You are here: Home / NEWS / History and the Environment: A Necessary Dialogue

History and the Environment: A Necessary Dialogue

by Richard Meckien - published Sep 15, 2015 10:30 AM - - last modified Sep 18, 2015 11:58 AM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Sylvia Miguel. Translation by Carlos Malferrari.

The manner by which historians organize and analyze different approaches to the interlocution between history and the environment is the central axis of the seminar Environment and Historical Dimension: Approach Perspectives, which will take place on September 28, from 10 am to 6 pm in the IEA’s Events Room. Organized by the IEA's Environment and Society Research Group and by Work Group on Environmental History - ANPUH/SP, the debate will bring together experts from various institutions.

Brazilian historiography on the environment was structured as a field of thought and research in the late 20th century. According to Silvia Helena Zanirato, member of IEA Research Group and professor of Environmental Management at USP’s School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EACH), the challenges posed by major social and environmental changes have forced History, as a science, to find new explanatory arguments for the historically acquired habits of social players in their interaction with the physical environment.

“The environment is essentially an interdisciplinary field of study and only the sum total of knowledge can help us overcome the environmental crisis. History’s role, in this context, is to seek to understand and explain the processes that have contributed to this crisis, which we know is based on the production and consumption system of the Modern Age,” says Zanirato, one of the coordinators of the seminar, who will take part in the debates on “Historical Knowledge and the Environment: Epistemological Considerations.”

She says that the academy has not been able to raise the awareness of the public at large of the severity of the socio-environmental problem. “More than discuss, we need to present other possibilities involving consumer habits, lifestyles and the means to move towards a less impacting society. I am aligned with the thought of Mercedes Pardo, for whom nature conservation condition is not mainly physical, but rather cultural,” explains Zanirato.

“Undeniably, after World War II, with the vertiginous expansion of the mass consumer society, the perception and a growing awareness of a complex interconnected phenomenon of global dimensions began to take shape. The problems intrigued historians, policy makers, scientists, artists and the general population,” says Paulo Henrique Martinez, a professor at Paulista State University (UNESP) in Assis, who will also be at the seminar.

Such phenomena, says Martinez, emerged in the industrialized countries of the northern hemisphere in the form of pollution, destruction of ecosystems and threats of extinction of the local fauna and flora. In poor countries, environmental problems arose in the form of epidemics, accelerated deforestation and degradation of environmental health in rural and urban areas – involving water resources and landfills, in particular – he says.

For Martinez, environmental history opens communication channels and creates situations for interdisciplinary dialogue, e.g., in studies of urbanization, family farming and public policies. However, interdisciplinary research still needs to go further. “We talk insistently about interdisciplinary research, but operationally we still have a long way to go. Everything remains more in the realm of rhetoric than of effective and concrete experiences and practices,” he believes.

For Janes Jorge, a professor at UNIFESP, Brazilian historiography maintains a constant dialogue with other areas of knowledge and an intense debate about the place that historical production occupies in thinking about the environment. Yet, there is still plenty to do in environmental history research and in the dissemination of the knowledge produced in this field, she says.

“I believe that public policies concerning water, waste, biodiversity, climate change and other environmental issues must converse with scientific knowledge. But the policies are still way too timid for the scale of the problem,” says Jorge.

Besides Zanirato, Martinez and Jorge, the seminar will be attended by Roger Domenech Collacios (UNESP), Dora Shellard Correa (UNIFIEO), Nelson Aprobato Filho (USP) and José Jonas Almeida (USP).