An Anthropological Study of the Reconstruction of Global Environmental Histories
The objectives of this research group are, from the standpoint of global environmental theory with a focus on historical ecology, to reconstruct human history, and thereby understand the root issues of environmental problems and to analyze the factors involved.
At present approximately six billion human beings live within 130 million square kilometers of space on the surface of the earth. In recent years this population has been dramatically increasing, especially in the developing countries. Amidst these conditions, the human race must in the twenty-first century, while sharing the limited supply of natural resources in the world, coexist with nature. For this reason, the twenty-first century will be an age in which the critically important issues will be what kinds of relationships are forged globally and regionally, and what can be done to ensure harmony. Based on our consciousness of such problems, this joint research will challenge these critical issues by attempting to understand the historical relationships between humankind living on the face of the earth and the environment.
At the same time, in recent years research on environmental history has become quite dynamic in human science. In the West and elsewhere scholarly societies for environmental history have been established, and interdisciplinary research on environmental history has been pursued. However, as far as Japan’s environmental history is concerned, efforts have been scattered in various fields, but we have seldom engaged in discussions on common themes. This research group will make possible the creation of a new form of environmental studies by bringing together, in addition to a core of anthropological researchers, researchers from history, sociology and area studies.
In recent years research on environmental history has become quite dynamic in cultural anthropology. In the West and elsewhere scholarly societies for environmental history have been established, and interdisciplinary research on environmental history has been pursued. Achievements in region-specific environmental history research have also been made in various places in Southeast Asia, Africa and elsewhere. As far as Japan’s environmental history is concerned, efforts have been scattered in various fields, but we have seldom engaged in discussions on common themes. This research group, however, at last brought together around a core of researchers in cultural anthropology (ethnology) a diverse group of researchers from history, archaeology, geography, sociology and area studies to lay the foundation for creating a new form of environmental historical studies.
Specifically, primarily from the standpoints of historical ecological studies, environmental archaeology, population studies and the history of disease, and area studies, we established the following sub-themes. Through their exploration we were able to judge the outlook from the establishment of a new academic discipline of global environmental history: (1) arranging the newest trends in environmental history; (2) civilization and environmental history; (3) natural resources and the world of commodities; (4) the history of natural landscapes and historical change: the forests, deserts and oceans; and (5) thinking about environmental protection and the future of humankind.
In many fields at present, we are witnessing increasing compartmentalization of research, which makes dialogue more difficult. However, in this new field of global environmental history, we are not just reconsidering the historical view that until now has placed humans at the center of everything, but we are positioning local research within a grander scale. This positioning has made us confident that we will be able to elucidate some of the root causes that gave rise to our present environmental problems.
Research on the interrelationship between the environment and human beings with an emphasis on stock raising on grasslands and savannahs within the global environment has been published in “Pastoralists and Their Neighbors in Asia and Africa” Senri Ethnological Studies, No. 69 (editors include Elliot Fratkin). Research on the environmental history of Africa is thoroughly discussed in approximately 900 pages in our two-volume “Asakura Global Geography Seminar—Tale of the Earth and Human Beings” (coedited with Sato and Takeuchi).