I am a non-western historian with interests in the role of disasters in human societies, resources and risk management, the environmental consequences of modern conflict, human-animal relations, and the development of colonial science. Though my particular geographical focus is on Southeast Asia and on the maritime nature of Spain’s empire in the Pacific, I have increasingly become more of a global historian in recent years.
Thinking like an environmental historian means considering not simply what happened between peoples in the past but also about how different peoples related to the inanimate and animate world around them: the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, floods and droughts that regularly affected communities; the buildings, forts, ships, roads, fields and forests, what they were made of and how they were used; and the livestock, game and pets that men and women worked alongside, hunted and shared their homes with. In my work, I always try to adopt an inter-disciplinary approach that combines the social with the natural sciences, theoretical insights with historical perspectives. I find that it is working at the intersections of these enquiries that produce the most exciting research.
In particular, disasters are set to become a major new field of historical studies, receiving increasing popular and governmental attention that corresponds to their escalating magnitude and frequency. One only has to think of the impact and concern that events like the recent Indian Ocean Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina engendered to appreciate this point fully. Yet little work of an historical nature has so far been done in this area both in assessing the true extent of past events and their consequences but equally, and perhaps more importantly, in determining what role they have played in the development of human societies over time.