Resources for Future features new and exciting work at the intersection of history and the climate and biodiversity crisis.
This curated shortlist offers starting points to center conversations on, and help reshape our understanding of, nature, environmental challenges, and the climate crisis at large. The H4F team selects content, periodically swaps sources, and rotates categories on this shortlist. Sources with unavoidable restrictions to access (e.g. paywalls) will be accompanied by relevant and more accessible alternatives.
Although we organized the sources on this list with specific topics in mind, these sources often incorporate all of these themes and subjects beyond them.
Have something you would like to see featured on our shortlist? Let us know here.
Interested in learning more? You can look through some of our go-to places for finding historical research and other interesting work here.
*Non-rotating (but still updated!) categories
• • •
What are the historical and ongoing relationships between colonialism, climate change, and the biodiversity crisis? What are connections between colonialism, resource extraction, and renewable energy?
In “How Plastic is a Function of Colonialism” on Teen Vogue, Dr. Max Liboiron explains how the global plastic pollution crisis is directly tied to colonialism. Make sure to also check out Liboiron’s other work, such as “Plastics in the Gut” in Orion Magazine, or the book Pollution is Colonialism.
In the wake of recent raids of Wet’suwet’en activist camps opposing a natural gas pipeline, the podcast Media Indigena: Indigenous Current Affairs released “Resource Resistance,” a two-part retrospective (available here and here). You’ll hear host Rick Harp and invited guests—such as Drs. Ken Williams, Brock Pitawanakwat, Kim Tallbear, and Candis Callison—discuss key issues at the intersection of colonialism, fossil fuels, and the climate crisis.
Structural inequalities embedded on a global scale allow some communities to remain relatively untouched by the proliferation and use of toxic chemicals, while others are exposed to hazardous waste sites disproportionately and in a way that amplifies the burdens of settler-colonial and racist violence. In “Afterlife and Decolonial Chemical Relations” for Cultural Anthropology, Dr. Michelle Murphy writes about how this new age of toxicity represents “a condition that is shared, but unevenly so, and which divides us as much as it binds us.”
How do the structural legacies of colonial occupation and racial violence shape the processes of modern disaster relief and planning? For one, this can be explained through the idea of “disaster colonialism.” In a recent article, Dr. Danielle Rivera talks about this concept in the context of Puerto Rico and the aftermath of hurricane Maria in 2017, the increasing intensity and frequency of such hurricanes on the Caribbean island, and “how procedural vulnerability is deepened through disasters and subsequently leveraged to deepen coloniality.” You can also listen to this episode of the Geographies of Risk podcast, in which Rivera discusses disaster colonialism further.
While there is increasing recognition for the ways climate change exacerbates existing global inequalities associated with colonialism, less well appreciated are the ways certain initiatives to combat climate change can have the same effect. In an article published for The Conversation, Dr. Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò walks us through the concept of “climate colonialism,” meaning “the deepening or expansion of foreign domination through climate initiatives that exploit poorer nations’ resources or otherwise compromises their sovereignty.” For more, also check out this recent episode of the For The Wild podcast with Táíwò, or this conversation on climate colonialism and reparations with environmental activist Tamara Toles O’Laughlin on the Hot Take podcast.
• • •
*ECOSYSTEMS / BIODIVERSITY
What can history tell us about our rapidly changing environments? How has the climate crisis shaped our relationship to the non-human?
The documentary A Plastic Ocean, directed by Craig Leeson, brings the effects of our global disposable lifestyle to light (watch the trailer here). Interested in learning more? Dr. Rebecca Altman, a writer and sociologist, explains more about the causes and consequences of plastic pollution in a TED x San Francisco talk on “The Legacy of Plastic.”
Dr. Debjani Bhattacharya’s Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta is a history of radical ecological change of what is now Kolkata, a place that was characterized by its complex connections between the environment, urban property, and legal ambiguities in relation to colonial power structures. For more, Bhattacharya also discusses these themes in this book talk from Public Seminar.
In Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait, Dr. Bathsheba Demuth explores the historical relationship between an Arctic ecosystem, state power, and competing economic ideologies, with lessons for environmental sustainability in a post-industrial age. Demuth talks more about how social, political, and environmental dimensions have clashed in the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada in this book talk on the New Books Network.
Human infrastructures have encouraged ecological worlds beyond human control. In the digital book project Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene, you can learn to recognize and explore these more-than-human histories. For more information about this project and how it came to be, check out this interview on the New Books Network with Dr. Anna Tsing, one of its curators and editors.
In Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change in Australia, Dr. Joëlle Gergis looks at the long-term history of Australian climate variability. You can also listen to this audio lecture at the State Library Victoria, in which Gergis discusses themes from the book.
• • •
^EXPERTISE AND TRUST
What can history tell us about the role of expertise, the politics of climate science, and the nature of trust?
Indigenous knowledge and expertise are fundamental to understanding and addressing the ecological effects of climate change. However, many organizations and researchers have been strikingly slow to recognize this fact. At the International Symposium on Indigenous Communities and Climate Change in 2018, Dr. Candis Callison discussed this tension in greater detail. You can listen to this presentation here. For more, check out Callison’s How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Life of Facts.
Climate change and land mismanagement have exacerbated Australian wildfires to devastating proportions. In an article for The Guardian, Oliver Costello, a Bundjalung man from the northern rivers of New South Wales and chief executive of Firesticks Alliance, advocates for “a cultural fire regime,” meaning a revitalization of Aboriginal fire management practices and values disrupted by colonialism. You can learn more about the history of Aboriginal fire management practices in Dr. Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth. For the disproportionate impact of Australian bushfires on Aboriginal people, check out this working paper by PhD researcher Bhiamie Williamson, Dr. Francis Markham, and Dr. Jessica K. Weir.
In “It’s Time for Environmental Studies to Own Up to Erasing Black People” for Vice, Wanjiku Gatheru writes about how many aspects of environmental scholarship are inaccessible to Black students, and the need to commit to working to end anti-Black practices in research.
Does data speak for itself? Why is it that things only seem to get worse even as our collective knowledge about climate change increases? Dr. Joshua Howe calls this the “riddle of the Keeling Curve,” referring to the iconic graph measuring rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, made famous by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. You can learn more about the riddle, and the visual culture of scientific data, in Howe’s article in the Virtual Edition on Climate History of Environmental History, or on this episode on the New Books Network.
As Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katherine K. Wilkinson explain in “Why We Need More Women Leading The Fight For The Planet” for Elle Magazine, the climate crisis is a crisis in leadership, too. For more, also check out Johnson and Wilkinson’s All We Can Save, a book with essays and poems from women at the forefront of the climate movement which show the complexity of the climate crisis in breadth, and center on the creation of collective change.
In a recent article for Scientific American, called “To Understand How Science Denial Works, Look to History,” Dr. Naomi Oreskes focuses on the prevalence and power of creating scientific doubt. If you are interested in learning more about science skepticism and denial, you might also want to check out Oreskes’ other work, such as the book Why Trust Science? or this TED talk on “Why We Should Trust Scientists.”
• • •
What futures should we avoid? What futures do we want? How do we get there?
In a year dominated by COVID-19, police brutality, and the climate emergency, the “humans are the virus” trope took hold (once again). In “No One Is A Virus: On American Ecofascism” for Environmental History Now, Dr. April Anson unpacks how this argument relates to a distinctively U.S. version of ecofascism rooted in violent white supremacy.
In Our History is the Future, Dr. Nick Estes emphasizes the importance of anticolonial struggle in the fight for climate justice by situating the protest encampment at Standing Rock, blocking construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, into long traditions of Indigenous resistance. You can hear Estes talk about the book in a two-part interview on Democracy Now (available here and here), and make sure to check out Estes’ call to action, “A Red Deal,” in response to the climate crisis in Jacobin too.
In “Black Feminist Ecological Thought: A Manifesto” for Atmos, Dr. Chelsea Mikael Frazier writes about the lack of representation in ecocriticism, and the need to recognize that Black, African-descended women play a vital role in understanding the structural imbalances that lead to an unfair distribution of material resources.
As a writer and co-host of the Hot Take podcast, Mary Annaïse Heglar regularly focuses on the intersections of climate and justice, and the inherent need for a more inclusive response to climate change. In “Climate Change Isn’t the First Existential Threat” for ZORA, for instance, Heglar writes how, for many people, the world has always been ending, and that the very real threats of climate change are just a new form of a familiar danger. For why the climate movement needs to talk about climate change as a Black issue, make sure to check out “We Don’t Have to Halt Climate Action To Fight Racism” for Huff Post too.
In “Strike for Sunshine” for The Nation, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos draw on the history of organized labor to make the case for a Green New Deal. To learn more, also check out their A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal.
In “Indigenous Climate Change Studies: Indigenizing Futures, Decolonizing the Anthropocene” for English Language Notes, Potawatomi scholar-activist Kyle Powys Whyte explains climate vulnerability as an intensification of colonialism, and how Indigenous studies offers crucial decolonizing approaches to address the climate crisis.
• • •
Where does climate change and biodiversity loss intersect with health, including disease, pollution, and environmental racism?
In “Disabled People Cannot Be ‘Expected Losses’ in the Climate Crisis” for Truth Out, Dr. Julia Watts Belser points to public failures to address disability during climate disruptions and how the framing of physical vulnerability obscures a deeper, political story about disability discrimination. For more on the history of ableism and stigma in public health messaging, see Dr. Aparna Nair’s “Public Health Campaigns and the ‘Threat’ of Disability,” part of Wellcome Stories.
In “Checkbox Colonization: The Erasure of Indigenous People In Chronic Illness” for Bitch Media, Dr. Jen Deerinwater writes about settler colonialism in the U.S. healthcare system, particularly as it impacts Indigenous people and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
In “Poisoning Tallevast” for the Boston Review, Dr. James Manigault-Bryant, Ruby Bagwyn, and Dr. José Constantine reconstruct how corporate and state actors knowingly withheld information about environmental contamination from the residents of the predominantly Black community of Tallevast, Florida. “Environmental racism is global,” they write, “but it is particularly common to Black communities in the U.S. South, where state authorities tend to allow more latitude to industrial polluters.”
What are the connections between COVID-19, the climate crisis, and systemic racism? Drawing on historical disaster research and the history of environmental entanglements, Dr. Eleonora Rohland explores where these crises overlap in this open-access article in the Journal for the History of Environment and Society. You can learn more about these connections in an interview with Rohland for Bielefeld University’s Aktuell.
Dr. Ingrid Waldron’s There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities examines the legacy of environmental racism and its health impacts on Indigenous and Black communities across Canada. The book inspired a documentary of the same name, directed by Elliot Page and Ian Daniel, depicting the Black and Indigenous women who have been advocating for their communities in Nova Scotia (watch the trailer here).
• • •
*ROLE OF HISTORY
What has history to do with the climate and biodiversity crisis? How should historical practice change in light of these crises?
How do you teach climate history? What responsibilities does it bear? What good are historians, steeped in messy contingencies, to students who are “angry that they inherit a world routinely described in terms of the worst disaster movie ever”? Dr. Joyce Chaplin discusses strategies for teaching climate history in a piece for the Uncommon Sense blog, building off an earlier article, “Ogres and Omnivores: Early American Historians and Climate History.”
What is sustainable history? Drs. Andrea Gaynor, Carla Pascoe Leahy, Ruth Morgan, Daniel May, and Yves Rees discuss the responsibilities of historians in a climate-impacted world in this working paper. For more on the interface of history, science, and activism, see the conversation between three environmental historians—Drs. Katie Holmes, Andrea Gaynor, and Ruth Morgan—in “Doing Environmental History in Urgent Times” for History Australia.
Academic conferences are notoriously carbon-hungry affairs. When the global COVID-19 pandemic forced academic societies around the world to cancel their meetings, the British Society for the History of Science decided to organize a Global Digital History of Science Festival instead. In this multi-authored article, titled ”Innovation in a Crisis: Rethinking Conferences and Scholarship in a Pandemic and Climate Emergency,” we learn about what worked (and what didn’t) about that decision, and some of the limitations and possibilities for the future of scholarship in digital environments.
Megafires and a pandemic have many asking when things will return to “normal.” But what is normal on the driest inhabited continent on Earth? In this lecture for the Australian National University Archives, Dr. Ruth Morgan discusses how archives can help us understand how people in the past grappled with the uncertainties of unfamiliar climates.
COVID-19 and the climate crisis are global phenomena—shouldn’t our histories be too? In “Undoing the Discipline: History in the Time of Climate Crisis and COVID-19” for the Journal for the History of Environment and Society, Drs. Amanda Power, Iva Peša, and Eiko Honda draw on examples from African, Japanese, and medieval European environmental history to make a call for greater collaborative research and plural histories into the planetary past.
Rapid environmental change has accelerated the emergence of infectious diseases. Do historians have anything to say about modern epidemics? In an episode of Climate History, PhD researcher Emily Webster talks about the unique tools and perspectives that historians offer for thinking about massive environmental changes and public health emergencies, the importance of cross-disciplinary collaborations, and strategies to inform and elevate public discourse.
• • •
Beyond this curated shortlist, we sometimes read or watch things together! We’re currently reading Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz’s The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History, and Us. Subscribe to our email updates to learn more!
• • •
List compiled by Elizabeth Hameeteman and Gustave Lester.