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For very good reasons, obvious every time we hear the news, it is difficult to separate the future of environmental history from the future of the environment. The long record of our species’ engagement with the global environment offers strong suggestions about the likely consequences of present actions and inactions. We are eager to share our insights with politicians and with the general public. Historians are naturally aware—probably more aware than anyone else—of the force of George Santayana’s well-known comment that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But we may be less aware of the frequent force of an alternative comment: that those who can remember the past are nevertheless condemned to repeat it, for one reason or another. Some of the attributes of good historical scholarship may actually undermine its potential as grist for the political mill. These are the same attributes that often produce problems when we try to distill complicated arguments or interpretations into an interview sound bite. (Of course, this predicament is not the exclusive preserve of environmental historians; we share it with academics in many other fields.)
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Humanities. History Section
Rachel Carson Center Perspectives
Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society
Ritvo, Harriet. "Broader Horizons?" Chapter in The Future of Environmental History: Needs and Opportunities, Edited by Kimberly Coulter and Christof Mauch. RCC Perspectives, issue 3 (2011): 22-23.
Author's final manuscript