Professor Paul Warde

Professor of Environmental History

An education and career is about institutions, but above all, people. I began a professional connection with history working in the Material Culture department at the Ulster Folk Museum, where I learned huge amounts from my bosses Bill Crawford, Megan McManus, and Jonathon Bell, among others - not least the great expertise, care and significance to be found in museums and their mission of conservation and teaching. This period sparked an enduring interest in historical anthropology, material lives, and forms of community, immediate and extended, which was fostered in an undergraduate degree at Cambridge. There I had the great fortune to take courses such as those on the emergence of the brutal medieval persecutions; and the interaction of Jews, Muslims and Christians in medieval Spain under David Abulafia; the fraught relationships of the 'three kingdoms' of the British Isles with Fr. Brendan Bradshaw and John Morrill; and be taught by the great historian of the Reformation, Bob Scribner. I then went on to take a PhD under the supervision first of Bob Scribner, until his sad early death; and then Richard Smith.

Two academic homes have formed my career ever since: the Centre for History and Economics, where I learned and still learn much about the history of economic thought, economic life, and the jointly local and cosmopolitan lives of communities. As one of its early Prize Students in the 1990s I was privileged to learn from and be supported by Emma Rothschild, Gareth Steadman Jones, Miri Rubin, Melissa Lane, the late Jonathan Steinberg, and many others. The Centre also supported my first tentative initiatives in environmental history. The other is the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, then under the leadership of Richard Smith, Tony Wrigley, and Roger Schofield. Those scholars and many friends there have had an enduring influence on my understanding of historical demography, peasant communities and quantitative methods.  

During my PhD, as well as from colleagues who remain in Cambridge, I learned much and took inspiration, much more than they may realize, from peers working on all kinds of topics who have gone on (unsurprisingly!) to significant works in history: such as James Thompson (Bristol), David Craig (Durham), Emma Griffin (UEA), Tracy Dennison (Caltec), and the historian of provincial Germany, global Judaism and liberalism, Abigail Green (Oxford) with whom I shared many fortunate hours in the archives at Stuttgart.  

After completing my PhD, I was a Junior Research Fellow at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (1999-2001) before moving on to a lectureship at Pembroke College, Cambridge (2001-2007). Subsequently I worked at the University of East Anglia (2007-2014), first as a Reader in Early Modern History and then as Professor of Environmental History, before returning to Cambridge in January 2015. 

Inspirations (and reading recommendations) remain Daniel Kahneman, Richard Sennett and Tove Jansson.

I work on environmental, economic and social history. My interests focus on natural resource use and its role in shaping working lives, communities, societies and economic development.  In 2018 saw the publication of two major works on the history of environmental and economic thought, The Invention of Sustainability: Nature and Destiny 1500-1870 (Cambridge University Press) and The Environment: a History of the Idea (Johns Hopkins University Press), the latter written with Libby Robin and Sverker Sorlin. 

Current research work focuses on economy, relations with the landscape and the experience of change in south Ulster, particularly Armagh, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and the Hebrides, especially the Tiree, during that same period. Related to this work in an interest in patterns and experiences of collective agricultural labour in these societies. I am also developing a longstanding interest in the provision of vegetable alkalis to the industrialising economy as an essential underpinning of the early 'chemical industry': potash, seaweed, and barilla. 

I am also part of the SPHERE project on the emergence of ideas of global environmental governance, based at KTH Stockholm. In regard to this project I am currently developing work on ideas of limits in global resources (especially energy) and also looking at the reception of ideas about environmental limits in UK farming.

I have published and edited many books, articles and chapters, primarily on the history of early modern and modern Europe. These include works on peasant societies in early modern Europe, and their use and exchange of commodities, especially wood, and the effects on management of the land and forests; on the Industrial Revolution and the scale and consequences of shifts from 'traditional' energy carriers to fossil fuels and new renewable forms of energy supply; on energy and resources embodied in traded goods, especially during the 'First Globalisation' period of c.1870-1930s; on early modern economic thought; and on common property systems. 

I am Director of the Centre for History and economics, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge; and Research Director of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure.


I am currently supervising seven PhD students: on ideas about energy, geopolitics and civilization in late 19th and early 20th century Europe; on the history of the American seafood industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries;  on the development of the European wind turbine industry; on industrialization in late 19th and early 20 century Silesia; on industrialization and economic change in Scotland, c.1750-1840; on the place of environmental understanding in the thinking and public education of British botanical gardens, post-1960; and on the history of the south-west of England's transatlantic fisheries in the 16th and 17th centuries; 

Other recent topics include the occupational structure of late imperial China; the environmental history of the development of the British National Grid; and knowledge of seeds in seventeenth-century England.

I would welcome research students interested in the environmental and economic history of early modern and industrializing Europe, especially Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, and Britain; and the energy history of the modern world; and the history of environmental thought.

I teach the Part II specified subjects 'The Problem of Sustainability, 1500-1987', and the Part I courses 'Themes in World Environmental History' (Themes and Sources). 

Editor, Agricultural History Review.


Tags & Themes


Faculty of History

West Road





Key Publications

The Invention of Sustainability. Nature, Human Action, and Destiny, 1500-1870 (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

The Environment: a history with Libby Robin and Sverker Sorlin (Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming October 2018)

In search of good energy and climate policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), with Chaplin, J., Reiner, D., Pollitt, M and Ozawa, M.

Local Places, Global Processes (Oxford: Windgather Press, 2016). Edited with Peter Coates and David Moon.

The Future of Nature. Documents of Global Change (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). Edited with Libby Robin and Sverker Sörlin.

Power to the people. Energy in Europe in the last five centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013). With Paolo Malanima and Astrid Kander.

Nature’s End. History and the Environment (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009). Edited with Sverker Sorlin

Energy Consumption in England & Wales, 1560-2004 (Naples: CNR, 2007)

Ecology, Economy and State Formation in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006)

The management of common land in north west Europe ca.1500-1850 CORN Publication Series Nr.8 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002). Edited with de Moor, M. and Shaw-Taylor, L.

Other Publications

‘Heat in a Cold Climate. Household Energy Choices in the Scandinavian North, 1890–1970’, Journal of Northern Studies 13 (2019), pp.61-91. With Magnus Lindmark.

‘Energy Regimes in the Fennoscandian north, c1900-2015’ in Ketsikalo, C., (ed), Path dependency studies for climate change. The social science basis to assess climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Arctic (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019), pp.140-160.

‘Energy transitions as environmental events’, Environmental History 24 (2019), pp.464-471.

‘The Hornmoldt metabolism: energy, capital and time in an early modern German household’, Environmental History 24 (2019), pp.472-481.

‘Firewood consumption and energy transition: a survey of sources, methods and explanations in Europe and North America’, Historia Agraria, 77 (2019), pp.7-32.

‘Trade and overcoming land constraints in British Industrialization – an empirical assessment’, Journal of Global History, (forthcoming, 2018) with Dimitris Theodoridis, and Astrid Kander.

‘Fuelling the English Breakfast:  Hidden Energy Flows in the Anglo-Danish Trade 1870-1913’ in Regional Environmental Change, 18 (2018), pp.965-77; with Sofia Henriques.

'Trees, trade and textiles: potash imports and ecological dependency in British industry, c.1550- 1770', Past and Present (2018) 

'"Stratigraphy for the Renaissance: questions of expertise for "the environment" and "the Anthropocene"', Anthropocene Review, 4 (3) (2017), pp.246-258. With Libby Robin and Sverker Sorlin.

‘Sustainability, resources and the destiny of states in German cameralist thought’ in Forrester, K., and Smith, S., eds, Nature, Action and the Future. The Environment in Political Thought  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp.43-69.

‘Social and environmental history in the Anthropocene’, in Arnold, J., ed., History Matters. History after Hobsbawm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp.184-199.

‘Constructing Arctic Energy Resources: the case of the Canadian north, 1921-1980’, in Wormbs, N., ed., Arctic Futures, (London: Palgrave McMillan, 2018), pp.19-46.

'Cameralist writing in the mirror of practice: the long development of forestry in Germany', in Marten Seppel and Keith Tribe, (eds), Cameralism in practice. State administration and economy in early modern Europe (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2017), pp.111-131. 

‘International Trade and Energy Intensity during European Industrialization, 1870–1935’, Ecological Economics 139 (2017), pp.33-44, with Astrid Kander, Sofia Henriques, Hana Nielsen, Viktoras Kulionis, and Sven Hagen.

‘The Environment’, in Coates, P., Moon, D., & Warde, P., eds, Local Places, Global Processes. (Oxford: Windgather Press, 2016), 32-46.

‘Early modern “resource crisis”: the wood shortage debates in Europe’, in Brown, A.T, Burn, A., and Doherty, R., eds, Crisis in economic and social history (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2015), 137-160.

‘Expertise for the Future: the Emergence of “Relevant Knowledge” in Environmental Predictions and Global Change, c.1920-1970’ (with Sverker Sörlin) in Andersson, J., & Rindzeviciute, E., eds, The Struggle for the Long Term in Transnational Science and Politics during the Cold War (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), 39-62.

‘History, science and environment policy’, in Pinto, P.R., & Taithe, B., eds, The Impact of History? Histories at the Beginning of the 21st Century (Abingdon, Routledge, 2015), 139-152.

‘Global crisis or global coincidence?’, Past and Present 228 (2015), 287-301.

‘The Role of Energy Quality in Shaping Long-Term Energy Intensity in Europe’, in Energies 8 (2015), 133-53, with Gentvilaite, R. and Kander, A.

‘Fuel supply and agriculture in post-medieval England’, Agricultural History Review, 62/I, (2014),  61-82, with Williamson, T.

‘Historical wealth accounts for Britain: progress and puzzles in measuring the sustainability of economic growth’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy 30/1, (2014), 44-69, with McLaughlin, E., Hanley, N., Kunnas, J., Greasley, D., & Oxley, L.

‘Testing Genuine Savings as a forward-looking indicator of  future well-being over the (very) long-run’  Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 67/2 (2014), 171-188. With McLaughlin, E., Hanley, N., Kunnas, J., Greasley, D., & Oxley, L.

‘History & Policy. Observations from a decade of bridge-building in the UK’. Scandia 80/1 (2014), 97-118,  with Delap. L. and Szreter. S.

‘Recovering the land-use history behind a Mediterranean edge environment: The importance of cultural landscapes in biological conservation’, in Journal of Applied Geography 54 (2014), 1-17, with Marull, J., Tello, E., Wilcox, P.T., Coll, F., Pons, M., Valldeperas, N., and Ollés, A.

 ‘Looking backwards into a Mediterranean edge environment: Landscape changes in El Congost Valley (Catalonia), 1850-2005’, with Tello, E., Valldeperas, N., Ollés, E., Marull, J., Coll, F., & Wilcox, P.T., Environment and History, 20 (2014), 347-384.

‘Imposition, emulation and adaptation: regulatory regimes in the commons of early modern Germany’, Environment and History, 19 (2013), 313-337.

‘The idea of improvement, c.1520-1700’, in Hoyle, R., ed., Custom, Improvement and the Landscape in Early Modern Britain (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011).

'Energy and natural resource dependence in Europe, 1500-1900’, in Rao, V., Woolcock, M.., & Szreter, S., eds, History, Historians and Development Policy. A Necessary Dialogue(Manchester: Manchester UP, 2011)

‘The Invention of Sustainability’, Modern Intellectual History, 8 (2011), 153-170.

‘Energy availability from livestock and agricultural productivity in Europe, c.1800-1913: a new comparison’, Economic History Review, (1/2011), 1-29. With Astrid Kander.

‘The origins and development of institutional welfare support in early modern Württemberg. c.1500-1700’, Continuity & Change, (December 2007).

‘The Problem of the Problem of Environmental History – a Re-reading of the Field and Its Purpose’, Environmental History, (January 2007). With Sverker Sörlin.

‘The fear of wood shortage and the reality of the woodland in Europe, c.1450-1850’, History Workshop Journal, 62 (2006)

‘Subsistence and Sales. The Peasant Economy of Württemberg in the Early Seventeenth Century’, Economic History Review, (2/2006), 289-319.

'Waldnutzung, Landschaftsentwicklung und staatliche Reglementierung in der frühen Neuzeit', in Lorenz, S., Rückert, P., eds., Landnutzung und Landschaftsentwicklung im deutschen Südwesten. Zur Umweltgeschichte im späten Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit, (Stuttgart, 2009)

‘The Environmental History of Pre-industrial Agriculture in Europe’, in Warde, P., & Sörlin, S., Nature’s End. History and the Environment (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009)