Climate and colonialism

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Recent years have seen a growth in scholarship on the intertwined histories of climate, science and European imperialism. Scholarship has focused both on how the material realities of climate shaped colonial enterprises, and on how ideas about climate informed imperial ideologies. Historians have shown how European expansion was justified by its protagonists with theories of racial superiority, which were often closely tied to ideas of climatic determinism. Meanwhile, the colonial spaces established by European powers offered novel ‘laboratories’ where ideas about acclimatisation and climatic improvement could be tested on the ground. While historical scholarship has focused on how powerful ideas of climate informed imperial projects, emerging scholarship in environmental history, history of science and historical geography focuses instead on the material and cognitive practices by which the climates of colonial spaces were made known and dealt with in fields such as forestry, agriculture and human health. These heretofore rather disparate areas of historical research carry great contemporary relevance of studies of how climates and their changes have been understood, debated and adapted to in the past.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere510
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number2
Early online date2 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018

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