COVID-19 Special Issue Journal for the History of Environment and Society

Call for Papers, deadline 30 June 2020

COVID-19 & Environmental History.
Making sense of COVID-19 from the perspective of environmental history

A compilation of historical essays to be published in the Journal for the History of Environment and Society

Pandemics are ‘wicked problems’. Both their origins, their management and their consequences, there is not one single explanation for COVID-19, and neither is their a single ‘solution’ offering a way out of the present crisis. Over the past months of confusion, uncertainties and mourning, many of you have reflected upon the historical significance of COVID-19 and upon the way a historical perspective can improve our understanding of the present pandemic.

Many of these reflections, published as blogs, opinions and essays in newspapers, magazines or dedicated internet fora, are dealing with the interaction between society and nature. The peer-reviewed open-access Journal for the History of Environment and Society aims to consolidate these valuable historical insights by turning them into a special issue. Viruses, bacteria and parasites, they all remind us that humans are part of nature, and that human bodies are also made out of the ‘stuff of nature’. Infectious diseases spread out of their ‘natural’ habitat, because ecosystems have been disturbed. Viruses travel with humans in a hyper-connected world. Our dealing with infectious diseases, is closely related to the way we are dealing with natural hazards and risks. It’s not difficult to imagine lockdowns and quarantines as examples of biopolitics - the governance of society through nature. COVID-19 also forces us to question the fundamental interaction of economic growth and the environment. The way out of the corona-crisis can be imagined as a return to normalcy, an incentive for ‘green growth’ – in which technology will help to restore the balance with nature – or as a catalyst for a systemic transition in which the idea of growth is abandoned – as advocates of the degrowth movement would argue. In the meanwhile the weaknesses of our food and energy regimes are exposed, as global transport is contracting, and the warnings for a major food crises are getting urgent. COVID-19 also exposes environmental inequalities, both in the organisation of living space (making quarantine much more pleasant for some and horror for others), in the access to health and food, in the capability also of protecting our families and communities as good as it gets against the disease…. 

All these issues are part of the main questions environmental history is seeking to answer. A long-term historical perspective is needed to make sense out of the present ‘crisis’. History does not offer lessons, but historians need to tell how societies in the past have dealt with pandemics, and how some societies were better able to cope with them, than others.

The special issue of JHES aims to publish at short notice a broad collection of historical essays reflecting upon COVID-19 from the perspective of environmental history. Did you write an essay or an opinion are a reflection upon COVID-19, and are you willing to consolidate the argument into a 2000-4000 word essay, including a list of relevant literature?

Topics and questions which can be dealt with include (non-limitative):

  • What do pandemics tell us about the relationship between Society and Nature in History?
  • How can environmental history contribute to current debates on COVID-19, its origins, and impact?
  • Is the current ‘COVID-19’ crisis the result of our changed interaction with nature? And conversely were previous pandemics also the result of frictions in the relationship between society and nature?
  • What does the study of pandemics in the past learn us about the evolving relationship between society and nature today as well as in the past? How did pandemics in the past change human interaction with nature?
  • Are some societies better prepared than others to cope with pandemics? Did a more sustainable relationship with nature also result in a better protection against pandemics?  
  • How does COVID-19 change our understanding of environmental history?

The format

A collections of historical essays (2000-4000 words, each essay followed by a short reading list / bibliography). These essays may start from existing blogs/opinions etc. and aim to consolidate the current production of interesting and challenging essays and opinions for the field of environmental history.

The timing

Essays to be submitted in June 2020 at the latest, peer review (internal by the editorial board) in July, publication in September/Oktober 2020.

More information and submissions

Tim Soens (

Journal Website: