ehru Memorial Museum and Library

cordially invites you to a Seminar



at 3.00 pm on Monday, 28th April, 2014

in the Seminar Room, First Floor, Library Building





‘Environmentalisms in an Era of Global Political Crisis, 1914-1950’




Prof. Daniel Klingensmith,

Maryville College,





Historians have in the last two decades paid substantial attention to the history of different forms of environmentalism, linking it both to evolving ecological conditions and also to economic and political structures operating globally.  But while they have fruitfully explored the history of environmentalism during the “long nineteenth century” from circa 1789 to 1914, and in some instances during the postwar and post-imperial decades beginning in 1945, they have paid less explicit attention to its development during the intervening period.  The period from the beginning of the first World War to the aftermath of the second deserves more attention in this regard, however:  it constitutes the relevant “pre-history” of the post-independence developmentalist state in India and elsewhere, and of the postwar growth and consumption-oriented societies of North America and Western Europe.  This was a period in which important state-oriented models for managing nature on a large-scale took shape, but also a period in which significant critiques of the impact of modern states, markets and technologies on the natural world were articulated for the first time or substantially refined.  Arguably, this was also the era in which popular bourgeois knowledge of environmental crises, via mass media, first became politically significant, in the West, India and elsewhere. The idea that the natural world was out of balance was connected to the perception of political and civilizational crisis, which was widespread in the era of the world wars, the Great Depression, anti-colonial nationalism in Asia and the Russian revolution.  This paper presents a reconnaissance of the global history of environmentalism during the interrelated crises that began in 1914.  In particular it addresses connections of environmentalisms to political and cultural anxieties, and suggests that one way of conceptualizing thinking about ecological crisis could revolve around how different observers understood the value of the modern state and modern technologies.  It also considers why certain kinds of intervention in the natural world (for example, large dams) were widely embraced in later years, while others (e.g. “overflow irrigation”) came to be considered irrelevant or at best oppositional in post-1945 thinking.  It closes with a consideration of the Indian history of these issues.



Prof. Daniel Klingensmith is Professor of History at Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, United States.  He received his bachelor’s degree in History from Harvard University, and his Ph.D., also in History, from the University of Chicago in 1998.  He is the author of ‘One Valley and a Thousand’: Dams, Nationalism and Development (Oxford University Press, 2007), a study of the transnational political and cultural contexts informing post-independence India’s emulation of the large dams of the New Deal era in the United States.  His essay “Nature and Politics at the End of the Raj: Environmental Management and Political Legitimacy in Late Colonial India,” is forthcoming in the volume Shifting Ground: Mobility and Animals in India’s Environmental Histories, edited by Mahesh Rangarajan and K. Sivaramakrishnan.  


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