi-
ties, sharing ideas, debating issues, finding collaborators, and disseminating
One of the largest online social networking groups in environmental history
can be found on #envhist, the most common hashtag used among environmen-
tal historians for general discussion on Twitter. In 2009, during a conversation
with Adam Crymble (website administrator for the Network in Canadian
History and Environment) Twitter user @SmithMillCreek first proposed using a
single hashtag to help organize the tweets of environmental historians. Since
then, the #envhist hashtag has been used to coordinate discussion among
hundreds of Twitter users, many of whom are environmental history scholars.
According to Wilko Hardenberg’s (March 29, 2012) analysis, the hashtag gained
popularity beginning in April 2011 and users posted more than 2,300 tweets with
the #envhist hashtag within a year. Unfortunately, technical limitations on
accessing historical data from Twitter make it difficult to determine the total use
of this hashtag today. However, environmental historians, journalists, policy
makers, and the broader public continue to use #envhist and Twitter as tools for
scholarly networking.
One significant limitation to the use of Twitter is the limited number of char-
acters that can be used (up to 140) and its short memory. Blogs get around these
limitations but these do not have the flexibility of building large interactive
communities that share information easily. Other online social networks, includ-
ing Facebook and Google Plus incorporate the networking capabilities of Twitter
and some of the features of blogging. These platforms, however, do not allow
users to easily organise a network around a dedicated hashtag like the use of
#envhist on Twitter. This changed with the recent update of Google Plus which
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puts an emphasis on its so-called communities. Google Plus communities are
online social networks to connect with people interested in a specific topic and
act as a place for discussion, dissemination of new research and publications and
general announcements. Communities are often actively managed and moder-
ated so that only relevant items are posted and shared among members and the
use of tags as well as topics simplifies searches. Google Plus currently hosts three
profiles related to environmental history and one community.
A most impressive example of how an environmental history community
could be run on Google Plus is the Biocultural Landscapes and Seascapes (BCLS)
community. It was started by Jean-Baptiste Pichancourt, a research ecologist at
the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
in Brisbane, in December 2012. The BCLS community is an interesting online
space for environmental historians and has a wide interdisciplinary membership.
Pichancourt and others designed the community for people interested in issues
at the intersection between biodiversity and cultural diversity. In January of 2016
the BCLS community reached over 4,000 members and was renamed
“Biocultural Diversity” to reflect the diverse membership of the network that
encompasses scientists, social scientists, and humanists as well as policy makers,
land managers, NGOs, and other stakeholders from civil society.
New platforms for publication
In addition to using online digital technologies to facilitate public engagement
and networking, environmental historians have also developed new online plat-
forms for scholarly publishing. As Peter Roberts wrote in 1999, “I believe the
potential advantages of moving toward electronic publication for scholarly work
far outweigh any possible disadvantages associated with such a move.”
Environmental historians have indeed seen many of those advantages in recent
years. All of the major journals in the field now publish online electronic
editions and many of the university presses publish e-book copies of their mono-
graphs. But environmental history scholars have begun to use online digital
technologies to produce new forms of scholarly publication beyond the tradi-
tional print journal and monograph.
For many years, H-Environment has published digital book reviews, once the
exclusive purview of scholarly journals. H-Net began its book reviews project in
the 1990s and H-Environment joined the effort in 1997. Dennis Williams served
as the first book review editor and posted the first call for contributors on January
28, 1997, just one year after launching the H-ASEH listserv. Within a few
months, Charles C. Kolb (1997) published the first H-Environment book review.
As an online and freely-accessible digital publication, H-Environment book
reviews reach a wide and growing audience of readers.
In recent years, however, H-Environment has broadened its approach to
reviews, exploring new forms made possible by online digital technologies. In
particular, H-Environment Roundtable Reviews stands as an example of how
online digital technologies offer the potential to explore new forms of publication.
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In January 2011, Jacob Darwin Hamblin announced the publication of a new
feature intended to complement the existing book reviews project. H-
Environment Roundtable Reviews assembles a group of three to four scholars to
review a single book in the field of environmental history. H-Environment
published the first issue of this new feature on January 31, 2011. H-Environment
Roundtable Reviews, now in its sixth volume, has published forty issues. While
the format is not entirely novel, it was only on the rare occasion that a traditional
scholarly journal would assemble a roundtable review of a single monograph or
essay. The online digital platform allows H-Environment to devote an entire
publication to the round table format.
Within the past few years, digital technologies have facilitated a flourishing of
new open-access online journals in the fields of environmental history and envi-
ronmental humanities. Indeed, the dissemination of freely available online
journals through open-access publishing has been one of the most significant
consequences of the adoption of online digital technologies in academia and it
has been influential in the development of new online journals in environmen-
tal history and environmental humanities. Michael Geist recently wrote, “The
shift toward open access becoming the default form of disseminating research in
many fields is a remarkable change given that conventional publishing in expen-
sive subscription-based journals was the standard in many areas of research as
recently as ten years ago” (Geist 2016, p. 30). Open-access online publication
has offered these journals the opportunity to reach global audiences and publish
research that may not have fit well in traditional print publications. In 2012, a
collaboration of scholars from universities in Australia, Canada, the United
States, and Sweden founded Environmental Humanities and published its first
issue. This international peer-reviewed journal publishes exclusively in an open-
access online digital format. Environmental Humanities is part of the Directory of
Open Access Journals, joining a number of new online journals that have
adopted an open-access publishing model. Since 2010, the Rachel Carson
Center for Environment and Society has published its own open-access online
journal called, RCC Perspectives, a publication focused on less formal articles in
environmental humanities. Most recently, the Centre for Environmental History
at Australian National University launched International Review of Environmental
History, its own open-access journal (available in print and online). The appear-
ance of these new journals suggests a trend toward open-access online journal
publication in environmental humanities, although the most influential journals
in the field of environmental history remain subscription-based print journals.
We see other experiments in online digital publication that push the bound-
aries of how environmental historians communicate and disseminate their
research. The Arcadia Project is one such digital environmental history project
that attempts to publish research findings in novel ways. A project of the Rachel
Carson Center for Environment and Society and the ESEH, the Arcadia Project
is a unique Web publication of original peer-reviewed environmental histories.
The project is organized into collections that examine key themes in environ-
mental history with case studies from around the world. Each case study is
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authored by a leading scholar on the topic and includes a short essay, a bibliog-
raphy for further reading, and links to relevant online resources. Moreover, the
collections are mapped and situated on a timeline so that users can explore these
global environmental histories spatially and temporally. As a so-called “born
digital” project, Arcadia makes full use of rich media, hypertext linking, and
non-linear structure in its presentation of environmental history scholarship.
The short text and emphasis on references to additional resources position this
project as a public history initiative as well, offering users an introduction to a
wide range of topics in environmental history. Arcadia and other new online
publications suggest rich possibilities for the development of new forms of schol-
arly publication for environmental history.
From email listservs in the 1990s to the development of international online
social networks of scholars, policymakers, educators, and journalists, the past two
decades of the use of online digital technologies for networking and communi-
cation clearly demonstrate the ways in which environmental history has been at
the forefront of broader changes in digital scholarship. This survey suggests a
number of significant conclusions about the influence of digital technologies on
environmental history.
First, the field of environmental history has developed alongside the growth
and the use of online digital technologies in academia. To understand the devel-
opment of the field from a historiographical perspective, it is important to
consider the role that online digital technologies played in fostering communi-
ties, facilitating debate, linking researchers around the globe, and promoting the
dissemination of research findings. The launch of H-ASEH in 1996 took place
concurrently with an international flourishing of the field, especially in regions
outside of the United States. In many ways, the growth of the field in parts of the
world where geographic distance or cultural barriers isolated researchers from one
another can be attributed, in part, to the exploitation of online digital tech-
nologies for networking and communication.
Because online digital technologies played such a significant role in the devel-
opment of the field of environmental history around the world, the archiving
and preservation of digital communication is especially urgent. Historical records
of online social networks, including Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook are diffi-
cult, if not impossible, to access and many early websites in environmental
history have not been adequately archived. Future research on the historiogra-
phy of the field will be impeded by these technological limitations and failures to
preserve this digital content.
Second, while environmental historians have had a long history of using
online digital technologies for networking and communication and they may
have been particularly prominent in this regard when compared to other sub-
disciplines in history, it may also be true that environmental history’s use of
online digital technologies is symptomatic of broader changes in the humanities
242 Sean Kheraj and K. Jan Oosthoek
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and social sciences over the past twenty years and a reflection of how the
Internet and the Web have shaped academia more broadly. Certainly in the case
of open-access online publishing environmental historians have not been excep-
tional. Many other fields of academic scholarship have embraced open-access
publishing more thoroughly. Still, the particular case study of environmental
history is worth considering in detail as an example of how the Internet and the
Web have shaped academia in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first
Third, the use of blogging and social networks, such as Twitter, have started
to influence the way that a younger generation of scholars conducts the processes
of research and writing. For example, blogging has become a tool for testing new
ideas, refining writing, and to honing in on new research questions. The imme-
diacy of the Web has sped up feedback processes compared to older print
publications. In addition, the Web has the potential to increase the visibility and
impact of research, something that universities and funding agencies increasingly
emphasize (Biswas and Kirchherr 2015).
Finally, while environmental historians have been particularly adept at using
online digital technologies for communication and networking, they have not
yet widely adopted digital technologies for research analysis. This is still an
emerging area in the field, but there are current projects that demonstrate the
future directions for digital scholarship in environmental history. In particular, in
the areas of historical geographic information systems (HGIS) and text mining
we see new, exciting environmental history research. The use of “big data” and
the development of infrastructure for executing large collaborative research proj-
ects is still in its infancy in the field of environmental history. However, projects
such as Trading Consequences and Sustainable Farm Systems stand as models for
new digital scholarship in the field. The work of scholars at the Spatial History
Project at Stanford University also represents future possibilities for the further
integration of HGIS into environmental history scholarship. The use of online
digital technologies in environmental history will likely continue to be signifi-
cant for networking and communication, but will take on an even greater role in
research analysis in the future.
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Full-text available
There is a lack of concrete knowledge about floristic change in Britain before the mid-20th century. Relevant evidence is available, but it is principally contained in disparate historical sources. In this article, we demonstrate how such sources can be efficiently collated and analysed through the implementation of state-of-the-art computational-linguistic and historical-geographic information systems (GIS) techniques. We do so through a case study that focuses on the floristic history of the English Lake District. This region has been selected because of its outstanding cultural and environmental value and because it has been extensively and continuously documented since the late-17th century. We outline how natural language processing (NLP) techniques can be integrated with Kew’s Plants of the World Online database to enable temporal shifts in plant-naming conventions to be more accurately traced across a heterogeneous corpus of texts published between 1682 and 1904. Through collocate analysis and automated geoparsing techniques, the geographies associated with these plant names are then identified and extracted. Finally, we use GIS to demonstrate the potential of this data set for geo-temporal analysis and for revealing the historical distribution of Lake District flora. In outlining our methodology, this article indicates how the spatial and digital humanities can benefit research both in environmental history and in the environmental sciences more widely.
Introduction Specialized Media Forest and Stream Magazine and the Redefinition of Hunting Mainstream Media The Radium Girls The Media and Social Change I. Mother of the Forest The Media and Social Change II. The Great Alaskan Land Fraud Media and Competing Power Groups A Big Dam Controversy Conflict Management and Scientific Understanding The 1920s Ethyl Leaded Gasoline Controversy The Importance of Dramatic Events The Donora Killer Smog and Smoke Abatement Campaigns Conclusion
"History ought to be more than knowledge chasing its own tail. Environmental history ought to have a few ideas to offer the public." - Donald Worster ©2004 by the Regents of the University of California and the National Council on Public History. All rights reserved.
Message posted to H-Environment
  • Jacob Hamblin
  • Darwin
Hamblin, Jacob Darwin. (2011, January 28). Message posted to H-Environment, 1101&week=d&msg=cw0P5rrwD63V5snvvSurEg&user=&pw=.
Welcome. Retrieved from
  • Eben Lehmen
Lehmen, Eben. (2008, August 8). Welcome. Retrieved from
Message posted to H-ASEH
  • Dennis Williams
Williams, Dennis. (1997, January 28). Message posted to H-ASEH, 9701&week=e&msg=R7uBHjF42azdeEb9U4cBLw&user=&pw=.
The Latin American and Caribbean Society of Environmental History
  • Funes Reinaldo
  • Monzote
Reinaldo, Funes Monzote. (2008). The Latin American and Caribbean Society of Environmental History. Global Environment 1: 244-49.
Twitter and blogs are not just add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion underpinning it
  • Tim Hitchcock
Hitchcock, Tim. (2014, July 28). Twitter and blogs are not just add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion underpinning it. Retrieved from
Review of McNeill Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914
H-Environment. (2011). Review of McNeill, J.R., Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914. H-Environment Roundtable Reviews, 1 (1).