Books  History & Other Humanities  Environmental History 

Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa 1800-1990

By: James C McCann

201 pages, B/w photos, b/w illus, maps

James Currey

Paperback | Jan 1999 | #94360 | ISBN: 0852557744
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NHBS Price: £17.99 $23 / €21 approx

About this book

Written in a readily accessible manner with undergraduates and nonspecialists in mind, Africa's landscapes are presented as created by human activity in contrast with current idealized notions of an African Eden. McCann Confronts the alarming degradation of Africa's natural and human resources by examining two centuries of historical evidence of environmental change. Key topics include: the effects of population growth, disease, agricultural change, the state of natural resources, and how Africans have managed and changed their own landscapes.

'In a subtle way, his work shows that the degradation narratives so beloved of environmentalists when pleading for money are wrong without devaluing the reality of environmental change and its effects on the peoples of Africa. As a book, McCann's work leaves one wanting more: more detail, more case studies, more pages, more master narrative. One wants ammunition to counter the arguments advanced by McNeill, Crosby, Diamond and even Curtin and Thornton about the ways that African environments limited the potential for social development in Africa. McCann's answer, the only valid one, gives cold comfort; the relationship between humans and environment is a contingent and specific one. Neither the degradation narrative of environmental activists nor the nurturing narrative promoted by Fairhead and Leach capture this ambiguous relationship; only the detailed examination of McCann's 'signs of the past' can provide a clue to "Africa's environmental future as past".' - Gregory H. Maddox in Journal of African History 'In recent years, Africa's environmental history has begun to emerge as another area of innovation with important implications for how we view the broader human past... draws on the best of this new research to provide a concise synthesis of the historical development of the African landscape. The central argument of this crisply-written book is that, far from being unchanging and primordial, African landscapes are the product of human action.' - John Parker in English Historical Review 'The book's greatest strength is its general accessibility - ideal for undergraduates...' - Helen Tilley in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society


Part 1 Patterns of history: Africa's physical world; environment and history in Africa. Part 2 Africa's historical landscapes: desert lands, human hands; a tale of two forests - narratives of deforestation in Ethiopia, 1840-1996; food in the forest - biodiversity, food systems and human settlement in Ghana's Upper Guinea forest, 1000-1990; soil matters - erosion and empire in greater Lesotho, 1830-1990; epilogue - Africa's environmental future as past.

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