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New insights into the microbiome, epigenetics, and cognition are radically challenging our very idea of what it means to be 'human', while an explosion of neo-materialist thinking in the humanities has fostered a renewed appreciation of the formative powers of a dynamic material environment. The Matter of History brings these scientific and humanistic ideas together to develop a bold, new post-anthropocentric understanding of the past, one that reveals how powerful organisms and things help to create humans in all their dimensions, biological, social, and cultural. Timothy J. LeCain combines cutting-edge theory and detailed empirical analysis to explain the extraordinary late-nineteenth century convergence between the United States and Japan at the pivotal moment when both were emerging as global superpowers. Illustrating the power of a deeply material social and cultural history, The Matter of History argues that three powerful things – cattle, silkworms, and copper – helped to drive these previously diverse nations towards a global 'Great Convergence'.
1. Fellow travelers: the non-human things that make us human
2. We never left Eden: the religious and secular marginalization of matter
3. Natural born humans: a neo-materialist theory and method of history
4. The longhorn: the animal intelligence behind American open range ranching
5. The silkworm: the innovative insects behind Japanese modernization
6. The copper atom: conductivity and the great convergence of Japan and the West
7. The matter of humans: beyond the Anthropocene and towards a new humanism
Timothy J. LeCain is the author of the prize-winning book Mass Destruction (2009). He was a Senior Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany, and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Oslo, Norway. He is an Associate Professor of History at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana.
"In this original, important, and beautifully written book, LeCain develops a neo-materialist theory of history to illuminate the environmental histories of seemingly disparate subjects: copper mines, silkworms, and longhorn cattle. Using insights from evolutionary theory, animal studies, and the anthropocene, LeCain shows how the cultural and the material are deeply interwoven in every aspect of resource extraction."
– Nancy Langston, Michigan Technological University
"By putting things front and center, LeCain challenges us to rethink our most basic assumptions about how we write history in the twenty-first century. He offers us both a lucid guide to a wide range of materialist theories and a set of fascinating examples."
– Linda Nash, University of Washington