Environmental History: Industry, Expertise and Pollution, 17th-20th Century

(class leader: Dr Thomas Le Roux)


Among newly emerging fields of historical research, the history of the environment is likely to contribute in fundamental ways to the understanding of present-day ecologic crisis. The Graduate Seminar will focus on the relationship between nature and human activities through the study of the impact of industrial pollution on the environment, from the beginning of industrialisation in the 17th Century to today. Particular attention will be devoted to reconstructing the choices made by societies and their leaders when faced with pollution. The close links between technical and scientific knowledge, expertise and the politics of nature will be at the heart of the discussion. A variety of issues will take in turn central stage: industrial production and main sources of pollution; the Enlightenment and the growth of expertise; technical improvements; occupational health; mass production; industrial strategies and vulnerabilities; legal and statutory  implications; industrial control, risk and accidents. These issues will highlight the strategies of justification of pollution by western powers, within the context of globalization and competition. The history of the regulation of industrial pollution has been, and is, far from neutral.