Extinction in Environmental History

Dolly Jørgensen and Miles Powell. “Extinction in Environmental History: Historicising problems of classification and intentionality.” In The Routledge Handbook of Environmental History, ed. E. O’Gorman, W. San Martín, M. Carey, and S. Swart, 204-216. Routledge.

Every extinction has a history—a cultural, economic, and political context that leads to the ultimate end of a type of living animal or plant. In this chapter, we argue that engagement by environmental historians with the issue of extinction is essential to unpacking how and why extinction happens. We take up two research directions within historically-oriented extinction studies: the problem of classifying an organism as extinct and the difficulties of intentional extinction. Using the case of a turtle who lived in a lake in Vietnam, the first section discusses the problem with defining extinction as only a species-level global event. The second section grapples with histories of intentional extinction, such as wolves and sharks. Both of these sections demonstrate the value of a historical approach to extinction that should be incorporated into extinction studies.

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