A Basic Guide to Resources on Environment History

By Aaron Skabelund
January 2001


I. Introduction
II. English Language Bibliographies and Materials
III. Japanese Bibliographic Materials and Scholarship

I. Introduction

Environmental history is still a relatively young sub-discipline of history.  Its roots are in the protest movements and political activism of the late 1960s and early 1970s that responded to that era’s environmental and social problems.  In the 1960s, writings such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968) and Garrett Hardin’s essay “Tragedy of the Commons” (1968) raised society’s consciousness about the severe strains that humankind was putting on the natural environment.  Governments began to pass environmental legislation, and environment organizations sprang up around the nation and the world.  During the 1970s, out of this widespread concern for the fate of the earth, environmental history emerged as a new field in the United States.  Courses began to be offered at colleges and universities, and historians began to probe human’s relationship with nature, the evolution of conservation policies, and other environmental topics.  In 1976, U.S. historians founded the American Society for Environmental History and the journal Environmental Review (now Environmental History Review).

Japanese environmental history is even a younger sub-discipline than its American counterpart.  The environmental element of the social movements and political activism of the 1960s and early 1970s were manifest most strongly in Japan by local citizen groups that pressured the government to pass some of the world’s most stringent pollution laws. That history has been told by political scientist Margaret McKean in Environmental Protest and Citizen Politics in Japan.  Japanese environmentalism differed from the Western movement in that it sought to safeguard the environment in order protect man rather than save the environment for its own intrinsic value.  In other words, “historically, environmental problems have been defined as conditions that rend the fabric of society, not the web of nature.”  Perhaps partially because of this difference in outlook, the environmental movement did not seem to have as big an impact on Japanese history.  Still, environmental history in Japan, or kankyôshi, has carved out a solid niche, and it producing some studies, such as Tsukamoto Manabu’s writings on human-animal relations during the Tokugawa period that equal if not surpass any American and European environmental history in their originality.  In English, Conrad Totman has been a pioneer in applying an explicit environmental perspective to Japanese history, but he has largely been a one-man show.  However, several younger scholars, including Brett Walker, are following Totman’s lead, and other scholars increasingly given the natural world a greater role in their historical research.

Environmental history offers an earth’s-eye view of the past. It deals with the innumerable ways in which humans have interacted with the natural environment over time.  As one of the youngest sub-fields of the discipline of history, it is still in the process of self-definition.  Environmental history draws heavily on the accumulated work of geographers, natural scientists, anthropologists, and other specialists. Environmental history, whether or specialists in other disciplines, written by historians is scattered throughout libraries and databases, and is often not in the history section of the library but in the social science and science stacks.  This is true for Conrad Totman’s books on Edo forestry (in the SD’s), Ann Bowman Jannetta’s Epidemics and Mortality in Early Modern Japan (RA650.7 .J3 J36 1987), and William Wayne Farris’ Population, Disease, and Land in Early Japan, 645-900 (HB3651 .F37 1985).  Thus, environmental history presents a formidable bibliographic challenge.

There are no bibliographies, hardcopy or electronic, for Japanese environmental history in Western or Japanese language scholarship.  The field is too small and too scattered, and is also highly specialized and localized.  However, some of the general bibliographies, such as John Dower’s Japanese History and Culture from Ancient to Modern Times: Seven Basic Bibliographies, Ria Koopmans-de Bruijn’s Area Bibliography of Japan, and the Japan Foundation’s Catalogue of books in English on Japan, 1945-1981, have sections or sub-sections that have an environmental focus.  The best hardcopy bibliography for Western language bibliography is not found in any of the above bibliographies, but in the supplemental readings appendix of Conrad Totman’s recently published A History of Japan.  Totman, has also  produced several other books and articles as well whose footnotes can be mined for bibliographic references.  Perhaps an even better approach is to use CLIO (for both Western and Japanese language books) and the Bibliographic of Asian Studies (for Western language books and articles).  The key for both of these is to be creative and resourceful in your searches.  General searches using keywords like “environment” and “history” will not yield much, but with a more specific topic the process should be much easier.

For Japanese language environmental history, the task is as equally as complicated as in English.  Obviously there is a lot more material in Japanese on this topic, but it is no more accessible.  The annual May issue of Shigaku zasshi can serve as a bibliography as well as way to follow recent academic trends.  If you can keep your focused on one particular historical period (kôdai, chûsei, kinsei, kingendai), then it is likely that you will find something related to environmental history published that year, but this is a fairly labor intensive method because you have to check year by year from 1986.  Unfortunately, because there are no hardcopy bibliographic works that cover environmental history in Japanese either, detailed Internet searches of Webcat and Nichigai are probably the best way to go.  A general search of Nichigai using “kankyôshi” as a keyword produced 33 hits, including several promising general and many more tightly focused articles related to Japanese environmental history.  Another search using “kankyô” and “rekishi” found a recent issue of Chihoshi kenkyû dedicated to environmental history that was not found in the above kankyôshi search.  A search using “kankyôshi” in Webcat produced nine hits.  Narrower searches in both databases would likely provide material for a more specialized topic.  From a more general standpoint, and reflective of environmental history’s cross-disciplinary nature, two multi-volume series on the environment contain many articles that take a historical approach to environmental history.  Both bring contain the views of the soft and hard scientists as well as the humanities. The first, Bunmei to kankyô, takes a more comparative stance, while the second, Ningen to kankyô, is more Japan-centric.  Also in Columbia’s Starr library, I found several books that could be useful resources for environmental related topics.  Two of the most interesting books could be called dictionaries of Japanese natural disasters.  Considering the content of these works could help you avoid Totman-like criticism that you did not consider the role of the natural environment’s role in shaping political and social events.  Finally, I also found a couple of books that contained primary materials that could be used for a history of forestry in Imperial Japan, just what Totman is reportedly working on now.

II. English Language Bibliographies and Scholarship

Dower, John. Japanese History and Culture from Ancient to Modern Times: Seven Basic Bibliographies. New York: M. Wiener 1986.
REF Z3306.D69 1995

Not surprisingly, there is no separate section for environmental history or studies. Look under related sub-fields, such as in Land, Labor, and Commerce before 1600 and Landlord and the Rural Sector (for Edo), and Economic history for the modern era. These are where Totman’s studies can be found, and other scholarship that is not explicitly environmental history but could be considered that, such as studies on population and peasants.

Koopsmans-De Bruijin, Ria. Area Bibliography of Japan. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998.
REF Z3306 .K86 1998

Includes a nearly page-long Environment section.

Catalogue of Books in English on Japan, 1945-1981. Tokyo: Japan Foundation, 1986.
Z3306 .C34 1986

See Population—Land—Resources, Pollution—Environmental Engineering, Industry and Commerce, Agriculture, Horticulture, Forestry, and Fishing, or others depending on your topic.

Totman, Conrad D., A History of Japan. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.
DS835 .T575 2000

This is a general history of Japan that explicitly seeks to situate the Japanese experience in the broader ecological context.  In that respect alone, it is pathbreaking and useful.  It also has an excellent list of annotated supplemental (English-language) readings. Within this appendix (D), there are several categories whose lists reflect the ecological theme of the text.  See the entries for Geography, an understanding of which is essential for environmental history, but a discipline that has recently been neglected and scattered among such related disciplines as geology, anthropology, economics and  history. (One applicable geography book that Totman overlooks is Kornhauser, David. Urban Japan: Its Foundations and Growth. New York: Longman, 1976.) See the second paragraph of the Ritsuryo period for several entries focusing on the foundational history of agriculture and the broader history of demographics and social process.  Paragraphs within the Early Modern period on the village, trade and regional interaction, and demographic scholarship describe several studies that incorporate a broader ecological perspective.  One small paragraph within Imperial Japan, introduces a couple of works that focus on the notorious Ashio pollution affair, the only environmental incident that has gotten the attention of English language scholars during this period.  There is more on environmental issues during the period Totman calls Entrepreneurial Japan (1945-1990), but still the amount of scholarship is very modest.

________. The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Preindustrial Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

________. The Origins of Japan’s Modern Forests: The Case of Akita. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985.

________. “Forestry in Early Modern Japan, 1650-1850: A Preliminary Survey” In Agricultural History (Berkeley, CA) 56, no.2 1982,415-425.

________. “Japan and Her Forests: The Catastrophe that was Avoided” In Asiatic Society of Japan Bulletin (Tokyo) no.3 (Mar) 1982 2-5.

________. “Tokugawa Peasants: Win, Lose, or Draw? In Monumenta Nipponica (Tokyo) 41, no.4 (Win) 1986 457-476.

A review article of several books that appeared on Edo peasant uprisings in the mid-1980s that suggests scholars should more closely consider the role of the natural environment as a cause of peasant unrest.  Its footnotes and extensive bibliography are a good resource for additional reading on peasants and environmental issues in Tokugawa.

________. “Land-use Patterns and Afforestation in the Edo Period’ In Monumenta Nipponica (Tokyo) 39, no.1 (Spr) 1984 1-10.

________. “Preindustrial River Conservancy: Causes and Consequences” In Monumenta Nipponica (Tokyo) 47, no.1 (Spr) 1992 59-76.

Also see William Kelly’s studies of water management during the Tokugawa era, including Water Control in Tokugawa Japan: Irrigation Organization in a Japanese River Basin, 1600-1870. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University China-Japan Program, 1982.

McKean, Margaret A. Environmental Protest and Citizen Politics in Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.
HC465.E5 M3

III. Japanese Bibliographic Materials and Scholarship

Shigaku zasshi. Tokyo: Shigakkai, 1949-
DS1 .S54

This is the way to keep up with the field of history in Japan.  Since 1949, the May issue has discussed the historical research appearing in Japanese during the previous calendar year, under the title, "Nihon rekishi gakkai no kaiko to tenbô."  Japanese history is organized by period. Within each period, untitled, signed articles outline recent approaches and advances in a changing variety of fields or subjects.  See Nihon rekishi gakkai no kaiko to tenbô for a cumulative volume of all May issues from 1949 to 1985.  After that date, you must search out the separate volumes for each year.  There is no science to quickly find information on environmental history research published in Shigaku zasshi but sections on social history, lifestyle history (seikatsushi), land governance, and social-economic history seem to contain the most applicable entries.

Tsukamoto, Manabu. Edo jidai hito to dôbutsu. Tokyo : Nihon Edita Sukuru Shuppanbu, 1995.
QL325 .T77 1995

_______. Shôrui o meguru seiji : Genroku no fokuroa. Tokyo : Heibonsha, 1993.
DS871 .T764 1993

Chihôshi kenkyû. Tokyo: Chihoshi Kenkyû Kyôgikai.
DS801 .C3

For recent Japanese scholarship, see this special issue of this regional history journal that includes nearly a dozen articles on human’s historical relationship with the environment.

Kôza bunmei to kankyô. Tokyo: Asakura Shoten, 1995-1997.
CB151 .K69 1995

Volumes with chapters containing some historical content on Japan include 5 on crisis, 6 on climate, 7 on disease, and 11 on pollution. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.

Ningen to kankyô. Kyoto: Shôwadô, 1999.
GF51 .K692 1999

Probably a project connected to the 1997 Kyoto Climate Summit, these volumes contain some historical perspectives on environmental issues. Those volumes with applicable articles with a historical perspective included volume 1 on nature, 3 on agriculture, 4 on landscapes, 5 on childbirth, and 6 on food.

Kikuchi, Kazuo. Nihon no rekishi saigai. Meiji hen. Tokyo: Kokon Shoin, 1986
GB5011.77 .K55 1986

Descriptions, documents, a bibliography of first-hand accounts, and bibliography of secondary materials on four major disasters during Meiji—the eruption of Bandai-san, a flood in Wakayama, the Shônai earthquake, and the Sanriku earthquake/tsunami—and other major disasters during Meiji, including cholera outbreaks.

Nihon no shizen saigai. Tokyo : Kokkai Shiryô Hensankai, 1998.
GB5011.77 .N45 1998

A government publication, this is sort of a dictionary of natural disasters from ancient Japan to the 1995 Kansai earthquake. It includes many images and figures.

Shinrin kumiai seidô shi. Tokyo: Zenkoku Shinrin Kumiai Rengôkai, 1973.
SD225 .S52 1973

A study of forestry cooperatives during Meiji.

Matsunami, Hidezane. Meiji ringyô shiyo. Tokyo: Hara Shobo, 1990.
SD225 .M38 1990

Reprint of a study of Meiji forestry published in 1919.