Environmental modernization and nature protection
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Environmental Modernization and Nature Protection. Dr Chris Pearson. The Landes forest. Lecture Themes. The causes of environmental change Attitudes towards nature. Lecture outline. What is environmental history? Environmental modernization

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Environmental modernization and nature protection

Environmental Modernization and Nature Protection

Dr Chris Pearson


Environmental modernization and nature protection

The Landes forest


Lecture themes

Lecture Themes

  • The causes of environmental change

  • Attitudes towards nature.


Lecture outline

Lecture outline

  • What is environmental history?

  • Environmental modernization

  • Attitudes towards nature, especially nature protection


What is environmental history

What is environmental history?

‘The history of the mutual relations between humankind and the rest of nature’

John R. McNeill, ‘Observations on the Nature and Culture of Environmental History,’ History and Theory 42 (December 2003)


Environmental history a very brief history

Environmental history: A very brief history

  • Emerged in the late 1960s/early 1970s in the US (same time as the environmental movement)

  • Pioneered by Alfred Crosby, Donald Worster, William Cronon (amongst others)

  • Subjects include: history of national parks, pollution, environmentalism, urban ecologies, war, health and human-animal relations


Environmental modernization and nature protection

‘To act on his environment, man does not place himself outside it. He does not escape its hold at the precise moment when he attempts to exercise his own. And conversely the nature which acts on man, the nature which intervenes to modify the existence of human societies, is not a virgin nature, independent of all human contact; it is a nature already profoundly impregnated and modified by man. There is a perpetual action and reaction. The formula “the mutual relations of society to environment” holds equally good for the two supposed distinct cases. For in these relations, man both borrows and gives back, whilst the environment gives and receives.’

Lucien Febvre, A Geographical Introduction to History (1925), 361


The annales and the environment

The Annales and the environment

  • Linking history and geography

  • Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, (1972) begins with lengthy description of region’s geography

  • Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate since the year 1000 (1972) – links human history and climate


A static view of the environment

A static view of the environment

A ‘history in which all change is slow, a history of constant repetition, ever-recurring cycles… the story of man’s contact with the inanimate.’

Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World, 20


Linking environmental and social history

Linking environmental and social history

  • Similarities in outlook –longue durée, case studies, openness to other approaches

  • All human history takes place within the environment (urban or rural)

  • Human activity shapes the environment (felling trees alters forest ecologies) and environmental factors impact on human history (Paris flood of 1910)


Communities and environmental change

Communities and environmental change

Châlons Camp (1857): a ‘sad and monotonous land’?


Modernizing the environment 1 the landes de gascogne

Modernizing the Environment(1): The Landes de Gascogne

  • Early nineteenth century: Infamous for bogs, dunes, fens

  • Observers portrayed it as remote, wild, and unproductive

  • Perspective reproduced in Weber’s Frenchmen into Peasants


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Jean Louis Gintrac, Habitants des Landes (first half of 19C)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

‘We have immense uncultivated territories to clear, roads to open, ports to dig, rivers to render navigable, canals to finish, our network of railways to complete… That is how I understand the empire, of how the empire is to be restored. Such are the conquests I contemplate, and you, all of you who surround me, you who desire, as I do, our country’s good, you are my soldiers.’

Napoleon III, 2 September 1852


Empire and interior colonization

Empire and “interior colonization”

  • Modernize, rationalize and boost productivity

  • Linked to national resurgence or decline

  • Napoleon III: ‘agricultural progress should be an object of our constant solicitude because its improvement or decline leads to the prosperity or decadence of empires’.


The law of 28 july 1860 on the reclamation of marshes and cultivated lands

The law of 28 July 1860 on the reclamation of marshes and cultivated lands:

‘Marshes and uncultivated land belonging to communes or sections of communes, for which reclamation shall have been deemed useful, shall be dried and rendered proper for cultivation or planted with trees.’


The social impact of afforestation

The social impact of afforestation

  • Decline of shepherding and sheep herds

  • Outlawing of practice of starting fires to maintain pasture land

  • Lighting fires became an act of resistance (Temple, ‘The Natures of Nation,’ FHS [2009],441

  • Many shepherds and farmers became forest workers


The reduction of wasteland some stats

The reduction of wasteland: some stats

  • Hugh Clout estimates that wasteland shrunk by one-fifth in thirty départements between 1851 and 1879 (The Land of France 1815-1914 [1983])

  • Second Empire increased cultivated land across France by 1,500,000 ha bringing the total to a level ‘unparalleled in all of French history’ Alain Plessis, The Rise and Fall of the Second Empire (1985)


Environmental modernization 2 reforesting france s mountains

Environmental modernization (2): Reforesting France’s mountains

  • Fear of deforested mountains amongst public and experts

  • Link made between mountain torrents and flooding in the plain

  • Influence of Alexandre Surell, Etude sur les torrents des Hautes-Alpes (1841)

  • Sense of living in an age of catastrophe – serious floods of 1855-56


Environmental modernization and nature protection

The Rhône bursts its banks: Lyon, 1856


Environmental modernization and nature protection

William Bougureau, L'Empereur visitant les inondés de Tarascon

(juin 1856)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Almanach de Napoléon (1857)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

‘By my honour I promise that rivers, like revolution, will return to their beds and remain unable to rise during my reign.’

Napoleon III, quoted in Whited, Forests and Peasant Politics in Modern France (2000), 58


Foresters blame the peasants

Foresters blame the peasants

  • Disorderly peasant felling, pasturing and burning had destroyed the forest that once covered France’s mountains

  • Foresters sense that peasants couldn’t be trusted to safeguard the forest reinforced by the myth of peasant “forest crimes” during the 1789 revolution


Reforestation law of 20 july 1860

Reforestation law of 20 July 1860

  • Encourage voluntary reforestation of mountain areas through state subsidies

  • Allow mandatory reforestation of certain areas if deemed to be in the public interest

  • Abstract ideas of the public good took precedence over local uses of the forest


Environmental modernization and nature protection

‘It is in vain that [the forest administration] seeks to legitimate its vast projects by the considerable surface area of our commune. It will never be able to deny to us that three quarters of our uncultivated lands are bare rock, inaccessible even to animals, and that reforestation cannot take place other than on the limited grassy areas, that is the pastures around our chalets which henceforth will disappear, for we will no longer be able to exercise our industry.’

Villagers of Auzat to Napoleon III (1862), quoted in Whited, Forests and Peasant Politics in Modern France, p. 72


Reforestation under the third republic

Reforestation under the Third Republic

  • Law on the Restoration and Conservation of Alpine Lands (1882)

  • Law allowed foresters to intervene if deforestation posed ‘evident and present dangers’

  • But peasant resistance continued


The tension between foresters and peasants

The tension between foresters and peasants:

‘At its core, the conflict was over the values ascribed to the land of alpine France: abstract, interchangeable space for many professional foresters, specific meaning-led places for rural communities.’

Tamara Whited, Forest and Peasant Politics in Modern France, 6


Attitudes towards nature

Attitudes towards nature

  • Nature as something to be modernized and improved though state-led projects (Napoleon III, engineers, foresters)

  • Nature as home- a place of dwelling and livelihood (peasants)

  • Nature as enemy – fears of flooding


Early nature protection efforts

Early nature protection efforts

  • Philippe VI introduced the Code Forestier Royal (1346) - regulate felling in royal forests

  • 1669 Ordonnance de Colbert- 500 articles of forestry law

  • Not protecting nature for nature’s sake but economic and military needs


Environmental modernization and nature protection

‘France will perish for want of wood’

Colbert to Louis XIV


Changing attitudes towards nature

Changing attitudes towards nature

In the European imagination, the coastline went from being an unhealthy and unattractive place to a healthy, artistic and tourist one (1750-1840)

Alain Corbin, Lure of the Sea (1994)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Gustave Courbet,The Etretat Cliffs after the Storm (1870)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Edouard Jean Marie Hostein, Vue de la plage de Dieppe (3rd half 19C)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Train company poster,

end 19C


The invention of hiking

The “invention” of hiking

Claude François Denecourt maps out a series of walks in Fontainebleau forest in the 1830s


Environmental modernization and nature protection

‘What had once been a terrifying, dark, impenetrable thicket, the hiding-place of bandits and wolves, became an enticing world of dappled green light, of enchantment and peaceful contemplation’

Michael Bess, The Light-Green Society (2003), 58


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Forêt de Fontainebleau (1846)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Théodore Rousseau, The Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau Forest (1854)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Fontainebleau forest in the imagery of the Barbizon school of artists ‘came to stand for everything the countryside was supposed to be about – visual delight, spiritual balm, the plunge into sensual refreshment.’

Nicholas Green, Spectacle of Nature (1990), p. 116


Environmental modernization and nature protection

The forest is ‘the only living souvenir that remains from the heroic times of the Motherland from Charlemagne to Napoleon. For artists who study nature, it offers what others find in models that have been left to us by Michelangelo.’

Théodore Rousseau to Napoleon III


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Corot, Paysanne en forêt de Fontainebleau


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Jules le Coeur in Fontainebleau Forest (1866)


Environmental modernization and nature protection

Augustin Enfantin, An Artist Painting in the Forest of Fontainebleau (1825)


Protecting france s natural sites and natural monuments

Protecting France’s “natural sites” and “natural monuments”

  • Club Alpin Français

  • Touring Club de France

  • Friends of Trees

  • Society for the Protection of the Landscapes of France


Nation and nature

Nation and nature

  • Middle-class groups such as the Touring Club de France saw nature preservation as a way to mobilize France’s national resources

  • ‘France fostered a preservationist movement that drew together concerns for national identity and prestige with more specifically middle-class sensibilities relating to cultural patrimony, value, and possession’ Patrick Young, ‘A Tasteful Patrimony?’ French Historical Studies (2009), 452


Nature protection as a means of

Nature protection as a means of:

  • Individual and national regeneration

  • Countering social ills, such as alcoholism

  • Creating national unity

  • Uniting the bourgeoisie in the role as stewards of the landscape


Sites and monuments campaign

Sites and Monuments Campaign

  • Spearheaded by Touring Club de France

  • Established départemental committees to to draw up inventories of ‘natural beauties of their respective regions, worthy of being protected’ – 53 committees by 1905

  • Resulted in law of 21 April 1906 on protections of ‘sites et monuments naturels’


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