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Trends and futures of environmental history and humanities: Southern African perspectives

Although often neglected by the global academic discourse, (Southern) African scholarly engagement with past and recent human-nature relations is highly innovative and it frequently challenges Western paradigms. It examined relations between nature and culture in settler societies, researched conservation, agriculture, and water politics, and, as an integral part of colonialism, empire and racism; it pointed out the nexus of conservation and neo-liberalism, capitalism and globalisation and investigated increased violence in protecting certain wildlife species as well as the historical background of such conflicts.

The questions asked and the results obtained are crucial beyond the context of studying environmental questions in the African continent under colonialism and after independence. They are raising conceptual issues that are essential for bringing environmental history into a wider field of global questions, helping to reframe trends. The leading participation in that debate by colleagues from universities in Southern Africa allows challenging a Eurocentric or West-centric debate «on nature» as it often still characterises historical perspectives.

This panel, using a round-table format, will concentrate on Southern African experts’ approaches, topics and theories in a global – and Swiss – history debate. Its goal is to recentre the debate by offering a view from Southern Africa on ongoing and future trends in environmental history and humanities. It will build on the participation of Botswanan historian Maitseo Bolaane, with strong expertise on questions of ecosystems and political ecology, and of her South African colleague, Zayaan Khan, who is specialised in human-seed relations and is exploring new forms of writing multispecies plant stories. At the heart of the discussion will be conceptual questions on how the field is redefined by contributions from Southern Africa. Potential further participants are expected to provide to this conceptual take on the evolving field.

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