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  • Cultivating the Colonies: Colonial states and their environmental legacies ed. by Christina Folke Ax, Niels Brimnes, Niklas Thode Jensen and Karen Oslund
  • A.T. Grove
Cultivating the Colonies: Colonial states and their environmental legacies Edited by Christina Folke Ax, Niels Brimnes, Niklas Thode Jensen and Karen Oslund. Ohio University Research in International Studies, Global and Comparative Studies Series No. 12. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011.

The contributions to this book were originally presented at a conference in the German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C. An introduction, by Karen Oslund, claims they demonstrate how "analyses of environmental practices in colonial contexts can clarify the nature of colonialism by showing how colonialism worked on the ground and in practice." The first four essays are concerned with attitudes to environment and landscape. The second section deals with the ways in which nature in the colonies was managed. The third considers how, in the postcolonial period, the experience of colonialism changed the relationship of human attitudes to nature. The book is unusual in that brings together experiences gained by several imperial states in a wide variety of colonial territories.

Andrew Weir elaborates the argument that clearing the bush and farming the land could make the alien tropical environment healthier and thereby allow, and justify, European occupation. Nevertheless, in most people's minds the differences between temperate and tropical colonies remained a primary concern, with settlement in temperate areas and occupation of tropical ones the rule.

The central position of nature and the environment to German colonists in Africa and their idea of Heimat is stressed by Daniel Steinbach. In South West Africa they saw themselves as a robust people responding to the rawness of their environment in something the same way as the people of Brandenburg did in Germany. Ownership of the land was seen by the colonial Germans as making them defenders of the "natural treasures" against foreign, African and Afrikaner hunters. The early German settlers in tropical East Africa, plantation owners, were inclined to believe that the tropical climate would weaken German character and therefore necessitated only temporary residence. When a change in settler policy around 1910 encouraged immigrant families to run small farms themselves East African Germans too began to regard the country as their Heimat.

Greg Bankoff contests the idea promulgated in 1837 by Prescott in his History of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic that Spanish initiative and energy in the sixteenth century had sunk into torpor by the nineteenth century. The intellectual situation in the Philippines was not as dark and ignorant as Americans supposed. Early missionaries had produced many botanical works but they remained in the archives of their orders. At the end of the nineteenth century many of their botanical collections and publications were lost in fires and conflict. Important advances were made in meteorology and gained international recognition. Forest science was well developed. In particular Bankoff picks out the writings of the botanist Jean Gonzalez Valdes and the historian administrators Ramon Jordann y Morera and Sebastián Vidal y Soler. The forestry department, the Inspección general de Montes, was a considerable agency with over a hundred employees in 1891 and the results of the surveys it made accorded well with those made later under the American administration. The reputation of Spanish science in the Phillipines in the late nineteenth century, Bankoff concludes, suffered from continuing to be dominated by French traditions at a time when Darwinism and British natural science had forged ahead and had been adopted by American authorities.

The administration of Indochina between 1930 and 1945 was influenced successively by global economic depression, the defeat of France by Germany in 1940, the replacement of the authority of the Third Republic by the Vichy regime, and in 1943-45 by the Japanese invasion of the southwest Pacific region. David Biggs, dealing with the Mekong delta in Cochinchina and the Red River delta in the north of the country, directs attention especially to the use made of aerial photographs by geographers, agriculturalists and irrigation engineers. The photos, taken in the 1920s and 1930s, revealed patterns of settlement and provided information about flood protection and cultivation that had hitherto been unavailable. Biggs claims that...

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