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Contribution to Book
Women and Gender: Useful Categories of Analysis in Environmental History
  • Nancy Unger, Santa Clara University
Document Type
Book Chapter
Publication Date
Oxford University Press

In 1990, Carolyn Merchant proposed, in a roundtable discussion published in The Journal of American History, that gender perspective be added to the conceptual frameworks in environmental history. 1 Her proposal was expanded by Melissa Leach and Cathy Green in the British journal Environment and History in 1997. 2 The ongoing need for broader and more thoughtful and analytic investigations into the powerful relationship between gender and the environment throughout history was confirmed in 2001 by Richard White and Vera Norwood in "Environmental History, Retrospect and Prospect," a forum in the Pacific Historical Review. Both Norwood, in her provocative contribution on environmental history for the twenty-first century, and White, in "Environmental History: Watching a Historical Field Mature," addressed the need for further work on gender. "Environmental history," Norwood noted, "is just beginning to integrate gender analyses into mainstream work."3 That assessment was particularly striking coming, as it did, after Norwood described the kind of ongoing and damaging misperceptions concerning the role of diversity, including gender, within environmental history. White concurred with Norwood, observing that environmental history in the previous fifteen years had been "far more explicitly linked to larger trends in the writing of history," but he also issued a clear warning about the current trends in including the role of gender: "The danger ... is not that gendering will be ignored in environmental history but that it will become predictable-an endless rediscovery that humans have often made nature female. Gender has more work to do than that."4 Indeed it does.

In 1992, the index to Carolyn Merchant's The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History included three subheadings under women. "Women and the egalitarian ideal" and "women and the environment" each had only a few entries. Most entries were listed under the third subheading, "activists and theorists," comprising seventeen names. 5 Nine years later Elizabeth Blum compiled "Linking American Women's History and Environmental History," an online preliminary historiography revealing gaps as well as strengths in the field emerging "at the intersection of these two relatively new fields of study." At that time Blum noted that, with the exception of some scholarly interest being diverted to environmental justice movements and ecofeminism, "most environmental history has centered on elite male concerns; generally, women's involvement tends to be ignored or marginalized."6

Chapter of
Oxford Handbook of Environmental History
Andrew C. Isenberg

This material was originally published in Oxford Handbook of Environmental History edited by Andrew Isenberg, and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit

Citation Information
Unger, N. (2014). Women and Gender: Useful Categories of Analysis in Environmental History. In A. Isenberg (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Environmental History. Oxford University Press, pp. 600-643.