|Dr. Hughes frequently commented on the pictures I posted of my pilgrimage to Holy Island, Lindesfarne, U.K.|
Unfortunately at the time I connected with him on social media he was already sick with leukemia and was returning from what would be his last international trip. Even so, his last few years were spent immersed in the natural and human histories near his home in Lake Worth, Florida, while he kept up a very active online presence. He passed on February 3, 2019 at home. He was 86.
|What an environmental historian "sees" in the landscape is akin to reading a thick book on the history of that place.|
Hughes began his work studying ancient Mediterranean histories that examined socio-economic relationship between cultures and the land. He crafted a new set of historical analysis "lenses" that enabled us to combine environmental and ecological issues of a place with the deep human histories that gave them rise. He was quick to point out that this kind of history was nothing new, that Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides wrote extensively on the environmental impact of people on the land and seas, and the punishments that the gods would and did exact on them. As his work intensified and expanded to include case studies from around the world, it was clear that he and a few others were on to something. He was a founding member of a slew of new organizations that began to emerge that identified environmental history as a distinct (but highly interconnected) field. These include the American Society for Environmental History (1976), the European Society for Environmental History, the East Asian Association of Environmental Historians, and the South Asian Environmental History Society.
|The Red Kite's remarkable return to Spain northwards to the U.K. is a complex story of environmental and policy change.|
|"I can see all the way back to the Iron Ages in this one!" (Iron Age hill fort at the top of an Eildon Hill near Melrose.)|
Dr. Hughes was also a minister, very devoted to his church and congregation, interested in the intersection of faith, sacredness, and nature. When I began my trek to investigate one of the Church's earliest conservation thinkers, 7th century St. Cuthbert of Lindesfarne, Donald was right there on social media looking at Northumbrian landscapes and artworks. Tracing his interest in sacred ecology and environmental ethics through various papers and reviews, his work gave me the courage to dive deep into waters no self-respecting historian would dare enter, but we're talking environmental historians here and I felt I knew the language and the strokes to stay afloat.
|Cuthbert's own spiritual ecology predated Franci's by hundreds of years.|
"Francis' devotion did not immediately dissolve multiplicity into oneness, but glorified God in each created being and delighted in their individuality. He advocated that praise be expressed by acting in ways consistent with respect for created diversity, not only by observing a strict rule of abstaining from harm to living beings, but also in positive treatment of all creatures. Nature took its meaning not from its serviceability to mankind, but from its expression of the multiple forms of God’s benevolent presence. " - From: "St. Francis and the Diversity of Creation," (1996)
|I think Francis and Cuthbert would have been great friends.|
A gentle man, a gentleman, an adventurer, teacher and guide, prolific writer and speaker, and life-long pilgrim, he was giant among environmental historians, a genuine founder of the field. I hope that wherever in the cosmic wilderness he's roaming now, he's writing on human history and the ecology of the universe.
"The human species evolved within the community of life by competing against, cooperating with, imitating, using, and being used by other species. Thus our species is an offspring of the interacting forms of life on Earth. This means not only that human bodies achieved their forms through evolution, but that the ecosystems of the Earth provided our ancestors with sustenance, set problems for them, sharpened their wits, and to a large extent showed them the way they must go."
- From: An Environmental History of the World, (2001/2009)
|Photo credit: Donald Hughes/University of Denver|
An Environmental History of the World: Humankind's Changing Role in the Community of Life is available online in PDF format at: An Environmental History of the World - J. Donald Hughes
"Francis of Assisi and the Diversity of Creation," Environmental Ethics 18, No. 3 (Fall 1996): 311-320
University of Denver Publications List: https://portfolio.du.edu/dhughes