This podcast is part of HWO’s series on The Political Environment. The series explores how environmental change has been created and contested in the past, and asks how this history might widen the scope of our political imagination in response to global ecological crisis today. You can read an introduction to the series here.

In this episode of the History Workshop Podcast, Elly Robson is in conversation with Professor Vinita Damodaran and Professor Harriet Ritvo to look at the ways that we know nature and how these have been political, in the past and today. Together, they discuss the rise of scientific expertise, its entanglement in projects of empire, and how it has interacted with indigenous and local knowledge. We also hear about whether solutions to climate change today can be left to scientists, what is meant by the Anthropocene, and about the politics of conservation.

Vinita Damodaran is Professor of South Asian History and the director of the Centre for World Environmental History at Sussex. She is a historian of modern India and sustainable development dialogues in the global South. Her work ranges from the social and political history of Bihar to the environmental history of South Asia, including using historical records to understand climate change in the Indian Ocean World. She is particularly interested in questions of environmental change, identity and resistance in Eastern India. Most recently, in 2020, she published an edited collection on ‘Empire, Forests and Colonial environments in Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia and New Zealand’ (2020).


Harriet Ritvo is the Arthur J. Conner Professor of History at MIT. She works on environmental history, British imperial history, and the history of natural history. She is a leading scholar in animal studies, contributing to the establishment of this field as a crucial part of environmental and social history. She is currently writing a book titled The Edges of Wild, which examines the interface between wildness and domestication. Her most recent monograph – Dawn of the Green – looked at environmental struggles at the heart of the Lake District in the nineteenth century, as nature conservationists and urban developers battled over the water resources of Thirlmere.

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