Richard Hugh Grove a distinguished British historian was born in Cambridge in 1955. After schooling in Ghana and England he graduated in Geography from Hertford College Oxford in 1979. Following a graduate schooling in Conservation at University College London he took a PhD at Cambridge University in History and was subsequently a British Academy Research Fellow and a Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC.
Grove was one of the contemporary founders of environmental history as an academic field. The pioneering historian died recently on 25th of June 2020. Some of his famous books include, The Cambridgeshire Coprolite Mining Rush , The Future for Forestry, The SSSI Handbook, Conservation in Africa: People, Policies and Practice, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism 1600-1800 and Nature and the Orient: the Environmental History of South and Southeast Asia.
Richard H Grove 1955-25th June 2020
A theme within the area of global environmental history is the study of the environmental impacts of imperialism. Grove’s Green Imperialism is a landmark book in this sphere, which traces the origin of modern ecological thought, conservationism, and environmental history to a group of professionals, especially medical scientists and biologists, who were civil servants in the French, British, and Dutch maritime empires in the early modern period.
Grove points out the importance of islands in the development of environmental thinking, since their small size meant that the impacts of human actions on the landscape became evident relatively rapidly.
Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism 1600–1860 published in 1995, a prizewinning book, and was widely praised for its exhaustive account of colonial environmental impacts and environmental thinking back to the 17th century.
The work is based on Grove’s doctoral thesis and is a citation classic. In Green Imperialism, Grove shows that scientists, including physicians, sent out by colonial powers as early as the seventeenth century, noticed environmental changes on oceanic islands and in India and South Africa, changes so rapid that they could be chronicled within the span of human life. They recorded evidence of human-induced deforestation and climate change.
Grove argued in this book that, “the states will act to prevent environmental degradation only when their economic interests are shown to be directly threatened”. Grove further wrote that, “Philosophical ideas, science, indigenous knowledge and threats to people and species are, unfortunately, not enough to precipitate such decisions.
Grove did not did what the apologists for imperialism did, rather he discovered individuals who were keen observers, creative thinkers, and critical analysts of destructive methods and their application among the peoples and ecosystems Europe dominated.
Ecology, Climate and Empire: colonialism and global environmental history (1400-1940) is one of the pivotal books of Grove. The book aims to serve as an introduction to a relatively new area of research on the environmental history of the European colonial empires.
Grove’s one more work with John Chappel, El Nino: History and Crisis, investigates the world wide effects of human history of oscillating oceanic currents and heightened temperatures usually called El Nino (and its cooler counterpart La Nina).
While El Nino proper is a phenomenon of the Pacific Ocean, these authors indicate its connections with the world system, including a similar oscillation in the North Atlantic and the South Asian monsoon. These are examined as contributing causes of historical events such as economic crises brought about by food shortages and the consequent fall of government.
With the growing importance of wildlife preservation and the creation of parks from the colonial period onward, the historians in Africa have given attention to questions concerning conservation. An important collection in this connection is Conservation in Africa, edited by David Anderson and Richard Grove.
Grove was founder-editor of the international journal “Environment and History” which began publication in 1995 in United Kingdom. Although a European Journal, it was by no means limited to research on European subjects; indeed the first issue included articles on China, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Grove criticised American Environmental Historians for their narrow outlook. He acknowledged the fact that US environmental historians played a prominent role in the emergence of environmental history as a historical subdiscipline in the last quarter of the twentieth century, but it has perhaps been overemphasized by some of its practitioners.
Richard Grove, a British Scholar of European imperialism in South Asia and Africa, is adeptly critical of a tendency of American environmental historians to be narrow, basing their analyses on American sources and rarely looking beyond the Atlantic, the Rio Grande, or even the Canadian border.
Grove rightly points out that many of the questions that occupy environmental historians had already been raised by European historical geographers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and that American developments had parallels elsewhere.
He does not dismiss American environmental scholars, but points out that many of the most significant of them were geographers such as Ellsworth Huntington, Ellen Churchill Semple, Carl Ortwin Sauer, and Clarence Glacken, the last an intellectual historian who wrote well before the 1960s in the years before the term “environmental history” had been used in its present meaning.
Grove also edited a book with Vanita Damodaran and Satpal Sangwan entitled “Nature and Orient”. The book discusses the diverse aspects of the environmental history of South and Southeast Asia. The book brings together reading experts from the fields of archeology, history of science, geography and environmental studies, and covers a time span from 50,000 BC to the present. The text is of great help to the environmental historians, foresters, conservationists, policy Makers and geographers.
Grove has authored another work “Australian Vegetation”, which describes all the major types of Australian vegetation, and discusses the vegetation history, phytogeography, and conservation of the flora in this unique region of the world.
Richard Grove is known for raising questions about empire and ecology that are even relevant today. Grove blazed the trail for a new kind of history of ideas that spanned continents. Most crucially, he placed India, Africa and the Caribbean at the centre of global environmental change, wrote Mahesh Rangarajan in a recent article published in Indian Express.
Grove’s death is a huge set back to the field of environmental history. Grove was a pioneering figure of global environmental history and his contributions are major in studying the roots of modern environmental concern and linking them to the colonial era and to early scientific debates.
Grove raised a larger question about empire and ecology that has much relevance to our troubled times. He saw the emergence of early scientists in the Company as harbingers of a new autonomous actor who could try and check the use and abuse of nature.
Grove was a historian of high intellect and a person of generosity. He was not obsessed with any bias like a trait rather was critical of even powerful lobbies and systems. He was plainspeak but courageous. Grove’s contribution will be remembered for long, his works will act as torchbearers, and his scholarship will be emulated by coming and budding generations of researchers in the field of Environmental History.
Author is a PhD Research Scholar, History, University of Kashmir, Srinagar