Professor Paul Warde

Professor of Environmental History
Paul Warde

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 the economy, relations with the landscape and the experience of change in south and mid-Ulster during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and the Hebrides, especially Tiree, during that same period. 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 and policy in UK farming since the 1960s.

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 edit the journal Agricultural History Review. 

I am currently supervising four PhD students: on ideas about energy, geopolitics and civilization in late 19th and early 20th century Europe; on the development of the European wind turbine industry; on industrialization in late 19th and early 20 century Silesia;and  on the place of environmental understanding in the thinking and public education of British botanical gardens, post-1960. 

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; the impact of stock collapses in the American seafood industry and diets; and Scottish industrialisation c.1760-1840.

I would welcome research students interested in the environmental and economic history of early modern and industrializing Europe, especially Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, and Britain; agricultural history; 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 M.Phil option course 'Environmental Arguments'. I also lecture for various Part I options on themes of environmental and economic history. 

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)