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Utopia!

Since the mid-2019, one of the topics that has been at the top of the global agenda is: the destruction of Nature by the human beings. All forms of media have covered the issue in different manners.

Now, why is it important to save the Nature? There are mainly two reasons… Firstly, people have started facing the existential crises… The Human Civilisation has realised at length that the Nature would take revenge for not paying attention to it for so long. So far, people have not become active in protecting the Mother Nature, rather in primarily trying to add on to their comfort levels. Secondly, people consider the Nature as more of an Abstract Thought! That idea is somewhat Utopian, as everything is good, beautiful, and peaceful, there. This idea attempts to take a tangible shape in the human brain in the forms of images of the like of a calm riverbank, a green field grass or a tree waving its head in the wind. When the reality gets to replace this image, people tend to face an Existential Crisis! It is then, people are prompted to launch movements to save that image. In fact, they want to save themselves!

Richard Hugh Grove – a British Historian, Environmental Activist and one of the contemporary founders of Environmental History as an academic field who narrated the relationship between Utopian Character of Nature and Human Beings – passed away on June 25, 2020 at the age of 64. Grove has left behind his famous thesis, ‘Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism 1600-1860’, and many more write-ups for the Human Society. He taught the Global Community how to understand the Mother Nature… His lessons help one realise the contradiction between the spread of Colonial Power and Indigenous Knowledge. According to Grove, although this tension is centuries old, it needs to be looked at and analysed again and again. His Green Imperialism was published by Cambridge University Press in 1995. The publication opened up a new aspect of the Study of Environmental History

Richard Hugh Grove

The History of Nature is not at all a new subject. This particular branch of the History of Science, perhaps, started its journey with American Polymath, Scholar and Diplomat George Perkins Marsh’s book, ‘Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action’, which was first published in 1864… Since then, the Historians have dealt with various aspects of this branch of Science. Among them, the Annales School of France was significant in the 20th Century. French Historian Fernand Braudel wrote about the history of the Mediterranean Region. In his publication ‘Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate Since the Year 1000‘, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie attempted to explain the relationship between Climate Change and the Food Crisis. Rachel Carson‘s book, ‘Silent Spring‘, triggered a debate on the Destruction of Nature with the help of Science in the early 1960’s…

However, Grove is somewhat unique among all these famous works! His subject was Environmentalism, and not Environmental History. He concentrated mainly on the History of Human Ideas and Thoughts about Nature. In every nook and corner of History, Grove tried to explore the Utopian Concept of Nature! He depended not only on archival information, but also on the Indigenous Knowledge and Culture to understand the human thoughts, ideas, perceptions and evolution of Nature over the centuries. In the preface of his book, Grove wrote: “This book does not fall into the category of Historiography or any systematic study of History. This book is unique.” Of course, this is not entirely true. In his publication ‘Man and the Natural World. Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800‘ (1983), Keith Thomas portrayed what the British Society was thinking about Nature and its Evolution. Grove reportedly took the baton from Thomas, and marched ahead…

In Green Imperialism, Grove analysed what the European countries used to think about Nature after becoming Colonial Powers. Apart from the expansion of Trade, the search for the Utopia, called ‘Edens’, was the main aim of multiple voyages. The Colonial Powers, actually, wanted to explore new lands. A series of natural disasters, famines, plagues, and Industrial Revolution in Britain and other parts of Europe created an Existential Crisis. The scenario prompted the Europeans to explore Edens Islands and to save the continent. Grove focused mainly on Colonial India, Africa and the Caribbean Islands. The Historians are very much interested in finding the economic reasons behind the preservation of the environment of their colonies by the Colonial Powers.

Grove was an exception… he did not follow the path of other Historians. In his writings, the islands are like a laboratory, where normal natural changes occur because of deforestation, and the idea of Conservation of Nature go hand in hand. Grove did not project the Development of Botanical Gardens and Changes in Farming Methods on these islands as a part Colonial Aggression. Instead, he described these changes as an outcome of contradiction between Indigenous Knowledge of the islanders and European Institutional Knowledge… Grove also discussed the influence of the Scientific Expeditions and Studies on Nature on the Contemporary Literature. He referred to several European pieces of literature from the 16th to the 19th Centuries in order to describe how the Expeditions led by a group of Scientists, ideas about the Nature, and knowledge influenced the Society through literature! This method is still relevant to keep the Utopian Thought of Nature alive!

In today’s world, the gap between Formal Urban Education and Rural Indigenous Knowledge is widening. Grove advised the Global Community to bridge the gap between these two in order to understand the Nature and to save it from destruction. At the same time, he made it clear that the concept of conservation was closely related to the idea of Nature held by the people, who are at the centre of civilisation, and the people outside the realm… The Global Community should follow Grove’s advice, if they really want to save the Mother Nature

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