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Journal of World History 13.2 (2002) 469-471

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Book Review

The Face of the Earth:
Environment and World History

The Face of the Earth: Environment and World History. Edited by J. DONALD HUGHES.Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 1999. Pp. xiv + 192. $21.95 (paper).

The Face of the Earth focuses on changes in the environment through history and how these changes have influenced and changed civilization and culture. Editor J. Donald Hughes states ". . . Environments are porous and pervasive. . . . The atmosphere, the oceans, the resources of the earth form the only common legacy of world history" (p. ix). This important collection of essays questions the value of linear progress—or development—advancing that some technological advances and cultural intrusions have eroded the environment to the extent that great civilizations have fallen. Mohenjo-daro in the early Indus River valley is a case in point: its inhabitants denuded the landscape of timber to produce kiln-fired bricks, causing erosion and eventually a total collapse of civilization. The book's central thesis is that historians can no longer ignore environmental history as environmental sustainability or degradation of ecosystems can make or break world cultures, civilizations, and mankind in the future just as it has in the past. We can no longer count upon linear progress as mankind had done since the Renaissance when the idea originally evolved.

This collection of essays originated with several papers given at the Rocky Mountain Branch meeting of the World History Association that focused on "The Environment in World History" held in Aspen, Colorado, 8-10 October 1994. The book is part of a series edited by Kevin Reilly called "Sources and Studies in World History." The seven essays include J. Donald Hughes's "Biodiversity in World History," Martin V. Meloski's "Equity, Eco-Racism, and the Environmental Justice Movement," John R. McNeill's "Of Rats and Men: A Synoptic Environmental [End Page 469] History of the Island Pacific," Helen Wheatley's "Land and Agriculture in Australia: Coping with Change in a Fragile Environment," Valery J. Cholakov's "Toward Eco-revival? The Cultural Roots of Russian Environmental Concerns," and Diane M. Jones's "The Greening of Gandhi: Gandhian Thought and the Environmental Movement in India," all introduced by J. Donald Hughes's "Ecological Progress in World History" in which he provides an essential framework for all the essays.

This collection deals with the long-term effects of ecological intrusion, some of which are positive, such as the introduction of cotton growing into Australia and snails into French-held Réunion; some are negative, such as the depletion of sandalwood in Hawai'i and whales throughout the Pacific. Hughes's book covers a wide-ranging time period from earliest times to present. He includes discussions of the depletion of timber in Danubian Europe that caused the collapse of the area's copper industry in the fourth century B.C., the Colombian exchange of plants and animals between the Americas and Europe in the age of European exploration and expansion, as well as modern problems. The essays also deal with ecological thought such as the movement in India that combined the notions of Gandhi's ahimsa (nonviolence) with preserving and nurturing the landscape. India has the largest preservationist movement in Asia, which attests to the power of Gandhian ideals. Hughes's book covers the globe—Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Australia, the Atlantic and Europe—emphasizing a global awareness of finite resources which need to be sustained and maintained for future generations and healthy civilizations. Depletion cannot continue without sustaining replenishment, on a worldwide scale.

Several of the book's most valuable discussions focus on the global interactions in which "portmanteau biota" (transported landscapes) are exchanged, or when vegetative and animal species are transported from one locale to another. John R. McNeill's article explained the introduction of the rat, dog, chicken, and pig into the Pacific Islands, and the dispersal of the coconut, taro, and breadfruit, and the resulting impact. On a macro scale, he explained large concepts such as the effects of...


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