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Science Geography

Canadians and Their Natural Environment

A History

by (author) James Murton

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2021
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2021
    List Price

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The book is a history of how people in the territory that is now Canada have interacted with all that is non-human since the last ice age. It takes as its jumping off point the idea that the primary human interest in nature is getting the resources needed to survive: in other words, food and shelter. So concentrating on the ways in which societies in what we now call Canada have shaped access to nature in order to achieve subsistence (or survival), and the things that flow from that allows us to understand much of the human-nature relationship in this place over time. The book starts with the retreat of the glaciers and the assembling of the natural environment of Canada. It then looks at the means of survival and the different impacts on the land of Indigenous People and of pre-industrial European colonizing societies. Industrial capitalism in the later nineteenth century encouraged a new ordering and control of nature, while science both facilitated and challenged this and its effects. The latter half of the book examines the results: a massive re-engineering of nature, the development of new chemicals and materials and their presence in the environment as waste and pollution, the conservation, preservation and environmental movements, and the attempts, up to our present-day and including the crisis of climate change, to reconcile economic development with environmental protection.

The book is written in a lively style that will be accessible to undergraduate students. It features a further reading section that both students and scholars new to the field will find useful and over 65 maps and illustrations. It is the first such book to propose an overall framework for understanding Canadian environmental history.

About the author

James Murton is chair and associate professor of history at Nipissing University.

James Murton's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Murton's book challenges how we understand Canadian history by looking at the past in new ways and asking fundamental questions about how people sustained lives, livelihoods, and families under changing environmental conditions. Like the best work in environmental history, this book shifts our perspective on the past by showing how people have shaped and been shaped by the more-than-human world." --Sean Kheraj, York University

"I enjoyed reading Canadians and Their Natural Environment. Murton skillfully weaves Indigenous content throughout the text rather than separating it from the rest of the book." --Daniel Sims, University of Northern British Columbia

"We mostly use 'radical' nowadays to mean 'extreme,' but it also means 'fundamental.' Murton's book is radical in both senses: a reimagining of Canadian history told by exploring how people have obtained food and shelter, the basic necessities of life. This is also an impressive distillation of research in this century's most dynamic historical subfield, environmental history." --Alan MacEachern, Western University

"Focusing on the ways that the peoples of Canada have relied on their environments to support their lives and their livelihoods from prehistoric times to the present, Murton succeeds in showing how the relationship between people and their environment has been profoundly intertwined with class and ethnic conflict, and with political and economic transformations over time. Canadians and Their Natural Environment provides a fresh look at the ways in which different Canadians understood and made sense of their varied and changing relationship with the environment." --R.W. Sandwell, University of Toronto

Other titles by James Murton