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The World interweaves two stories—of our interactions with nature and with each other. The environment-centered story is about humans distancing themselves from the rest of nature and searching for a relationship that strikes a balance between constructive and destructive exploitation. The culture-centered story is of how human cultures have become mutually influential and yet mutually differentiating. Both stories have been going on for thousands of years. We do not know whether they will end in triumph or disaster.
There is no prospect of covering all of world history in one book. Rather, the fabric of this book is woven from selected strands. Readers will see these at every turn, twisted together into yarn, stretched into stories. Human-focused historical ecology—the environmental theme—will drive readers back, again and again, to the same concepts: sustenance, shelter, disease, energy, technology, art. (The last is a vital category for historians, not only because it is part of our interface with the rest of the world, but also because it forms a record of how we see reality and of how the way we see it changes.) In the global story of human interactions—the cultural theme—we return constantly to the ways people make contact with each another: migration, trade, war, imperialism, pilgrimage, gift exchange, diplomacy, travel—and to their social frameworks: the economic and political arenas, the human groups and groupings, the states and civilizations, the sexes and generations, the classes and clusters of identity.
Felipe Fernández-Armesto holds the William P. Reynolds Chair of History at the University of Notre Dame. He has master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Oxford, where he spent most of his teaching career, before taking up the Chair of Global Environmental History at Queen Mary College, University of London in 2000, and the Prince of Asturias Chair at Tufts University (2005-9). He is on editorial boards for the History of Cartography for the University of Chicago Press, Studies in Overseas History (Leiden University), Comparative Studies in Society and History, Journeys, and Journal of Global History. Recent awards include the World History Association Book Prize (2007), Spain’s Premio Nacional de GastronomIa (2005, for his work on the history of food), the Premio Nacional de Investigación (Sociedad Geográfica Española, 2004). He has had many distinguished visiting appointments, including a Fellowship of the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and a Union Pacific Visiting Professorship at the University of Minnesota. He won the Caird Medal of the National Maritime Museum in 1995 and the John Carter Brown Medal in 1999 and has honorary doctorates from La Trobe University and the Universidad de los Andes. He has served on the Council of the Hakluyt Society, on the Committee of English PEN, and as Chairman of the PEN Literary Foundation. His work in journalism includes regular columns in the British and Spanish press, and, among many contributions to broadcasting, he is the longest-serving presenter of BBC radio’s flagship current affairs program, Analysis. He has been short-listed for the most valuable literary prize in the U.K.