This is a student-authored glossary of concept terms for students of environmental and economic history. Many of these are essentially contested concepts, which means they have no stable definition. People debate their meaning and may change their meaning with every new use. Please let me know if you have suggestions for revision or would like a term added.



Animism, which refers to a particular way of viewing and connecting with the human and non-human elements of the material world, is a feature of ancient and modern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and various Indigenous tribal cultures. It is the attribution of sentience and spirit to people, animals, inanimate objects, and natural elements like the ocean, winds, sun, and moon. Some people or social groups with an animistic sensibility further attribute sentience to inanimate objects and systems such the environment and technology. Animism is an anthropological construct that is used to bridge common views of spirituality between different systems of beliefs. In the past, Animism has been miscategorized as a religion in its own right, though it is more accurately an ‘ontology,’ or state of being that is foundational to human spirituality. Today, animists exist in considerable numbers among tribal peoples in countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, and even across North America. Though the religious beliefs of each culture vary, animism is characterised by the basic recognition that various entities, such as souls and spirits, exist as the life-force of all elements across the natural and human world. To describe oneself as an animist is to respect the diverse community of living and non-living beings with whom humans share the earth. ~ by Taylor Gordon



Cap and Trade

Cap and trade is a potential solution to capitalist production’s total contribution of greenhouse gas emissions. Cap and trade is a free-market trade system. The concept revolves around a carbon budget: a company is permitted X amount of carbon, once they hit their cap, which involves a strictly enforced limit, they cannot produce any more greenhouse gasses. Once a company hits their designated cap, trade provides a possible solution for the organization. Smaller companies may be able reduce their carbon emissions – keeping themselves under budget. Therefore, larger companies, who perhaps have a more challenging time retaining their emissions, can then buy emmissions allowances from the smaller company. The system works by setting strict total carbon budgets, enforcing companies to adhere to their designated budget, and incentivising companies who produce smaller total emissions.

Cap and trade is currently being used in the state of California, as well as Quebec. Ontario also participated in the program until 2018. Although the cap and trade program, in theory, provides a regulated allowance of carbon emissions, and has the potential to put money back into the pockets of the ecologically conscious, Ontario’s experience accounts for some of the program’s downfalls. Carbon taxes, an alternative to cap and trade, places money back into the taxpayer’s pockets and can contribute directly to the betterment of the local people. Cap and trade, one the other hand, has a direct correlation to increased prices for the consumer, not the manufacturer. Many of the processes that organizations are currently using do not have carbon free alternatives; therefore, the company must account for their increased manufacturing price through the consumer’s purchase. Cap and trade is an ecologically conscious solution that directly benefits the atmosphere; however, it is not a viable solution for a society entrenched in extraction dependent industry, especially without alternative production methods. ~ by Danielle Tompkins

Carrying Capacity

Carrying capacity refers to the maximum population size of a species that a given habitat/area can sustain. The carrying capacity is limited by the resources available such as mates, food, shelter and water. It can be used as an indicator of environmental sustainability and in developing policies to balance today’s needs while taking into account the resources that may be needed in the future. When the carrying capacity is exceeded, there will be significant depletion and degradation of resources. The less uniformly a species uses their resources, the harder it becomes to determine their carrying capacity. Determining a carrying capacity for all humans on earth poses difficult due to the fact the definition does not expand to the degradation of social and cultural environments, just the physical environment. In equations, carrying capacity is often denoted by ‘K’. ~ by Gurjot Sidhu

Charismatic Megafauna

Charismatic megafauna refers to animals that are large from the perspective of humans. The classification of “large” in this case refers more to a human’s ability to easily distinguish the animal from a short distance. Charismatic megafauna are easily recognizable and often serve as symbolic representations of nature, wildlife, or environmental causes. These animals are widely recognizable relative to the culture in question, thus, different animals may not be included in this classification based on the geographic location of the observer. For example, the Tibetan Takin is a large, golden, wildebeest-sized bovine endemic to Tibet and secures a special place in the culture and lore of the local people but would be wholly unrecognisable to most Americans. In Western culture, charismatic megafauna often requires a level of furriness and perceived cuteness to be considered “charismatic”. Because of this, the public’s interest in conservation efforts usually prioritize the fuzzy and “cuter” animals before the wet, slimy, or hairless ones. Even so, what qualifies as “charismatic” changes with time as whales are now viewed as intelligent gentle giants that deserve protection but were mere “fish for slaughter” in the 19th century. ~ by Gridley Lucy

Cinderella Crops

“Cinderella crops” are crops that have undergone a drastic change in their life time, and they are often crops whose outcome is much different than intended. An example of a Cinderella Crop is Rapeseed oil. It was originally used for lamp oil, it then came to Canada in 1936 to be used as a lubricant in WWII because it was able to be used with metals. Years later, rapeseed oil became more widely used for food consumption. It is now known in the food industry as canola oil (which translates to Canadian oil). Canola oil is genetically modified to improve quality and taste. Hybridization and genetic engineering is how rapeseed changed drastically to canola oil which is still being genetically engineering to make the most out of the crops. Rapeseed oil is one of the most popular Cinderella Crops because of the major transformation it went through in its life due to genetic modification from lamp oil and lubricant to oil infused into many foods today. ~ by Faith Steele


Climatology is the scientific collection and reporting of findings pertaining to atmospheric conditions, including the anthropogenic effect on the global climate. While popularly considered to have surfaced in the 1970s, the advent of Climatology began as early as Ancient Greece, wherein climate was studied within various academic circles. This research gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution, and would undergo rapid acceleration during the World War 2 and Cold War periods. During these events, findings of human-induced climate change were contextualized by a military competition between the United States and the USSR. This competition was supported through government-funded research in order to gain a political advantage of areas such as Greenland and the Arctic, eliciting climatology to be partially understood through the framing of administrative goals and rivalries. Other narratives of cooperative climatology came to fruition due to events such as the International Geophysical Year, in which multiple nations coalesced in order to collect environmental data and create progressive proposals. Significant contributions arose from these two climate-focused events, such as the dominant role of military and governmental funding, the burgeoning role of civil and amateur scientists in environmental discourse, and the introduction of climatology into the collective conscious of the general population. Current discourse of climatology has rapidly increased due to activist movements lead by figures such as Greta Thunberg. Furthermore, the introduction of The Paris Climate Agreement and other multi-national public policies have reinforced the administrative role in combatting climate change. ~ by Eric Ferguson

Colonial Archive

A colonial archive is any archive established by a colonial power for documents pertaining to the administration of its colonies which persist in colonial metropoles, ongoing settler colonies, and postcolonial states. These documents legitimized a colonizer’s right to colonize a land and its people, and in a postcolonial setting, they continue to perpetuate these rights. The colonial archive presents an understanding of how colonial powers merited their claims to dominate a land and its people. Therefore, these repositories not only store knowledge, but inform knowledge. Since their compilation, colonial archives have been consulted for historiography, reinforcing colonizers’ racist, sexist, etc. beliefs. The project of decolonization requires the reader to have an awareness of who wrote these documents and what their stance on Others might have been. This is achieved by a transition from viewing the colonial archive as a source to viewing it as a subject. The information held in the colonial archive must be questioned and the interrogator of the colonial archive must attempt to utilize de-colonial sensibilities to see past and understand the bias of a document. Addressing the injustices of the colonial archive and analyzing their documents with awareness is the best course of action to continue utilizing colonial archives. The information they contain can never truly be de-colonized, however, which has led to discourse about whether or not these resources should continue to be considered. Researchers of colonial archives are increasingly adopting an interdisciplinary approach which incorporates sources from outside of the colonial archive in order to further decolonize their research.

Columbian Exchange

The Columbian Exchange was the transfer of people, livestock, commodities, and diseases from Europe to the Americas beginning in the 15th Century. This process was the beginning of European colonization and the overarching relationship between the Americas and Europe. As Europeans travelled across the Atlantic towards the Americas they brought along animals and plants so as to continue living with the resources with which they were accustom. Some types of plants and animals made their way from Europe to the Americas purposefully and others were brought over accidentally. Another aspect of the Columbian Exchange was the transfer of diseases. Since the Indigenous population was not used to the diseases carried over by the Europeans they had no immunity and a large portion of the population died from diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis. The Columbian Exchange was the beginning of the relationship between Europe and the Americas and had long term impacts on the Indigenous population.


Conservation is an act of carefully preserving and sustaining nature in a controlled manner while also profiting from its resources to obtain maximum benefits and efficiency. Conservation splits government agencies to both preserve and conserve landscapes while efficiently exploiting its resources. Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), who was an important figure in leading the influential government agency, United States Forest Service (USFS), established forestry as a profession to aid his understanding of conservation. Pinchot expresses how society can utilize nature through the regulation and management of landscapes. Historically, the USFS has influenced government agencies in their creation of environmental regulations and they continue to advise many countries like Canada in the orientation of public, natural landscapes for efficient resource production. ~ by Kaitlyn Forth


Constructionism in history is a theory in which using prior information and background data is the process to writing and forming history. This information and data is often found in the arrangement of frameworks and models. The Columbian Exchange model created by Alfred W. Crosby is a great example that presents data about what was brought overseas in the time of colonization. These organized outlines of data can be both concrete and conceptual in nature and provide the guidelines for both learning and writing history. Along with the organization, much of the framework and models come from a Social Science background. Constructionism uses mixed methodologies because it is widespread through many disciplines. Constructionist approaches take models and frameworks from Economics, Anthropology, Sociology, and other social scientific disciplines. An example of writing and using a constructionist approach in environmental history would be using previous sets of data and information in other disciplines to provide facts to frame a thesis. In studying capitalism and the history environment, using economic models of capitalist theory and guidelines such as Cap and Trade or Externality models would provide insights on the effects on the environment. To supplement this, using a sociological approach of understanding societal greed and the mentality behind capitalism and its history over time would bring in social narratives and show when profit and accumulation became more important than the nature and world we live in. Historically, using geographical charts of population growth or change and visual maps of rural communities that have transformed to urban areas proves useful to explaining big shifts in industry or modernization in all parts of the world. A constructionist approach differs from reconstructionism and deconstructionism because it uses previous information and models to develop histories instead of creating new factual stories as the former does and using insight and opinion as the latter. This approach can be criticized because it does not justify one’s view of a narrative, but instead is solely prior knowledge represented. Historians that utilize all three approaches have the ability to create powerful historical narratives. ~ by Alex Diaz


Countermobility refers to the construction and deployment of obstacles that reinforce the existing terrain to impede the movement of people across it. Although modern militaries apply the term to battlefield contexts, countermobility measures have been used throughout history as an effective means of frontier and border control. When deployed along a frontier zone, such obstacles serve a twofold function: firstly, to make the unauthorized crossing of individuals as difficult as possible or prevent it outright; and secondly, to increase the probability that unauthorized crossings would be detected and dealt with by patrolling authorities. An excellent historical example of a countermobility system is Hadrian’s Wall, which formed the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly three hundred years. This linear frontier barrier was roughly 120km in length and employed a variety of countermobility measures (such as a stone curtain wall, large ditches, and other obstacles) to impede unauthorized crossings into the Roman province of Britannia. ~ by Matthew Menard

Cultural Genocide

Cultural genocide refers to the intentional destruction of a nation or ethnic group’s culture. Culture is the body of shared values, attitudes, beliefs, social practices, and material traits of a group. Cultural genocide is achieved by destroying cultural components, which refers to, artifacts, archives, libraries, and nonmaterial aspects like language and social norms. Ralph Lemkin coined the term “Genocide” in 1944, deriving it from the Greek genos (family, race, tribe) and Latin root cide (to kill). Lemkin initially meant genocide as the deliberate destruction of a nation or group. Lemkin coined “Cultural genocide,” as well, but Lemkin did not think cultural genocide was a different type of genocide. Lemkin saw cultural genocide as an inextricable part of genocide. However, The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) does not acknowledge “Cultural Genocide” as a category of genocide at all, making the classification unpunishable. The reason for cultural genocide’s exemption from the Crime of Genocide is that the UN delegation’s colonial powers did not want to implicate themselves in genocide. An example of cultural genocide is the Bosnian Serbs intentional shelling of the historical library of Sarajevo to destroy books and manuscripts that carried immense cultural meaning.



Desertification is the process of a dry and arid landscape being altered from a vegetated landscape to a barren landscape. This process can occur quickly or gradually and is caused by human activity, climate changes, and changes in animal movement patterns. Which over time, results in the land becoming infertile and challenging for animals and humans to survive on. The most famous example of desertification in North America is the dust bowl in the 1930s which was a result of severe drought and poor land management practices from farmers. ~ by Morgan Nichols



Emplotment is the historiographical process of arranging a given set of historical facts into a narrative with a recognizable plot structure so as to endow it with a certain meaning. According to Hayden White, an historian gathers disjointed historical facts and/or incidents, which tell us little about the historical record in their initial state, and through the process of emplotment, organizes and encodes (by writing) these elements into a specific type of narrative that imbues coherence and meaning into the otherwise dislocated and discontinuous accounts. Accordingly, recorded historical events do not convey real history, but rather are story elements which are either emphasized or downplayed in order to shape a particular emplotment of events. In this sense, the story elements (historical facts, accounts, etc.) are not inherently tragic or heroic or any other such presupposed historical narrative structure, but rather, value-neutral historical data to be processed into a specific type of plot category by an historian. These plot categories subsequently manifest, after emplotment, as tragic or heroic or comedic or romantic, etc. narratives. The plot structure emplotted by an historian expresses the moral attitude and narrative tone of that period of history. Consequently, various historians might emplot identical, or similar, facts/accounts into contrasting or even somewhat contradictory narratives, thus presenting an alternative interpretation of any given historical phenomena. ~ by Brian Murphy

Environmental Racism

Environmental Racism is the purposeful exclusion of BIPOC people from spaces in which decisions are made about the surrounding territory. The term was coined by black civil rights activist and leader Benjamin Chavis in 1982. However, the concept emerged in the 1970s and 1980s within the environmental justice movement as a way to explain the institutionalized injustices that people of colour were and continue to face in everyday spaces. It explores how racial inequalities are present and ingrained in colonial-constructed spaces, like creating laws and public leadership in the ecology movement, of which people of colour were/still are purposefully excluded. Environmental Racism also refers to the disproportionate relationship communities of colour have with environmental harm, especially concerning health, as governing authorities and corporations often dispose of highly toxic pollutants and poisons in/near low-income neighbourhoods. Examples of current Environmental Racism can be found in Flint, Michigan’s poisoned tap water, Africville in Nova Scotia, and the Mi’kma’ki lobster fishing dispute. These are important to recognize, as race issues, especially concerning the environment, are often seen as a past issue when they are still present within our society and how decisions are made. ~ by Samantha Skinner


The term “ethnography” is a term used by academic scholars to outline the scientific study of people and cultures. It often involves a meta-analysis of a single group of people or a single culture. The study of ethnography involves comparing the customs, habits, daily lives, and more of humans in the present. One of the more important parts of ethnography is the comparing of cultures historically (ethnohistory), to those in the present. An ethnographer may take several cultures and compare them to find their differences but also their mutual characteristics. Things like religions, hygiene, or even their music may be used as a jumping point to understand the people one is studying. Throughout the history of ethnography, the aim was to understand other cultures scientifically. This has changed in present-day ethnography, where it has been understood that one will never truly understand another’s perspective.Ethnographies now have become a subjective study of other cultures to better understand their world views, and connect other cultures to them. ~ by Danielle Knopf


Exploitation in the context of environmental history is the use of natural resources as an instrument for profit. The term often carries a negative connotation, as exploitation can cause high environmental damage. Exploitation on a large scale began around the 16th century, as European nations began colonizing new (to them) lands. These new lands held new, valuable commodities, so companies sprung up to capitalize on whatever they could. One particularly destructive example of exploitation is the North American Fur Trade, which lasted from the early 17th to late 19th centuries. The Fur Trade devastated fur-bearing animal populations, which have not recovered over 100 years later. Other historical examples include the whale oil trade, with whales being hunted around the globe; tin mining in Britain; cod fishing off of Canada’s East Coast; rhinoceros hunting in Southeast Asia (for their blood and ivory); and Peru’s guano industry. Exploitation has become more closely regulated, but new resource discoveries continue to propel corporate over-exploitation around the world, faster than legislation can keep up with. It is important to note that exploitation does not necessarily imply environmental damage, as some industries can extract natural resources without major permanent effects on the surrounding environment. An example of this is potash mining in Canada’s prairies, which is almost entirely conducted around one kilometre underground. ~ by Jakob Fehr




The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin as an umbrella term referring to the mass killing of a population group. This is the case of the Holocaust, which aimed at eliminating a group of people through the most expressive form of violence. Within the concept of genocide, cultural genocide specifically refers to the mass killing of a culture. The term cultural genocide is controversial as some scholars believe it dilutes the meaning of genocide as it does not involve active mass murdering. They believe that the emphasis on cultural genocide in Canadian history obscures violent genocide such as how Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan suffered from starvation policies causing the death of thousands of natives. Describing these circumstances as a cultural genocide diminishes the murders that took place in this vicious event. Instead, these scholars believe that genocide is a more appropriate term to be used. However, Lemkin argued that cultural genocide should not be considered a diluted version of genocide but a different form of destruction to the community and it is thus, justifiably included within the definition of genocide. ~ by Sofia Grael

Geophyte agriculture

Geophyte agriculture is a complex and diversified subsistence agriculture that cultivates geophytes which have underground buds, corms, or rhizomes and was usually practiced by indigenous peoples in North America. The geophyte’s underground storage organ helps conserve valuable nutrients it holds, so plants can survive unfavourable weather conditions. Blue Camassia for example is a food staple native to the Pacific Northwest that is harvested when in bloom in spring or early summer. The appearance of Camassia of ranging 8 to 32 inches tall, six-petaled flowers varying in color from white to blue in the wild when in bloom looks insignificant to Europeans, and they did not recognize it as a form of active agriculture. To eat Blue Camas bulbs Indigenous people have used an earth oven that can cover the bulbs in dirt, then the oven bakes them slowly in terms of 3 to 4 days. Roots vegetables like potato are essentially geophytes, as well, but their flowers are small and usually picked out in modern agriculture so as to not waste nutrients. Expanded European settlement and the introduction of cattle usually came into conflicts of indigenous interests and greatly diminished food available to native residence by occupying land and prairies. Unlike European agriculture, Geophyte agriculture relies on sustained and patient harvesting. ~ by Weiyu Zheng

Green Revolution

The Green Revolution is an historical event which dramatically changed food production and consumption. After World War II, North America took it upon themselves to focus on solving hunger in South and East Asia. Because of the inability for Western researchers to understand Eastern cultures, there was a prevalent notion in science and philanthropy that falsely illustrated Asian and Eastern countries as in need of saving. This racial stereotyping, in combination with the colonial superiority of Western culture, and cold war issues, thus triggered the Green Revolution. In accordance with the white saviour complex, the U.S. wanted to feed the hungry in Asia, so they had a mission to Americanize Asian farms in ways in which U.S. farms found success, through industrial farming technology, and the introduction of the calorie. The introduction of the calorie erased all local food knowledge, making food be measured by energy output rather than taste, health benefits, or compatibility with local environments. This made all the world in the food interchangeable, allowing the U.S. and Canada to help other countries reach calorie minimums, but also expanding export-based agriculture, harming local food systems. Other negative consequences of the Green Revolution include the increase in use of pesticides, decrease of biodiversity due to the shift in monocultures, harm in human health and nutrition, and erosion of democratic and socialist movements. Although the Green Revolution was harmful, many Asian elites still supported it because of the capital it ensured, thus showing motives behind this historical event. ~ by Isabella Balducci


High Modernism

High modernism is the process of taking science, technology, and the natural world into account when trying to change society for the better. Modernism by itself is loosely defined as the transition of arts, literature, technology, and understanding into anew form that has not been seen before. High modernism is distinguished by one’s confidence in reordering the natural world through science and technology. In the mid twentieth century, dam projects in British Columbia reflected a vision of high modernism because of the vast changes in technology as well as the environment that was needed to accomplish these massive projects. High modernism is British Columbia was more centred around technology and how this modern technology could be linked with the natural environment in order to work and produce products that a modern society needed. This use of top of the line technology in British Columbia’s dam projects is an example of how the idea of high modernism was able to make peoples lives better.


Horticulture is a subsection of agriculture that includes the research, study, and practice of plant cultivation, plant propagation, plant breeding, production of crops, and plant physiology. Whereas agriculture is the broader category that deals with the cultivation of crops and animal farming, horticulture is focused solely on cultivating plants; despite this distinction, the difference is mostly arbitrary, and thus there are blurry boundaries between the two practices. There are five generally agreed upon branches of horticulture. The first is floriculture, which focuses on the cultivation of flowers and foliage. The second is pomology, which revolves around production and cultivation of fruit crops. The third is nursery/plant propagation, which involves the development and dissemination of plant seeds, shrubs, trees, ornamental plants, and ground covering. Fourth, olericulture is the branch of horticulture that deals with vegetables. Finally, landscape horticulture is a professional practice that is involved in the design and construction of landscapes seen in business, public areas, etc. These categories are best understood as general guidelines, as the branching of horticulture is complicated and extensive. With these varying definitions and subcategories, horticulture is thus a contested term as it encompasses a vast amount of information and specializations: from large-scale plant research, to small-scale home gardens. ~ by Rebecca Chadney


Hydro is a prefix referring to water, but in some regions, it functions as a noun meaning electricity. Hydroelectricity is generated by using the kinetic energy contained in flowing water to rotate a turbine. The mechanical energy generated through the rotation of the turbine is then turned into electrical energy by a generator. Hydroelectric systems are usually, but not always, comprised of one or more storage dams which contain the water until it is needed. Hydroelectricity has a reputation as a relatively green energy source because of the small amount of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions released through regular operation. However, GHGs are emitted in the construction of the dam and through the decomposition of organic material in flooded areas. Furthermore, the creation of reservoirs has significant environmental impacts, for example creating barriers to wildlife, increasing water temperatures, and changing weather patterns. Hydro became synonymous with electricity in British Columbia and Quebec, among others, as electricity supplied by hydroelectric plants grew in the 1950’s and 60’s. ~ by Zach Baxter


Inshore Fishery

An inshore fishery is a fishing operation which is largely based along the shore, done in water of a depth of roughly 30 feet or less. Since fishing in shallower water keeps fishers closer to shore, they require smaller boats and less intense fishing equipment, such as long handlines, than those in deeper, rougher waters, which typically yield larger and stronger fish. The Atlantic cod fishery is an example of a historically significant inshore fishery. Europeans migrated annually to the Atlantic coasts of Canada, living on the shores for the summer to fish. These migratory fishers were likely the first European contacts with North American Indigenous peoples and perhaps initiated the first instances of trading between these cultures. The inshore fishery process consisted of catching and preserving product for European markets by salting and air drying the cod. Over the centuries the successful fishery induced settlers to build permanent communities on the coasts. Unfortunately, the inshore fishery collapsed due to extensive fishing on the Grand Banks, the offshore fishery. Offshore fishers were mostly international and large commercial vessels. The increased productivity of the offshore fishery likely led to the failure of the inshore fishery, and the lost livelihoods of those whose lives were defined by it.




Linnaean Taxonomy

Modern botanical and zoological nomenclature started with the regarded father of modern taxonomy, Carolus Linnaeus, who created what is known as the linnaean system. Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician whose goal was to provide the first detailed and functional documentation of flora and fauna that could be referenced to globally. Linnaeus’ work was foundational to modern science as he had developed rules for assigning names to plants and animals and was the first person to consistently use binomial nomenclature, or otherwise known as the ‘two-term naming system’. Binomial nomenclature is often of latin grammatical form and is a system that uses two names- genus and species- an example being ‘homo sapien’. His most notable work was his published book Imperium Naturae where he established three kingdoms, Regnum Animale, Regnum Vegetablile, and Regnum Lapideum (animal, vegetable, and mineral) which could fit the entirety of nature into it. Kingdoms then divided into a hierarchy of several following groups called class, order, genera, and species. Today, we have added a few more categories that Linnaeaus did not know of at the time, these are domain, phyla, and family. ~ by Sarah Daggett



Generally, modernity is defined by its accelerations in technology, rationalization, scientific inquiry, a division between mind and body, political theory, and mechanistic worldview. Many events mark the modern period (the birth of the nation state, industrialization, the spread of market economies, etc.) that could constitute the beginning of modernity. However, many also distinguish between early and late periods of modernity, having the early period begin in the 1500s shortly after Columbus arrives in America. What is common to any start of modernity is the sense of genuine progress and that a sort of existence, typical of the past, is being left behind. To be modern is to constantly break away from the past in a significant way, making the delineation and separation of periods (such as a modern period) an inherently modern act.  To be modern is to believe one’s self and society as distinct from all that preceded. It could be a period of time, but also an adjective applied to discriminate against peoples and cultures that were modern or ‘pre-modern.’ During the modern period there were many who reacted to the period’s dis-embedding, isolating, and rationalizing consequences, however, the period is characteristically defined by a confidence in human progress that lasts largely up to the Second World War. To this extent, many would suggest we live in an era that is ‘post-modern,’ pre-supposing a ‘break’ from the ‘modern’ past that, nevertheless, repeats a perspective that is essentially modern. ~ by Joshua Ayer



Natureculture explicitly collapses the distinction between “nature” and “culture” to emphasize the relationships between and co-constitution of human and non-human things. This term was coined by the feminist science and technology studies scholar Donna Haraway in her 2003 “Companion Species Manifesto.” In this manifesto, and in scholarly works related to and inspired by it, scholars have argued for the relevance of terms that combat binary nature/culture thinking in historical scholarship. The decision to do history from the perspective of naturecultures rather than cultures acting within an ahistorical, separate “nature” impacts which actors come into the story and how we understand humans’ connections to the non-human world across spaces and times. The concept of natureculture has connections to interdisciplinary scholarship, including: Zoe Todd’s and other Indigenous scholars’ work on Indigenous epistemologies of kinship; Bruno Latour’s work on actor-network theory (ANT); and Jane Bennett’s work on vibrant matter. See the Environmental History paper “More-Than-Human Histories” (Emily O’Gorman and Andrea Gaynor, 2020) for a longer related discussion. ~ by Judith Burr

Neolithic revolution

The Neolithic revolution was one of the most important changes in the history of plants. Before the Neolithic revolution, the human diet was strictly based on hunting and wild plants that they could find. This revolution was the beginning of human intervention in the natural selection process. The beginning of agriculture meant that humans could enhance or discard some of the natural traits of plants. It also meant that most plants were unlikely to survive without human management. This change to plant life also led to a change in human lives. Human control over the genetics of their diet guaranteed them more calories, even though the narrowing diversity of their diets increased the risk of a food shortage. The increase in calories meant there was more time for leisurely activities such as art and architecture. However, the Neolithic revolution introduced a change in societal structures, significantly impacting class and gender. The effects of the Neolithic revolution have been expanded further by the scientific revolution, industrial revolution, and globalization.



Overgrazing takes place when livestock or other wildlife graze (feeding on grass and vegetation) immensely, causing damage to the ecosystem. This usually occurs when the capacity of livestock or wildlife is too much for the land to sustain, causing little time for recovery of the vegetation and leaving the soil exposed. With this exposure, it is more difficult for future vegetation to grow, allowing for loss of soil and even shallow root systems. Due to these effects, land that is overgrazed often becomes subject to irreversible transformation, especially when combined with fires or erosion. The problem with Overgrazing is that it is subjective. Scientists have altered their definitions of overgrazing and often have varying thresholds as to what constitutes as being overgrazed. The subjectivity of overgrazing further serves as a problem, as any claim to overgrazing is arduous and often resisted. ~ by Annie Van Oene-Monfee



Preservationism is the practice of advocacy of preservation. Often, preservationists are advocating to preserve natural or cultural resources. They want to prevent the deterioration, damage, or destruction of a resource that is important to the land and ecology of an area, or of a cite that has cultural significance to groups of people. An example of this is John Muir who helped establish Yosemite National park after he noticed the damage the land had taken from mass amounts of sheep that moved through the area. Preservationism is a non-invasive act of minimizing damage to the environment, such as not allowing sheep or cow grazing, not allowing the cutting of trees, and trying to keep the environment the way they found it without human input. Preservationism is similar to conservationism as they both aim to protect, but while conservationism seeks the proper use of nature, preservationism seeks to protect nature from humans and those who could destroy it. However, some criticism preservationism for ignoring and terminating longer Indigenous land use in preserved spaces. Preservationism is derived most notably from Latin, with the Latin prefix pre- meaning before + the Latin word servāre, v meaning to preserve + the Latin suffix -ion + the Latin suffix -ism. ~ by Elena Enns





Drawing from Kantian philosophy, the concept of subjectivity has been extensively used in critical, radical, and feminist scholarly works. The term refers to addressing an individual’s positionality in relation to how one recognizes their own existence in the world or societal structure. Subjectivity, through acknowledging one’s self-identity, assists to recognize the factors that influence the understanding and sense one makes of the concerning reality. It deconstructs the meaning-making processes of an individual by reflecting on how one interacts with and perceives the self and society. The concept of subjectivity employed as a concept in the methodological framework in sociological works often helps to study how objective reality comes into being. Further, understanding subjectivity empowers one to explore and understand the power of their consciousness. The underlying assumption of subjectivity is that the subject, the person of concern, has the ability to carry conscious experiences such as “beliefs, interpretations, and feelings beyond the factual experiences”. Hence, the term subjectivity carries the meaning of Descartes’ notion “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). Social sciences research, especially qualitative research methods comprising ethnography, interviews, etcetera, rely greatly on the interpretation of the collected data by the researcher. Subjectivity in such works allows the researcher to be transparent about their positionality, beliefs, feelings, biases, etcetera involved in the doing of the work, thus, also maximizing the validity of the research findings. So, understanding subjectivity embedded in the underlying interpretative work, such as defining a variable in quantitative work, empowers the readers to reach towards constructing pragmatic knowledge of how reality is constructed in research. ~ by Sanman Grewal


Temporal Device

Temporal devices are tools used in order to create relationships between events based on time in historical writing. The most common device is the calendar. Other examples include genealogy, chronograms, and eras. As a temporal device, a calendar establishes a linear timeline of sequential events that are dated based on their position within that timeline.  Many older texts, particularly non-Western texts, do not use a calendar and dates to form a linear timeline of events, causing historians to use new ways in order to track the placement of events and their relationship to other events. Often, these temporal devices create temporal relationships that are not linear, but still connected in other ways. As a result, other devices are required. Genealogy uses kinship, primarily through birth and marriage, to map historical events based on who was alive at the time the event occurred. A genealogical sequence of events resembles a tree that branches off as a family expands, which can make it easier to see what family members were involved in specific events but does not form a linear timeline. Chronograms are devices that allow numbers and words to be mapped out as symbols, allowing historians to decode symbol-based languages such as Sanskrit. Eras are time periods marked by significant events, such as the fall of the Soviet Union ushering the end of the Cold War era. Essentially, historians use temporal devices to link events together and create a cohesive narrative when discussing a particular topic. ~ by Noah Larkin


Temporality refers to the experience of time and to the relation between the past, present and future. It is commonly understood as a description of the linear passing of time. In historical study, an understanding of temporality involves a recognition of the ways in which human experiences, feelings, and understandings of time are constructed by humans in a specific setting and thus vary across time and space. Temporality can be thought of as “a social product of time” (Riecken) and as inherently linked with human activities. As such, historians can consider multiple temporalities in historical study, and understanding different temporalities and the exact ways in which the relationship between the past, present, and future is conceived can provide context and a greater depth of historical analysis. Temporalities are also linked to documentation, as different frameworks of time can result in different forms of recording history. Examples of this include oral history, calendars that denote a cyclical understanding of time (like those created by the Aztec/Nahua peoples), or a genealogical account of a kinship network that follows a complex, non-linear temporal framework as in the case of the Sulalat al-Salatin (Genealogy of Kings) of Malay history. An understanding of temporalities that are distinct from Western or Euro-Christian forms of temporality is particularly important to understanding the histories and historical works of cultures outside these contexts. Examples of this include the multiple constructions of time found within Islamicate sources and materials, for which a standard chronological paradigm may be insufficient to fully understand the works, as well as different temporalities represented in Indigenous art depicting the Dreaming or Dreamtime of Australian Aboriginal culture. ~ by Donya Hatami

Terra Nullius

Terra Nullius is the assumption that no one owned the land before European colonization. This under international law made it “legal” for Settlers to take Indigenous land and “develop” it for their own use. Originating in the 1400s explorers from Europe “discovered” lands and used discovery as a moral justification for colonial dispossession. Indigenous people often describe themselves as a part of the land rather than owners of the land. This perpetuate stereotypes of the Indigenous people as being uncivilized, and not knowing how to properly ‘use’ and ‘develop’ their land. Terra nullius allows the acquiring of land without payment as it is considered to be unoccupied. The Indian Act of 1876 displaced Indigenous peoples from their traditional territory and dispossessed them of their land. They did this by creating the reserve system and making treaties. The indigenous today seek to dismantle colonisation through proclamation that the territory their ancestors resided on as “unceded territory” as it was not unoccupied.

Tragedy of the Commons

The tragedy of the commons is a concept which suggests that whenever there is a situation in which a resource or good is shared amongst all people, that resource or good will be depleted due individuals acting according to their own self-interest rather than the benefit of the entire community. The term was coined by Garret Hardin, who referenced a hypothetical situation proposed by William Forster Lloyd, in which shared herding land would become oversaturated with cattle and ruined by self-serving herders. The addition of an animal to the commons would only benefit the owner of said animal, so thus the commons would be ruined by these herders trying to gain as much benefit from the shared space. It only takes one person acting independently of the needs of the community to spoil a resource, as those actions will inspire others to also try and gain as much as possible before the resource is depleted. Scholars have extended the tragedy of the commons concept to overfishing, atmospheric pollution, and other social-environmental problems. However, some others, such as Elinor Ostrom, criticize the concept for misunderstanding how societies efficiently govern commonly-owned resources. ~ by Denae Weighill



A phenomenon where dense numbers of people move to the city for access to more services and career options, urbanization poses a myriad of threats to the environment. This has been an ongoing trend since the industrial revolution, and is not an environmental sin, merely a solution to capital markets thriving in densely populated areas. Urbanization can make it impossible for local governments to provide for citizens, causing high levels of poverty. Additionally, there is an increase of waste related products and elevated air and water pollution due to high usage of energy and more cars. Urbanization also impacts natural environments by preventing access to land and food for animals through development. Like humans, animals are also impacted by high levels of pollution. This poses an ongoing threat for animals who are dying in automobile-adjacent accidents. Without proper protections, habitat and food sources are removed for animals. Historically, the solution to the issues of urbanization is more urban planning and restoration of wildlife habitat. Critically, this has not been wholly successful. Implementing more ways of protecting wildlife and ensuring less destruction for new developments need to be implemented by governmental authorities to reduce the negative impacts of Urbanization.




Building from the Anthropocene, Marco Armiero coined the term Wasteocene in 2015. He states, “Waste can be considered the essence of the Anthropocene, embodying human’s ability to affect the environment to the point of transforming it into a gigantic dump.” Most people associate waste with the material objects of “garbage.” However, the scholars of the Wasteocene (activists, economists, environmentalists, geographers, historians, and philosophers) focus on the cultural and social practice of consuming in order to waste. As feminist theorist Karen Barad explains, “It matters how waste comes to matter,” however,  waste mattering also implies things ceasing to matter. “The process of wasting has a long history,” and Sophia Kailatzi- Whitlock argues “colonialism, industrialization and digitalization are its different faces,” suggesting that the practice of wasting is the historical representation of what we devalue in our material world. German philosopher Volkart explores the simultaneous unmaking and making across social, cultural, and material realities through the concept of Abfall. This destructed matter is “Falling away” or taken out of sight. The Wasteocene is the destruction of “raw materials, human and animal bodies, plants and labour,” and Volkart asks how we come to determine that these are unclean or wasteable? The theoretical complexity of this debate bellies a more obvious reality, humanity continues to create and leave waste wherever we go. According to Rolling Stone (2020), humans worldwide are now consuming a million plastic bottles per minute and five billion plastic bags per year, and that is just our planet.  According to Carrazana, humans have also already deposited “400 000 pounds of detritus (waste and debris) on the moon.” ~ by Karyann Dorn




Zoonotic disease

Zoonotic diseases (also known as zoonoses) are caused by germs that spread between animals and people, and vice versa. A zoonotic disease can be a bacteria, fungi, parasites, or a virus. COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus which likely originated in a wet market in Wuhan China where it is believed the virus jumped from an infected bat to a human host (possibly interacting with a pangolin during transit). COVID is not the first zoonotic disease to become a global pandemic and it will not be the last. Before COVID, Influenza A was the best known historical example. A zoonotic disease can be spread through numerous means including but not limited to: water, air, mucus membranes, blood, and feces. Viruses have historically proven to be the most infectious, dangerous, and deadly due to their ability to mutate and spread rapidly. Over the course of our evolution humans have constantly come into and closer proximity to animals, whether wild or domestic. This relationship has resulted in countless zoonotic diseases throughout history. As the line between the human world and the animal continues to blur and intersect zoonotic diseases will only increase in prevalence. Evidence of this can be clearly seen in the numerous zoonotic diseases which either have or almost became pandemics. Examples such as the Swine Flu in the early 2000s, Avian flu, Ebola, and HIV have all been directly caused by humanity’s increasing proximity to animals and the diseases they carry.

Numbers and Symbols