Nature: Western Attitudes since Ancient Times

1. The Natures of Nature

-Nature in Advertisements 

    • We found an article that did a study in 2000 on nature in advertisements. It had many key findings. The first and most obvious is that nature in advertising is very frequent. Secondly, it found that no ads during the study mentioned any words like “recycling” or being “environmental-friendly.” Also, no ads mentioned that we should be protecting the environment. Lastly, the study found that ads suggest nature as a place that is authentic and genuine and can be used as a retreat for humans. 


-History of the Conservation Movement in America

    • The conservation history of America can be broken into 6 eras.
      • 1500-1849 Era of Abundance
      • 1850-1899 Era of Over-Exploitation
      •  1900-1929 Era of Protection 
      • 1930-1965 Era of Game Management
      • 1966-1979 Era of Environmental Management 
      • 1980-now Era of Conservation Biology 
      • This article goes a little more in-depth about these eras and what happened during them.

-Pre-Industrial Revolution Pollution

      • Many people today believe that pollution only started when the Industrial Revolution began. In reality, pollution of the planet has been ongoing since the birth of mankind. 
      • Fire, agriculture, and wood cutting are some major examples of how people in ancient times polluted the earth. 
      • This website shows in detail of how people in ancient times polluted the earth. 

Managing the land with fireEnclosed landscape

-What is environmental history?

    • Environmental history is the “study of human interaction with the natural world over time.” It arose during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was created mostly for conservation efforts but today has a broader scope than that. 
    • It is broken into three main areas of research: nature itself and how its changed over time, how humans use nature, and how humans think about nature. 
    • Source:

2. Ancient Greece and Rome

Greek and Roman mythology and Christianity 

    • The ancient Greeks and Romans had deities in their religion that represented nature. They thought that nature was sacred was somehow connected to the gods. When Christianity was introduced it turned this idea on its head. This is because Christianity removed the nature connection with God. Christians believed that God was not nature but that God created nature for man to take control of and live in. 

Roman Gladiator Battles 

    • Roman gladiator battles that pitted animals against each other or showed people hunting them had a tremendous negative effect on the surrounding populations of wildlife. 
    • This is because they took animals out of their natural habitats to have them fight and/or be slaughtered. During the Coliseum inauguration games in 81 AD  over 9,000 wild animals were slaughtered in 100 days. 
    • Animals that were shown at the Coliseum include tigers, lions, boars, giraffes, bulls, elephants, wolves, monkeys, panthers, and many more. 

Pollution in Ancient Rome

    • There were many cases of pollution during the Ancient Roman days. They did these through various methods: roads, agriculture, mining, logging, and urban settlements. 
    • The biggest problem was with logging. The Romans vast civilization required a lot of wood and the logging industry led to tremendous amounts of deforestation. Also, trees were cut down to build roads and farmland. 
    • The second biggest problem was with mining. They mined arsenic, lead, and mercury and these led to these poisons leaking out into the water and the land. (pg 25)
    • The last problem was with urban settlements. People would throw their waste into rivers and the streets. Also, the water pipes in the city was made of lead which lead to many cases of lead poisoning and the water being contaminated.

3. Middle Ages

Black Death Plague and the Little Ice Age 

    • During the 1340s to 1350s Europe was hit by the Black Death Plague. Also during this time Europe was suffering from the beginning of a Little Ice Age. This is when global temperatures were dropping and caused widespread famine and poor harvests. It is interesting to see how the plague had an effect on the environment. 
    • As more and more people were wiped out by the plague 

Forest Laws

    • There are two different kinds of forest laws. One is the Anglo-Saxon law which state that the rights to the forests were not exclusive to the kings or nobles and could be shared among the people. The other one is Norman Feudal laws which were more harsh because it forbidden not only the hunting of wild animals and even the cutting or collection of anything in the forest. These were around in 1066.
    • The Norman Feudal laws were used by kings and nobles so that they could hunt and benefit from the “New Forest” without having the common people interfere or taking the resources. 
    • These laws were heavily enforced in the 12th and 13th centuries, where up to one third of England was subject to these laws. If citizens were caught they were fined. 
    • Source:


4. The Advent of Modernity 

The Renaissance View of Nature

    • Denied that the world of nature was an intelligent and living organism. They do not view nature as life, instead they view it as a machine.
    • Nature is like a machine because it was designed and put together for a certain person by an intelligent mind outside of itself.
    • Mankind created nature and must use it for its benefits.

Cartesian Dualism (pg 76)

      • Bodies are subject to all forces of mechanical laws, but the mind is not.
      • Minds are composed of different substances and the body is composed of physical matter.
      • This new idea had ramifications for animals in particular. It led to the sense that animals cannot feel pain or pleasure because their mind is not connected to their body.


5. The World Beyond Europe

Capitalism Effect on Environment

      • It was very interesting to hear how capitalism has such a negative effect on the environment. We were not aware of this because capitalism is usually just seen as a great economic system.
      • The drive of capitalism to maximize profit means humans have a constant desire for more and more things.This means that as population grows so does the industry to support it. This causes greater pollution that has no end it sight.


By: Jonathan Valentine and Chris Mondon

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