Workshop: The Global Environmental History of World War I in Perspective

RHN 73/2014 | Event

Conveners: John McNeill, Martin Schmid, and Richard Tucker

4–5 August 2014, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA

The Global Environmental History of World War I in Perspective

This workshop will mark the centennial of the outbreak of the 1914–1918 cataclysm that extended industrial warfare to a global scale; it will examine the complex environmental dimensions of the war. World War I is often called the first “total war,” engulfing entire populations. Although warfare frequently battered civilians as well as warriors throughout history, industrialization escalated the scale and intensity of warfare to unprecedented levels. In the mid-nineteenth century industrial warfare emerged in both Europe and the United States, as precursors of the “Great War” of 1914–1918.

But the underlying environmental dimensions of industrialized warfare have not yet been systematically studied. Environmental historians have lately studied the American Civil War, but with few exceptions the European wars of the mid-nineteenth century have not been studied in terms of their environmental dynamics and impacts. Similarly, the environmental dimensions of World War I have been considered only in fragments.

This workshop can make a major contribution to our understanding of warfare, including the natural world as well as human societies. It will discuss the environmental dynamics of the war across not only the regions of intensive conflict in Europe, Mesopotamia, Africa, and the Pacific, but also the wide regions that provided critical resources for combatant militaries. Though it will focus on World War I, it will also consider the broader context of its precursors and legacies. It will bring together researchers from many disciplines and diverse subject matters, with the goal of generating an integrated understanding of the war’s impact on environments and natural resources around the world.