Perspectives on Global Forest Stewardship: Historical Narratives Informing Contemporary Challenges

This project explores humanity's evolving relationship with forests, examining how cultural, scientific, and technological advancements have shaped our interactions with natural resources over time. Emphasising the global impact of deforestation, which accounts for 11% of carbon emissions, it aims to foster transnational collaboration among scholars to study the transmission and adaptation of environmental knowledge across regions. Rooted in Geoanthropology, the project investigates historical forest management's role in carbon emissions and its broader influence on geological and ecological systems. Through initiatives like a forthcoming virtual workshop and exhibition, it seeks to promote education and outreach on forest stewardship, highlighting historical narratives and their contemporary relevance for sustainable resource management and curriculum development worldwide.

The history of forest stewardship offers a perspective on humanity's changing relationship with nature and our collective efforts to comprehend, utilise, and preserve natural resources, reflecting both societal needs and environmental awareness. By studying the interplay between cultural, scientific, and technological advancements in forestry, we hope to understand better how societies have shaped their environment and have been shaped by their interactions with forests over time. It is worth noting that currently, 11 per cent of all carbon emissions come from deforestation, which is more than the emissions from all forms of transportation combined (UNEP, 2024).

The project aims to bring together scholars from different parts of the world, to highlight the transnational nature of knowledge related to forestry, broadly construed, and interrogate the successful transmissions and resistances to such exchanges of environmental knowledge from one region to another, as well as the continuity and changes in the knowledge that get transferred. We are interested in human–nature relationships and their implications for environmental change from the early colonial period to the present.

The project relates to one of the core concerns of Geoanthropology, namely the impact of human activities on the Earth's carbon cycle, through its exploration of historical forest management and its contribution to carbon emissions. Furthermore, by tracing human-nature relationships from the colonial period to the present, the project provides a long-term perspective on how human activities have transformed geological and ecological systems.

Thus far, this collaboration has resulted in a co-authored article, currently under review, about Juan Fernández sandalwood. There, we demonstrate the links between the past, present, and future by recounting the history of Juan Fernández’s sandalwood and its eventual loss. We argue that the history of Juan Fernández sandalwood can illustrate the interplay of human-nonhuman networks, labour dynamics, and commercial exchanges during its trade and exploitation under Spanish imperial and later Chilean republican regimes, whose effects are felt to the present.

In August 2024, project collaborators will meet virtually for a workshop entitled History of Forest Stewardship around the World: Co-creating a Study Resource. Everyone is welcome to join us. The workshop will result in a virtual exhibition on the circulation of environmental knowledge, specifically an interactive timeline linking to primary sources connected to the historical narratives related to forest stewardship. The intention of this digital artefact is didactic – to be used as a teaching resource. In this respect, the project contributes to the Learning and Outreach for Complex System Thinking sub-project.

In the long term, we hope to extend the collaboration to curriculum co-development and to open exchange opportunities for students and scholars in participating institutions.


Forest Stewardship, Human-nature Relationships, Human Impacts on Ecosystems, Learning and Outreach, Curriculum Co-development, Colonial Period, Environmental History

Other Interesting Articles

Go to Editor View