By Eric Pawson
University of Canterbury
3rd World Congress in Environmental History, July 2019
This event, the third since Copenhagen in 2009, was held in Florianopolis, in southern Brazil, from July 22- 26. It took place on the campus of the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. Santa Catarina is an elongated, hilly island on which the old city centre and university are situated. Its Atlantic shores are dotted with surfing beaches and small fishing ports which, along with IT industries, are for what Florianopolis is best known.
The Congress attracted 385 presenters, including 86 from Brazil and 88 from the United States. Many of these were historians of Brazil. There were up to nine sessions running in parallel each day, and quite a number of no shows. This did not make it easy to get a thematic sense of environmental history internationally, although it did lend a flavour that reflected histories and geographies of the host country.
There was a notable plenary session on ‘Biomes, frontiers and history in Brazil’, in which three presenters spoke about the Atlantic rainforest, the development of the Cerrado (illustrated with a striking slide of an endless horizon of soyabean cultivation) and recent trends in Amazon deforestation, drawing attention to the considerable decline in clear cutting between 2004 and 2014.
There was a provocative panel entitled ‘2020 visions for environmental history’, which tackled the carbon generating implications of organising face-to-face international meetings of this sort. It was based on three papers published in advance, and available on the NiCHE blog (Network in Canadian History and Environment: http://niche-canada.org/2019/07/10/a/).
At the other end of the scale, there was a gem in the poster session about the ‘Omaha in the Anthropocene’ project. This described an ongoing public history project at Creighton University, in which senior environmental history undergraduates work to tell the significance of objects in the Durham Museum collection from an Anthropocene perspective. The project website (https://steppingintothemap.com/anthropocene/about) is full of interest about this engaging initiative. It also complemented really well a visit to the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro in the days before the Congress (https://museudoamanha.org.br/en).
Featured image: Araucaria forest, Rio do Rastro.