Business and Environment in History: Dealing in Nature and Ecology, Pasts and Futures

Type: Call for Papers
Date: April 28, 2016
Location: Oregon, United States
Subject Fields: African History / Studies, Asian History / Studies, Russian or Soviet History / Studies

CALL FOR PAPERS (proposal submission deadline extended)

Business and Environment in History: Dealing in Nature and Ecology, Pasts and Futures
2nd Biennial Richard Robinson Workshop on Business History
Portland State University
April 28-April 30, 2016, Portland OR
Even as the ecological crises of the present have forced scholars to ponder the future of our current economic growth models, so too have these crises highlighted the deep connections between our environment and our ways of doing business throughout history. Indeed, the contemporary emphasis on “sustainable development” as key to our planet’s survival indicates a highly problematic relationship between understandings of our economic pasts and the shifting ecologies of places inhabited by humans over time. This problematic relationship resulted in part from a tendency to preclude historical considerations that point to twisted trajectories of changing circumstances, changing cultural and scientific orientations, changing forms of agency, and changing conceptions of commerce and wealth. This conference aims to bring into focus the ways, varying according to time and place, our conceptions of nature and environmental resources intersected with our practices in commerce and business, especially in connection to our everyday experiences. These intersections include how a diverse array of natural resources have been both privatized and commodified for mass consumption; how the environment or nature became an economic object in relation to processes as diverse as food production, tourism, and carbon trading; and how naming as “externalities” some aspects of business growth—such as pollution and overharvesting—have affected our understandings of wealth creation. This conference thus seeks to rethink current notions of “sustainability” not in terms of the often artificial stasis implied by the term, but as historically specific processes of adaptation, resistance, and/or fostering resilience that involve the dynamic interaction between changing ecologies and changing forms of human industry and exchange. To this end, we solicit paper proposals from scholars whose research investigates the interstices of business and environmental history, research that considers the interrelationships of nature, economics, and business, as well as the interpretations (and reinterpretations) of the futures of these imagined entities.
Possible themes include, but are not limited to:
  • the “invention of nature” and landscaping, such as in tourism and the creation of “scenic spots”
•     energy and resource management, exploitation and policy 
•     the business of sustainability
  • nature as spaces of labor and production versus nature as spaces of leisure and consumption
  • the commodification of land and agricultural resources
  • business and transgenic crops, such as in conceptions of food (in)security
  • the business of health—animal and human—and the economy of bodily selves
  • water resources and management
  • the “closing of the commons,” privatization, and models of business and trade
•     “negative externalities” (pollution, overharvesting, waste, etc.) and their effects on understandings of economic growth and wealth production
  • mass consumption, in conjunction with ideas of (economic) growth and (environmental) conservation
The keynote address of the second biennial Richard Robinson Workshop will be given by Professor Harold James of Princeton University on the evening of Thursday, April 28. Papers selected for the workshop will be pre-circulated and discussed in plenary sessions on Friday,
April 29, and Saturday, April 30.

Paper proposals, consisting of a one-page CV and a 500-word abstract, should be sent to the workshop organizers, Thomas Luckett (Portland State University), Chia Yin Hsu (Portland State University), and Erika Vause (Florida Southern College), at by December 28, 2015. We welcome research on all time periods and places, and we particularly encourage proposals on global, transnational, and non-Western topics. Accepted proposals will be notified by January 18, 2016.
Presenters will receive lodging for three nights and meals. There will be no charge for conference registration. To the extent that funding allows, we will also provide partial reimbursement of travel expenses.

Contact Info: 
Chia Yin Hsu
Associate Professor, History Department
Portland State University
Contact Email: