Environmental historians investigate the co-determining relation of humans to the natural world from the distant past to the present. Major topics of study include environmental degradation, energy use, ecological exchange, co-evolution, resource scarcity, and changing ideas of nature. Environmental historians also uncover neglected physical and ecological dimensions of historical processes such as industrialization, warfare, and imperialism. During the last twenty years, the geographic and methodological base of environmental history has expanded and fractured into a number of subfields. Transnational and non-Western subjects have made important inroads. Environmental historians have also started looking to the history of science and technology for new topics and methodologies. Anthropogenic climate change offers an all too pressing example of this kind of intertwining of human technology, political economy and the natural world.
At the University of Chicago, environmental history is closely linked to the study of economic development and the history of empires. Our faculty and students are also taking a leading role in exploring the new conceptual framework of the Anthropocene and its implications for historical scholarship.