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Environmentalism and Civilizational Development in the Colonial British Histories of the Indian Archipelago (1783–1820)

From: Journal of the History of Ideas
Volume 74, Number 3, July 2013
pp. 449-471 | 10.1353/jhi.2013.0027



This article argues that the British Histories of the Indian Archipelago written by William Marsden, Thomas Stamford Raffles, and John Crawfurd can be read as documents advocating better care and protection of the natural environment in the region. Extant scholarship has tended to discourage such a reading, although the writers express many beliefs and sentiments that suggest their ascription to what have been identified as early environmentalist views. The environmentalism of the Histories, however, rests on the belief that human cultivation was necessary for nature’s well being—a belief now seen as antithetical to the values of modern-day environmentalism.

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