Sylvia Hahn, Reinhold Reith, eds. Umwelt-Geschichte: Arbeitsfelder, ForschungsansÖ¤tze, Perspektiven. nchen: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2001. 239 pp. EUR 24.80 (paper), ISBN 978-3-7028-0383-4.
Reviewed by Christoph Bernhardt (Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning, Erkner, Germany)
Published on H-Environment (December, 2005)
In the last decade environmental history has considerably expanded in the German-speaking countries, as in Europe in general. Reinhold Reith, former editor of the journal Technikgeschichte who holds the chair in economic and social history in Salzburg, has made a substantial contribution to this progress. The volume under review here that he edited together with Silvia Hahn is only one in a number of introductions and surveys in environmental history published in recent years. Thus one might ask if there is a need for another work of this type? But a close comparative examination shows that these other introductions have quite a different focus. Hahn and Reith cover primarily the economic and political dimension of environmental history with a focus on the Austrian case. In contrast, GÃ¼nter Bayerl, Normann Fuchsloch, and Torsten Meyer had given relatively more attention to methodological problems and the contribution of natural sciences, Wolfgang Siemann to geographical aspects and, like Helmut JÃ¤ger, to landscape.
"Querschnitte. Einfuehrungstexte zur Sozial-, Wirtschafts- und Kulturgeschichte", is the title of the series in which Reith and Hahn's book is published. This indicates that the main intention of the volume is to give students a broad presentation of different disciplinary "fields of research, approaches, perspectives" of environmental history. In their introduction, the editors underline that current political challenges such as the need for sustainable development and the overexploitation of resources seriously call for historical studies on these issues (p. 7). They also discuss the question of a "point of no return" in environmental history (p. 9). While these remarks stay relatively general the eleven articles, mainly written by Austrian scholars, give quite an impressive picture of both well-established and new subjects in the field. Problems of the pre-modern period are discussed in articles by Christian Rohr on natural disasters in the Middle Ages and by Guenter Bayerl on the emergence of an economical perspective on nature in the seventeenth century. Gerhard Pfeisinger deals with environmental aspects in the formation of a global economy and Helmut Lackner with environmental aspects of mining. For the modern period Lisa Noggler and Gerhard Meissl analyze problems of air and water pollution in Innsbruck and Vienna respectively, while Wolfgang Koenig reconstructs the rise of mountain railways in the Alps, and Volkmar Lauber analyzes the history of environmental legislation and governance in late-twentieth-century Austria. Reinhold Reith's article on metabolism and recycling in some ways bridges the gap to contributions by Walter Scherrer on environmental issues in economics handbooks and Peter M. Eckl on the history of toxicology.
As in other collected books the articles follow quite different perspectives. Those written by Scherrer and Eckl primarily address the interests of students in the fields of economy, biology, and medicine. Pfeisinger's study is essentially based on a small number of older German studies and only gives a very general idea of the environmental consequences of European imperialism in Latin America since the sixteenth century. In contrast Bayerl presents an impressive study on the technical-economic view on nature emerging with the work of the famous GÃ¶ttingen economist Johann Beckman in the late eighteenth century. He can show how Beckman's thinking step by step transformed nature into a sophisticated catalogue of commercial goods (pp. 36ff). Reith's innovative article on recycling and metabolism in environmental debates in the twentieth century analyzes some long-term consequences of this transformation and, in a way, the transfer of Beckman's philosophy to waste goods. He retraces the theoretical and ideological background of key terms like "garbage" and the politics of "collecting" in Nazi-Germany and in the GDR, heavily promoted in the two very different political regimes (pp. 111ff). Wolfgang KÃ¶nig's article on the mountain trains in the Alps follows a multi-perspective approach. He succeeds in integrating the role of tourism and technical innovation in mountain trains as driving forces of landscape degradation as well as the emergence of the early environmental "Heimatschutz" movement. KÃ¶nig's fascinating study also discusses Austria's situation as a latecomer behind Switzerland in the field of tourism and ends with an assessment of the balance of alpine landscape degradation caused by tourism.
Meissl and Nogger show in their articles the value and wealth of primary sources in the study of environmental history. Meissl interprets the debates and technological choices of the Vienna municipal administration in the implementation of a sewage system in terms of a difficult learning process. He also provides a lot of good empirical material on social segregation in the use of drinking water (p. 171). Volkmar Lauber's article is a well-structured analysis on the rise of environmental policy in the second Austrian Republic from the 1970s until today, a period which recently has won growing interest in European environmental history. Lauber underlines that environmental policy in the 1970s was of only symbolic value, but observes a break-through of environmental legislation in the 1980s. Since 1989 the Austrian example is of great importance for the East European countries, but at the same time underwent itself a process of "neo-liberal minimalism" while the European Union's environmental legislation also won influence (p. 191). Reading Lauber's article gives a good idea of how today's European environmental policies emerged in the course of the last decades.
Lauber and, in fact, the whole book succeed in presenting the rich variety of environmental history to students of different disciplines. Even if the volume shares some of the typical drawbacks to be found in collected introductory works, it opens the door to the Austrian pathway and to some new and fascinating subjects in modern European environmental history.
. GÃ¼nter Bayerl, Normann Fuchsloch, and Torsten Meyer, eds., Umweltgeschichte--Methoden, Themen, Potentiale (New York and Munich: Waxmann-Verlag, 1996); Wolfgang Siemann, ed., Umweltgeschichte. Themen und Perspektiven (Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck, 2003); Helmut JÃ¤ger, EinfÃ¼hrung in die Umweltgeschichte. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt, 1994).
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Christoph Bernhardt. Review of Hahn, Sylvia; Reith, Reinhold, eds., Umwelt-Geschichte: Arbeitsfelder, ForschungsansÖ¤tze, Perspektiven.
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