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Challenging the conventional wisdom that French environmentalism can be dated only to the post-1945 period, Caroline Ford argues that a broadly shared environmental consciousness emerged in France much earlier. Natural Interests unearths the distinctive features of French environmentalism, in which a large and varied cast of social actors played a role. Besides scientific advances and colonial expansion, nostalgia for a vanishing pastoral countryside and anxiety over the pressing dangers of environmental degradation were important factors in the success of this movement.
Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, war, political upheaval, and natural disasters – especially the devastating floods of 1856 and 1910 in Paris – caused growing worry over the damage wrought by deforestation, urbanization, and industrialization. The natural world took on new value for France's urban bourgeoisie, as both a site of aesthetic longing and a destination for tourism. Not only naturalists and scientists but politicians, engineers, writers, and painters took up environmental causes.
Imperialism and international dialogue were also instrumental in shaping environmental consciousness, as the unfamiliar climates of France's overseas possessions changed perceptions of the natural world and influenced conservationist policies. By the early twentieth century, France had adopted innovative environmental legislation, created national and urban parks and nature reserves, and called for international cooperation on environmental questions.
List of Figures and Maps
1. François-Antoine Rauch’s New Harmony of Nature
2. Saving the Forests First
3. The Torrents of the Nineteenth Century
4. Environment and Landscape as Heritage
5. The Internationalization of Nature Protection
6. Reforestation and the Anxieties of Empire in Colonial Algeria
7. The Greening of Paris
Caroline Ford is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"This interesting and thought-provoking book looks at the start of environmental awareness with innovative legislation to protect the Fontainebleau landscape and its oak trees."
– The Connexion
"By tracking individual engagement, public concern, and state responsibility, Ford reveals the evolving character and widening scope of environmental awareness and activity in France from the 1800s to the 1930s, from forest regeneration to the 'greening' of Paris. But she also exposes the tensions within that movement and illuminatingly situates French experience within a critical narrative of colonial expansion and transnational exchange. This is a book to interest environmental and imperial historians as much as historians of the making of modern France."
– David Arnold, author of The Problem of Nature
"Seldom does one encounter a book that crosses national and disciplinary boundaries with such ease and force of persuasion. Ford's argument is bold yet meticulously researched. It details the emergence in modern France and its empire of an environmental consciousness that encompassed new cultural sensibilities, new forms of expertise and protection, new bodies of knowledge – not to mention leisure, tourism, urban green spaces, garden cities, and so much more. With its broad range, this environmental history shines a new light on our understandings of nation-states, empires, and transnational circulations. Whether they are environmental historians or not, scholars will need to read this beautifully crafted and boundary-shifting book."
– Stéphane Gerson, author of The Pride of Place
"A fascinating book reflecting wide-ranging research. Natural Interests revises our understanding of the history of the environment in France."
– Eric Jennings, author of Imperial Heights