Research being undertaken in the field of Environmental Humanities .
I am currently working on an environmental history of the heyday of European imperialism, from roughly 1880 to 1960. The project explores the environmental transformations and interconnections associated with the explosive growth of commodity production and global trade in the tropical regions under European control - transformations that still visibly shape our world today - and how they fitted into broader patterns of social, cultural and political change. This concerns not only the impact of European (British, French, German, Dutch, Belgian) attempts to harness tropical ecosystems for economic gain, but also the role of indigenous patterns of resource use and colonial conservation efforts. I am also currently co-editing, with Paul Betts, a volume on ‘Heritage in the Modern World’, which reconsiders the role of historical preservation (of both the man-made and the ‘natural’) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from a global perspective.
My research interests currently go into two directions. One is the past and present of environmentalism. I am about to publish a book on the Green Germany, which is a synthesis on German environmental history as well as a reflection on where environmentalism is standing in the twenty-first century. I plan to follow up with a book that is essentially an archaeology of environmentalism: an investigation into places and events that resonated globally. The project follows the intellectual tradition of “sites of memory” (lieux de mémoire) and aims for that holy grail of memory research, global sites of memory. In fact, the more I work on this book, the less I am certain that it is still an environmental history book, but maybe I should not worry too much about academic classification. The point is that there is a transnational level of collective awareness hidden in artefacts and environmental challenges that we can study at great merit as part of global memory.
My other concern is with resources. I am currently building a research group on the global world of monoculture that seeks to understand why production systems all over the world, from coniferous forests in central Europe to soybeans in Brazil are tilting towards a reliance on a single crop during the modern era. The working argument is that there may be something akin to a “mind of monoculture,” which we can observe in very different societies all over the world. I also worked on non-organic resources and found the similarities between mining, forestry and agriculture striking. Enthused by the current academic talk about neo-materialism, I fantasize about writing a global resource history in my megalomaniac hours.