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Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire provides the first wide-ranging environmental history of the heyday of European imperialism, from the late nineteenth century to the end of the colonial era. It focuses on the ecological dimensions of the explosive growth of tropical commodity production, global trade, and modern resource management – transformations that still visibly shape our world today – and how they were related to broader social, cultural, and political developments in Europe's colonies.
Covering the overseas empires of all the major European powers, Corey Ross argues that tropical environments were not merely a stage on which conquest and subjugation took place, but were an essential part of the colonial project, profoundly shaping the imperial enterprise even as they were shaped by it. The story he tells is not only about the complexities of human experience, but also about people's relationship with the ecosystems in which they were themselves embedded: the soil, water, plants, and animals that were likewise a part of Europe's empire. Although it shows that imperial conquest rarely represented a sudden bout of ecological devastation, it nonetheless demonstrates that modern imperialism marked a decisive and largely negative milestone for the natural
environment. By relating the expansion of modern empire, global trade, and mass consumption to the momentous ecological shifts that they entailed, Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire provides a historical perspective on the vital nexus of social, political, and environmental issues that we face in the twenty-first-century world.
Introduction: Ecology, Power, and Imperialism
PART I: A World of Goods: The Ecology of Colonial Extraction
1: The Ecology of Cotton: Environment, Labour, and Empire
2: Bittersweet Harvest: The Colonial Cocoa Boom and the Tropical Forest Frontier
3: Colonialism, Rubber, and the Rainforest
4: Subterranean Frontier: Tin Mining, Empire, and Environment in Southeast Asia
5: Peripheral Centres: Copper Mining and Colonized Environments in Central Africa
6: Oil, Empire, and Environment
PART II: Conservation, Improvement, and Environmental Management in the Colonies
7: Tropical Nature in Trust: The Politics of Colonial Conservation
8: Forests, Ecology, and Power in the Tropical Colonies
9: Cultivating the Colonies: Agriculture, Development, and Environment
PART III: Acceleration, Decline, and Aftermath
10: Progress and Hubris: The Political Ecology of Late Colonial Development
11: Beyond Colonialism: Tropical Environments and the Legacies of Empire
Corey Ross is Professor of Modern History at the University of Birmingham and the author of several books on the history of mass media and popular culture, heritage and ancestral pasts, and everyday life under state socialism, with a particular focus on Germany. Since arriving at Birmingham in 1998, he has held an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the Freie Universität Berlin, a J. Walter Thompson Fellowship at Duke University, and a guest professorship at the Université Paris-II. His primary research interests are in global environmental history, modern imperialism, and modern European social and cultural history.
Winner of the 2018 George Louis Beer Prize, awarded by the American Historical Association.
– Adam Rome, Summer Reads 2018, Nature
"Ross's Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire is a genuine tour de force that will surely be a landmark book in both environmental history and imperial history. It takes a synthetic, multi-empire approach to the decades between 1870 and 1940, surveying the ecological contexts and consequences of colonial economies as well as growing imperial interest in resource conservation. Ross focuses on the tropical regions of Asia and Africa, taking the reader from the tin mines of Malaya to the cocoa plantations of West Africa with many stops in between. Ross's prose is agreeable and his arguments clear. His research in the specialist literature and published primary sources in English, French, and German is thorough. Altogether a superb achievement and a great service to historians and other lovers of history."
– J.R. McNeill, Georgetown University
"it is easy to envision Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire fitting comfortably into a range of teaching scenarios, from advanced undergraduate courses to graduate seminars on environmental history, world history, and empire [...] It is a tremendous pleasure to review a masterwork. Its author should be heartily commended for producing such a wide-ranging, readable, and engaging book. I look forward to assigning Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire to many current and future students."
– Edward D. Melillo, American Historical Review
"In this work, students will find an excellent bibliography of 1106 entries, 1544 footnotes, and superb reviews of the history of cotton, chocolate (cocoa), rubber, tin, copper, and oil. The book is highly readable with insights throughout for social scientists, conservation biologists, agronomists, and ecologists [...] Recommended."