New Natures, as the title suggests, is an edited volume that links the field of science and technology studies with the discipline of environmental history, a potentially fruitful endeavor. The essays in this book are written primarily by historians (two anthropologists are listed in the credits) who employ the analytical tools and theoretical framing devices of their colleagues in STS. There are twelve historical essays, a preface by one of the book’s editors, and an epilogue by senior scholar Sverker Sörlin. Most of the essays are specifically interested in how a conceptual tool—such as actor network theory or boundary work—borrowed from STS might enrich and inform environmental history. Overall, the volume has much to offer, although some essays succeed more than others in providing insightful links between these two intellectual fields.
The strongest essay is the first, written by co-editor Sara Pritchard. It serves as a guide for the rest of the book, and it is a fine introduction to the broader subject of how and why STS and environmental history could and should intersect. Pritchard demonstrates an impressive mastery of the literature of both fields, and her article gives a cogent overview of the three potentially unwieldy key concepts from STS around which the book is organized: contextualizing knowledge, the role of expertise in creating and mediating scientific claims, and boundary work. Graduate students and seasoned academics alike will find the copious footnotes especially valuable.
All of the essays are relatively short, most well under twenty pages, and most are clearly and concisely written. However, they vary in insightfulness. The best chapters are not particularly self-conscious in their blending of STS theoretical frameworks with environmental history. Michael Egan’s tale of mercury poisoning in the 1960s and 1970s in Sweden, for example, [End Page 734] does not adopt an identifiable STS vocabulary but still manages to merge the political concerns of ecological activism with a story about an unfolding environmental disaster. Tiago Saraiva’s piece on Karakul sheep and the ways in which standardized objects circulate in the lay world of settler colonies is highly recommended. Finn Arne Jørgensen on beverage-container recycling as a form of everyday environmentalism essentially writes an STS-infused recap of his excellent 2011 monograph Making a Green Machine. It is a shame more of the STS perspective was not included in the original monograph, as it adds interesting insights to the longer work. Two authors are relatively unique because they adopt an STS framework in order to explore historically remote topics: Anya Zilberstein on composite ways of knowing eighteenth-century New England landscapes, and Thomas Finger on the nineteenth-century Atlantic grain trade both succeed in their attempts to fuse STS with environmental histories of the more distant past. This seems like an exciting new direction that joint efforts in STS and environmental history might take in the future.
Two potentially excellent articles left me a bit puzzled. Frank Uekotter’s article on agnotology, the science of ignorance, in environmental history seemed like the introduction to a much longer and (ideally) more detailed work. I was intrigued, but finished the essay without a clear sense of how agnotology functioned in the real world, or how it related to either environmental history or STS. Sverker Sörlin’s closing piece pleads for more attention to urban environmental histories, especially those that chronicle urban preservation and the intertwined histories of humans, nature, and urban landscapes. The essay is both clear and insightful, and Sörlin’s main points were persuasive, but as an epilogue, it was disjoined from the rest of the collection—only Finn Arne Jørgensen’s essay broached the topic, and Sörlin’s piece did not clearly define how STS might be central to the goal of creating more urban-focused environmental histories.
Although the uneven quality here is occasionally distracting, the overall endeavor of blending STS with environmental history is an idea whose time...