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Prof. J. Donald Hughes, First Arrival at CNU

By Catherine Lee

Professor of John Evans Distinguished Professor of History, Prof. J. Donald Hughes, from University of Denver, gives a lecture to students of History Department of CNU on September 20th, 2011 at the invitation of Global History Center (GHC) of Capital Normal University.

His topic is Environmental History and the Older History. This lecture explains the differences between environmental history and older history in terms of definition, methodology and historiography. At the beginning, based on definition and ecological analysis, Prof. Hughes points out that the older history made little contact with nature, which was concerned mainly with the political activities of human beings, however, environmental history recognizes the biological fact that humans are dependant on nature factors and subject to ecological principles; the older history saw no important relationships beyond those within human society, but environmental history emphasizes the importance of the interrelationships of the human species and the conditions that make life possible.

In order to support his argument, Prof. Hughes analyses the historiographical tradition from Herodotus, Thucydides to Leopold von Ranke and Karl Marx. He also talks about the new trends in the 20th century: women??s history, the histories of racial, religious and sexual minorities; even the history of childhood. Environmental history focuses on trees and earth, which is similar to the researches of voiceless groups in human communities; therefore, it is reasonable to put environmental history into the context of world history. However, there is no absolute division between environmental history and older history. He points out that environmental history cannot afford to ignore the realities of political and military power and the national, economic, and ethnic groups for whose ostensible benefits they are wielded, citing arguments by Douglas Weiner and John McNeil.

As for historiographical principles, Prof. Hughes is against the criticism of ??presentism?? raised by some advocates of older history. From his point of view, researches of interaction between human community and environment can give some help to the environmental problems in modern world. He asks for a world history that adopts ecological process as its organizing principle.

Prof. Hughes Series:

Ecology in Ancient Civilizations, 1975

American Indian Ecology, 1983

Pan’s Travail: Environmental Problems of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, 1994

The Face of the Earth: Environment and World History, 2000

An Environmental History of the World: Humankind’s Changing Role in the Community of Life, 2001

The Mediterranean: An Environmental History, 2005

What is Environmental History? 2006