In recent years, environmental justice scholarship has exploded. But virtually every relevant piece of work has understood the history of environmental justice as dating only to the late 20th century. This talk goes back to the 17th century, seeking to trace and analyze the evolution of a positive environmental rights discourse in European and American history. Having established our opposition to environmental injustice, we might want to ask: what exactly are we aiming for, in positive terms? What are the components of environmental justice? Is there any common ground left to stand on? And how might a deeper historical perspective help us answer these questions?
Aaron Sachs (AB ’92) is Professor of History and American Studies at Cornell University, where he has taught since 2004. In 2006, he published The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism (Viking), which won Honorable Mention for the Frederick Jackson Turner Award, given to the best first book in the field of U.S. history by the Organization of American Historians (OAH). In 2013, he published Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition (Yale U. Press), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. Sachs has also published articles in such journals as Environmental History, Rethinking History, American Quarterly, and History and Theory. In his graduate teaching, he works with students not only in History but also in English, Science and Technology Studies, History of Architecture, City and Regional Planning, Anthropology, and Natural Resources. At Cornell, Sachs is the faculty sponsor of a radical underground organization called Historians Are Writers, which brings together graduate students who believe that academic writing can be moving on a deeply human level. He is also the founder and coordinator of the Cornell Roundtable on Environmental Studies Topics (CREST). Sachs is currently at work on book projects focusing on environmental modernity; environmental justice; and environmental humor.
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