New Book | Surroundings

Posted in books by Editor on April 22, 2021

From the 1790s to today (Earth Day); from The University of Chicago Press:

Etienne Benson, Surroundings: A History of Environments and Environmentalisms (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2020), 296 pages, ISBN: 978-0226706153 (hardcover), $83 / ISBN: 978-0226706290 (paperback), $28.

Given the ubiquity of environmental rhetoric in the modern world, it’s easy to think that the meaning of the terms environment and environmentalism are and always have been self-evident. But in Surroundings, we learn that the environmental past is much more complex than it seems at first glance. In this wide-ranging history of the concept, Etienne S. Benson uncovers the diversity of forms that environmentalism has taken over the last two centuries and opens our eyes to the promising new varieties of environmentalism that are emerging today. Through a series of richly contextualized case studies, Benson shows us how and why particular groups of people—from naturalists in Napoleonic France in the 1790s to global climate change activists today—adopted the concept of environment and adapted it to their specific needs and challenges. Bold and deeply researched, Surroundings challenges much of what we think we know about what an environment is, why we should care about it, and how we can protect it.

Etienne S. Benson is associate professor in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife.


Introduction: What Was an Environment?
1  The World in the Museum: Natural History and the Invention of Organisms and Environments in Post-Revolutionary Paris
2  Environments of Empire: Disease, Race, and Statistics in the British Caribbean
3  The Urban Milieu: Evolutionary Theory and Social Reform in Progressive Chicago
4  The Biosphere as Battlefield: Strategic Materials and Systems Theories in a World at War
5  The Evolution of Risk: Toxicology, Consumption, and the US Environmental Movement
6  The Human Planet: Globalization, Climate Change, and the Future of Civilization on Earth
Conclusion: What Might the Environment Become?



New Book | The Usufructuary Ethos: Power, Politics, and Environment

Posted in books by Editor on April 22, 2021

Forthcoming from the University of Virginia Press:

Erin Drew, The Usufructuary Ethos: Power, Politics, and Environment in the Long Eighteenth Century (2021), 232 pages, ISBN: 978-0813945798 (cloth), $85 / ISBN: 978-0813945804 (paper), $40 / ISBN: 978-0813945811 (ebook), $30.

Who has the right to decide how nature is used, and in what ways? Recovering an overlooked thread of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century environmental thought, Erin Drew shows that English writers of the period commonly believed that human beings had only the ‘usufruct’ of the earth—the ‘right of temporary possession, use, or enjoyment of the advantages of property belonging to another, so far as may be had without causing damage or prejudice’. The belief that human beings had only temporary and accountable possession of the world, which Drew labels the ‘usufructuary ethos’, had profound ethical implications for the ways in which the English conceived of the ethics of power and use. Drew’s book traces the usufructuary ethos from the religious and legal writings of the seventeenth century through mid-eighteenth-century poems of colonial commerce, attending to the particular political, economic, and environmental pressures that shaped, transformed, and ultimately sidelined it. Although a study of past ideas, The Usufructuary Ethos resonates with contemporary debates about our human responsibilities to the natural world in the face of climate change and mass extinction.

Erin Drew is Associate Professor of English at the University of Mississippi.

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