The Importance of Other Fields of History

“Across the Continent, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” art by F. F. Palmer, published by Currier and Ives, New York, NY, 1868. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Over the past fifty-year historians have become more specialized, focusing on the stories of minorities and their place in our history. By telling these stories historians are able to add more dimension to the study of history. Some of the fields that add more to the analysis include the history of culture, religion, race, ethnicity, and gender. A developing field of history that draws “our attention to obscured or buried” perspective is environmental history. 

Today people have the “flush-it-and-and-forget-it mentality” which results in them not having a clear understanding of our past and the effects they have on the future. By historians telling environmental histories, it forces people to look at events through a different lens. In academic history today we are constantly seeing historians engaging older fields of history with newer fields of history. An example is looking at how environmental history plays into the history of colonialism. By looking at these fields of history it allows people to understand the impact of “the encounter” which leads to the Columbian Exchange. Ultimately leading to the introduction of new plants, animals, and diseases and the deaths of thousands of natives. Another example is looking at how westward expansion affected the environment. Especially looking at how when people expanded west they pushed Native Americans off of their land forcing them into reservations. This lead to changes in hunting patterns and the decrease of animals that Native Americans depended on.

The strengths of specialized fields of history, such as environmental, include attracting people who would not have been interested in the topic prior to. By having a range of topics, it gives people a larger chance of developing a personal attachment or connection to an event in history. An example would be a scientist who does not like history reading about the environmental effects of industrialization. The limits to these specialized fields are the amount of information available on the topic or the accuracy of the information collected. Also if you do not have the data backup a claim then that is a limitation on discussing a specialized field of history. An example could include not being able to talk about the effects of the Atomic Bomb if there was no statistical data.

By not discussing recent fields of history such as environmental, race, religion, culture, ethnicity, and gender we “risk letting people off the hook” for their actions and possibly their mistakes. So be sure to not shy away from the history that is meant to draw your attention to bad and ugly events that occur.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *