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The Illusory Boundary

Environment and Technology in History

Martin Reuss, Stephen H. Cutcliffe

Publication Year: 2010

This book challenges the notion that a definitive boundary exists between nature and technology, and questions conventional thinking about humankind's relationship with both. It is a foundational text in the subfield of Envirotech, and is designed for upper-level undergraduate use.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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pp. c-c

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Historians who deny any separation between environmental and technological history adopted the term Envirotech to describe both their position and the professional interest group they founded. It bears noting that the organization did not result from a grand conference called to assess where the histories of technology and the environment overlap. Rather it grew inductively from the...

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pp. 1-6

This anthology is a contribution to a historical reframing of questions involving the interaction of humans with the world around them. Thus, the individual essays do not provide a new methodology, although an emphasis on interdisciplinary research is clearly evident. Nor do the authors stretch the boundaries of traditional historical authority. Their conclusions are based on solid research...


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Understanding the Place of Humans in Nature

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pp. 9-25

The relationship between people and nature is dynamic, interactive, complex, and messy. To be sure, humankind has not always understood its relationship to nature in the same ways, for we come from many cultures and experiences that continuously change over time. Nevertheless, we are all part of nature, and our physical beings comprise many of the same elements and rhythms...

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Our Bodies and Our Histories of Technology and the Environment

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pp. 26-42

A key self-help text of second-wave feminism, Our Bodies, Ourselves,1 increased readers’ awareness of their bodies and of how their bodies influenced how they lived daily and how they understood themselves. I argue here, with some theory and some examples from work in the histories of technology and the environment, that students and researchers in the histories of technology...

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Can Nature Improve Technology?

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pp. 43-66

In his renowned essay ‘‘What is an American?’’ (1782), J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, the Frenchman-turned-American, invited an English settler fresh o√ the boat to contemplate previous colonists’ tremendous accomplishments: ‘‘Here he beholds fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields, an immense country filled with decent houses, good roads, orchards, meadows, and bridges,...


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The Nature of Industrialization

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pp. 69-100

Most people born after 1960 and raised in Western Europe or North America have experienced more deindustrialization than industrialization. The closing of large-scale integrated factories since World War II has contributed to the economic decline of many historically important and once proud regions, including Germany’s Ruhr Valley and the Rust Belt of the American Midwest....

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Is There a Chinese View of Technology and Nature?

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pp. 101-119

The envirotech program aims to promote discussion between scholars from two distinct fields of study: environmental history and the history of technology. These two historical subfields have different origins and different outlooks on processes of social change. Environmental historians derive, on the one hand, from the interest in historical geography and long-term social and...

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Out West in Places and Spaces

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pp. 120-142

Nation-states draw much of their identity from stories about their creation. The United States is no exception. The westward settlement (or conquest) across a continent almost overshadows competing creation stories that feature the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation, and the writing of the Constitution. As open space the...


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The City as an Artifact of Technology and the Environment

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pp. 145-170

It is useful to think of cities as human creations imposed upon the natural landscape.∞ Cities are actually interrelated systems that depend on the utilization of technology for their continued existence. Yet, as systems, cities and their built environments bear many similarities to living environments, or ecosystems. Over time, the technologies used by urban inhabitants to form...

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Waste and Pollution: Changing Views and Environmental Consequences

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pp. 171-208

Human societies have always had to deal with unwanted residue. As the distinguished sanitary engineer Abel Wolman wrote, ‘‘All living organisms, by the very nature of their metabolism, produce wastes of varying composition, weight and hazard.’’∞ When residents of farms or cities release byproducts into the environment, the discarded materials have the potential to...


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Are Tomatoes Natural?

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pp. 211-248

Just imagine that it is late August and you are holding in your hand a big red tomato warm from sitting on a sunny windowsill. Now imagine setting it onto a cutting board and slicing into its glossy skin with a serrated knife. Inside you see meaty walls, compartments of oozing juice, and white seeds set in gel and arranged in neat crescent-shaped lines. Imagine that the distinctive...

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Can Organisms Be Technology?

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pp. 249-262

When environmental historians think about organisms at the intersection of environmental and technological history, they probably picture ways in which technology has harmed, first, wild species and, second, human health. These responses should not surprise us, for these topics have accounted for some of the most important works in the field. Historians of technology, on the other...


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Where Does Nature End and Culture Begin? Converging Themes in the History of Technology and Environmental History

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pp. 265-290

The interest that historians have shown in how technologies shape human interactions with natural systems has increased significantly over the last several decades. Before about 1980 those interested in technological change generally viewed society’s ability to manipulate and shape environments as important, but they rarely paid much attention to that manipulation or, for...

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pp. 291-302

The essays in this book illustrate the diffculties in defining the boundary between the human and nonhuman worlds. Nature, we learn, is not as natural as some have assumed, and technology is not just about artifacts. If any boundary exists, it is more in the geometry of the mind than in the geometry of the earth, and it fades as our understanding of the ongoing negotiation...

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 303-306


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pp. 307-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780813930534
E-ISBN-10: 0813930537
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813929880
Print-ISBN-10: 0813929881

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 21 b&w illus. (21 redacted), 3 tables
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 760887520
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Illusory Boundary

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Technology and civilization.
  • Environmental protection.
  • Technology -- Environmental aspects.
  • Technology -- Social aspects.
  • Human ecology -- Social aspects
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