Professor Paul Warde
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