Edmund RussellMar 11, 2015
Uniting History and Biology to Understand Life on Earth
Cambridge University Press 2011
Evolution is among the most powerful ideas in the natural sciences. Indeed, the evolutionary theorist Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Yet despite its central place in the life sciences, relatively few geographers employ evolutionary theory in their work. In his new book Evolutionary History:Uniting History and Biology to Understand Life on Earth (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Edmund Russell makes a compelling case for why evolution matters for human history. Russell argues that evolution is both important and common. Through a number of case studies, he shows how poaching in Africa led to the evolution of tuskless elephants and intensive fishing fostered the development of smaller salmon and cod. But perhaps more importantly, he shows how anthropogenic, or human shaped, evolution played a pivotal role in two of the fundamental developments of human history: the agricultural and industrial revolutions. His book is a challenge to historians, geographers, and other scholars and the social sciences to recognize the pivotal role evolution has played in human history and to see cultural, political, and economic factors as forces in evolution.
Professor Russell is Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Distinguished Professor of U.S. History at the University of Kansas, and is a leading scholar in the fields of environmental history and the history of technology. His previous book, War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring, examined the complicated and fraught relationship between chemical weapons production and insecticide development and the consequences of their use for both humans and nature as a whole.