Field on Fire: The Future of Environmental History

A frank and engaging exploration of the burgeoning academic field of environmental history.
Inspired by the pioneering work of preeminent environmental historian Donald Worster, the contributors to A Field on Fire: The Future of Environmental History reflect on the past and future of this discipline. Featuring wide-ranging essays by leading environmental historians from the United States, Europe, and China, the collection challenges scholars to rethink some of their orthodoxies, inviting them to approach familiar stories from new angles, to integrate new methodologies, and to think creatively about the questions this field is well positioned to answer.

Worster’s groundbreaking research serves as the organizational framework for the collection. Editors Mark D. Hersey and Ted Steinberg have arranged the book into three sections corresponding to the primary concerns of Worster’s influential scholarship: the problem of natural limits, the transnational nature of environmental issues, and the question of method. Under the heading “Facing Limits,” five essays explore the inherent tensions between democracy, technology, capitalism, and the environment. The “Crossing Borders” section underscores the ways in which environmental history moves easily across national and disciplinary boundaries. Finally, “Doing Environmental History” invokes Worster’s work as an essayist by offering self-conscious reflections about the practice and purpose of environmental history.

The essays aim to provoke a discussion on the future of the field, pointing to untapped and underdeveloped avenues ripe for further exploration. A forward thinker like Worster presents bold challenges to a new generation of environmental historians on everything from capitalism and the Anthropocene to war and wilderness. This engaging volume includes a very special afterword by one of Worster’s oldest friends, the eminent intellectual historian Daniel Rodgers, who has known Worster for close to fifty years.

Mark D. Hersey is associate professor of history at Mississippi State University where he directs the Center for the History of Agriculture, Science, and the Environment of the South. He is author of My Work Is That of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver.

Ted Steinberg is Adeline Barry Davee Distinguished Professor of History and professor of law at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York; American Green: The Obsessive Quest for a Perfect Lawn; Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History; Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America; and Nature Incorporated; Industrialization and the Waters of New England.

“Like a good prairie fire, the essays in this uniformly excellent collection seek to rejuvenate the field of environmental history, allowing its radical origins to regreen and sprout anew. A Field on Fire is a fitting tribute to Donald Worster’s remarkable career as an historical innovator who insisted that our ethical responsibilities extended well beyond the human community.”
—Paul S. Sutter, University of Colorado Boulder

“Every so often, practitioners unfold their maps to access the whereabouts and forward movement of their field of study. The contributors to this outstanding collection point to smart new directions for environmental history. Doing so, while also writing with verve and insight, they pay tribute to the field’s most distinguished and agile pathfinder, Donald Worster.”
—Jack Davis, author of Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for History

“A fun, thought-provoking read penned by some of the most talented environmental historians in the field.”
—Bartow J. Elmore, author of Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism

“The essays in A Field on Fire examine new trends in environmental history and will interest environmental historians, geographers, and historians of science and technology.”
—Lisa Mighetto, author of Wild Animals and American Environmental Ethics and executive director of the American Society for Environmental History

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