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xiii P r e fa c e F or the past decade I have taught an environmental history of Japan seminar, first at Yale University and then at Montana State University . The seminar focuses on themes ranging from disease and the generation of scientific knowledge to perceptions of nonhuman animals and modern industrial pollution. Each year, I carefully attempt to sharpen my explanations regarding what drives environmental problems in Japan, even as my explanations, frustratingly, have become less specific as I increasingly reject reductionist explanations of our current environmental mess. That is to say, environmental problems in Japan, as in other industrialized societies, are not just caused by industrial greed or anchovy feeding habits or rural poverty or messy mining practices or religious beliefs or war and empire. Rather, they are caused by a combination of these forces, and many others, too. All these forces function as part of naturally occurring and anthropogenic levels in causal cascades or in linked ecological events that trigger, like carefully lined up dominoes, pollution episodes. At certain moments in history, historical and natural drivers come together—serendipitously joining forces, one might say—to form what I label in this book as “hybrid causations.” Hybrid causations, as we shall see, are the key to understanding environmental problems in Japan. You could stare under a microscope at a sample of the biocide parathion for weeks xiv Preface and never fully understand how it kills people or facilitates insect evolution . This requires historical context, or viewing how parathion operates in landscapes and bodies across human geographic space and historical time. In my seminar, I encourage students to view environmental history— all history, really—in this broad manner, while still not ignoring history’s focused explanatory power. My message on this score is a simple one: because historical inquiry can analyze, then narrate, diverse causal forces (and generally rejects forms of reductionism), it is an important means of understanding the multifaceted problems life on Earth faces. Embracing an analysis of complex causal webs offers a far more compelling explanation than an overly simplified history does. For example, to say that cadmium caused “its hurts, it hurts disease” in postwar Toyama belies the role that human politics, economics, technology, and culture played in environmental pollution and industrial disease. Was it really cadmium that killed? Or was it the refinery technologies that processed it? Or was it the overseas war and empire building that demanded it? Or was it the eating habits of Japanese farmers? Or was it related to Japanese women’s notions of beauty and skin complexion? Or was it all these factors acting in concert? Because human activity is so prevalent on Earth, environmental pollution and industrial disease cannot be understood without an exploration of the specific human activities—the human stories and histories—that drive these changes. This, too, is an important lesson that I try to relay to students in my seminar. In many respects, this book attempts to demonstrate how the hybrid causation model elucidates problems related to environmental pollution and industrial disease in Japan. The hybrid causation model does not shirk focused analyses and careful explanations in favor of descriptions of the big picture, rather it simply acknowledges that environmental history is moved by many forces, and so understanding our past demands that we acknowledge these forces as well. Writing history is not a hybrid exercise, but it is certainly a collaborative one. I would like to acknowledge those friends and colleagues with whom I brainstormed, or who proofread and even edited substantial portions of this book. Without their kind collaboration, whether offered casually at the poker table or formally in academic settings, this project would not have been possible. Julia Adeney Thomas carefully read the entire manuscript and offered substantial comments and encouragement. To say that she greatly improved it would be an understatement. Her eyes see historical Preface xv nuances far better than mine do, so if any interesting ones have been elucidated in the pages ahead, she is probably responsible for them. Michael Reidy also read the entire manuscript. In his usual no-nonsense manner, he pushed me to use the book to establish new terminologies and vocabularies for how both historians and ecologists speak of such phenomena as “trophic cascades” and other so-called natural events. If, Michael queried me, history and culture are just as powerful a force in ecological systems as energy distribution or food webs—what we traditionally view as natural forces—then establish a new...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780295803012
Related ISBN
9780295989549
MARC Record
OCLC
744362071
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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