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The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World

By: John F Richards(Author)

682 pages, 27 maps, 6 tables

University of California Press

Paperback | Nov 2005 | #154527 | ISBN: 0520246780
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £29.99 $38/€33 approx
Hardback | May 2003 | #137503 | ISBN: 0520230752
Out of Print Details

About this book

It was the age of exploration, the age of empire and conquest, and human beings were extending their reach – and their numbers – as never before. In the process, they were intervening in the world's natural environment in equally unprecedented and dramatic ways. A sweeping work of environmental history, The Unending Frontier offers a truly global perspective on the profound impact of humanity on the natural world in the early modern period.

John F. Richards identifies four broadly shared historical processes that speeded environmental change from roughly 1500 to 1800 c.e.: intensified human land use along settlement frontiers; biological invasions; commercial hunting of wildlife; and problems of energy scarcity. The Unending Frontier considers each of these trends in a series of case studies, sometimes of a particular place, such as Tokugawa Japan and early modern England and China, sometimes of a particular activity, such as the fur trade in North America and Russia, cod fishing in the North Atlantic, and whaling in the Arctic. Throughout, Richards shows how humans – whether clearing forests or draining wetlands, transporting bacteria, insects, and livestock; hunting species to extinction, or reshaping landscapes – altered the material well-being of the natural world along with their own.

"Richards advances beyond a purely Eurocentric approach to the dynamics of change and presents the frontier as an evolving, interactive process influenced by both human and non-human factors. That is no mean achievement."
Times Literary Supplement (TLS)

"Chapter 1 is a masterly review [...] the book is an excellent addition to the literature of world environmental history and a valuable aid to teaching."
– Michael Williams, The International History Review

"Richards has an economical way of surveying vast amounts of evidence which makes it an easy and rewarding read."
– Felipe Frenandez-Armesto, History Today

"The Unending Frontier brings into focus the staggering environmental changes that came with the creation of the early modern world economy. John Richards assembles material from all around the world into a crisp and coherent picture of the meaning of global markets for the biosphere in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. This is a work of the first importance for environmental history, for economic history, and for world history."
– John R. McNeill, author of Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World

"A landmark book. Richards moves deftly among various ways of thinking about the early modern environment – national case studies, studies of particular industries, and reflections on increasing global interconnections – so that we get not only a wealth of important data and stories, but multiple perspectives on the topic as a whole. Both the breadth and the depth of the project are inspiring: people will learn new things about environmental change, even in their regions of specialization. But the biggest payoff is in the way Richards weaves environmental change into more familiar early modern stories of global trade, colonialism, technological change, and, above all, state formation. None of these topics will ever look quite the same again."
– Kenneth Pomeranz, author of The Great Divergence: Europe, China, and the Making of the Modern World Economy


List of Maps
List of Tables

Part I. The Global Context
1. The Early Modern World
2. Climate and Early Modern World Environmental History

Part II. Eurasia and Africa
3. Pioneer Settlement on Taiwan
4. Internal Frontiers and Intensified Land Use in China
5. Ecological Strategies in Tokugawa Japan
6. Landscape Change and Energy Transformation in the British Isles
7. Frontier Settlement in Russia
8. Wildlife and Livestock in South Africa

Part III. The Americas
9. The Columbian Exchange: The West Indies
10. Ranching, Mining, and Settlement Frontiers in Colonial Mexico
11. Sugar and Cattle in Portuguese Brazil
12. Landscapes of Sugar in the Antilles

Part IV. The World Hunt
13. Furs and Deerskins in Eastern North America
14. The Hunt for Furs in Siberia
15. Cod and the New World Fisheries
16. Whales and Walruses in the Northern Oceans


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John F. Richards is Professor of History at Duke University. He is the author of The Mughal Empire (1993) and Mughal Administration in Golconda (1975) and the editor of Land, Property and the Environment (2001). He is coeditor of World Deforestation in the Twentieth Century (1988) and Global Deforestation and the Nineteenth-Century World Economy (1983).

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