Merchant, Carolyn 1936–
MERCHANT, Carolyn 1936–
PERSONAL: Born July 12, 1936, in Rochester, NY; daughter of George and Elizabeth (Barnes) Merchant; children: two. Education: Vassar College, A.B., 1958; University of Wisconsin, M.A., 1962, Ph.D., 1967.
CAREER: University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, lecturer, 1969–74, assistant professor of history of science, 1974–78; University of California, Berkeley, 1979–, began as assistant professor, currently professor of environmental history, philosophy, and ethics.
MEMBER: American Society for Environmental History (president, 2001–), American Council of Learned Societies (fellow, 1978), British Society for History of Science, History of Science Society, Society for the History of Technology, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (fellow, 1978).
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright scholar, 1984.
The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, Harper & Row (San Francisco, CA), 1980.
Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World, Routledge (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor) Major Problems in American Environmental History: Documents and Essays, D.C. Heath (Lexington, MA), 1993, second edition, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2005.
(Editor) Ecology, Humanities Press (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1994.
Earthcare: Women and the Environment, Routledge (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) Green versus Gold: Sources in California's Environmental History, Island Press (Washington, DC), 1998.
The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor, with Shepard Krech III and John Robert McNeill) Encyclopedia of World Environmental History, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.
Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of articles to history journals, including Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Isis, British Journal for the History of Science, and Environment.
SIDELIGHTS: In her book The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, Carolyn Merchant explores the historical connections between women's issues and ecology, demonstrating how scientific progress has curtailed the advancement of women. The author contends that throughout history women have been equated with nature and that science and men exploit both. As Merchant once told CA: "The women's movement and the ecology movement of the 1970's were major influences on my work. They led me to recast the subject of my field of professional study in light of the historical roots of these movements and problems." Over the years, The Death of Nature has become a classic, cited in numerous studies and appearing on the syllabus for a wide range of courses. "Perhaps the most general and enduring contribution of [the book] is that it succeeded in bringing ecology to the humanities by showing the complex ways in which nature is an active partner rather than passive accessory in the unfolding of human communities," wrote Robyn Eckersley in Organization & Environment.
In Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England, Merchant applies her theories to the transformation of New England from a Native American to a colonial society, and the later transformation from subsistence agriculture to capitalist production. For Merchant, ecological harmony went hand-in-hand with social balance between the genders in Native American societies, before these were destroyed by a European ecology of conquest and later by the subjection of the land to machinery. "What is perhaps most striking about Ecological Revolutions is its elaborate theoretical framework, which integrates ecology (the relationships among human and non-human animals, plants, minerals, and climate), production, reproduction (understood as both biological and social-reproduction of the species and of society), and consciousness," commented Cynthia Russett in the New England Quarterly. Journal of American History contributor Yasuhide Kawashima felt that "perhaps the most valuable part of the book is its gender perspective. In the Indian communities, production was either equally shared or dominated by women. Colonial men and women also shared power in production, although men played the dominant role in legal-political reproduction. In the nineteenth century, men took over women's outdoor production, but women gained power in the reproduction of daily life and in the socialization of children and husbands."
Merchant is particularly intrigued by the ways nature is often seen as a woman, with science and technology linked with masculinity, and the effects of this kind of thinking. "Playing close heed to the ways in which a culture's epistemological structures—its ways of knowing—and gender patterns—its ways of relating—affect its interactions with nature, Ecological Revolutions offers provocative insights into more than just New England ecology," remarked American Quarterly contributor Dana Nelson. Merchant foresees a global ecological revolution, based on socialist ecofeminism, which could reclaim the reverence that indigenous tribes had for nature and rebalance relations between the sexes.
Merchant further explores the political dimensions of environmentalism in Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World. In the first section, "Problems," she discusses major issues, such as pollution and overpopulation, but also delves into the worldview behind these problems, contrasting organic and mechanistic outlooks, and differences between capitalist, humanist, and radical ecologist ethics. Her "analysis of worldviews and science is excellent," according to American Anthropologist contributor William Vickers. The next section, "Thought," provides an historical and philosophical overview of the different ecologies, including "deep ecology," "spiritual ecology," and Marxist/socialist "social ecology." Finally, in a section titled "Movements," Merchant provides a catalog of the different environmentalist organizations, from the Group of Ten (mainline groups such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund) to the more radical groups, such as Earth First! and Greenpeace. Her study of the radical groups covers a great deal of territory, including different types of ecofeminism, a look at anarchist ecology, and populist and minority movements. "Merchant notes the discord among competing factions but celebrates the contributions of all," observed NWSA Journal reviewer Sarah S. Forth. "I sense that she fundamentally believes that every effort is vitally needed and that Radical Ecology was written as much for reconciliation as for clarification."
Earthcare: Women and the Environment is something of a recapitulation of earlier work, but with additional essays on ecofeminism in Sweden and Australia, where Merchant has spent a fair amount of time, and a chapter on "partnership ethics." The first part summarizes the findings in The Death of Nature on the associations of nature and femininity in Western culture, from the Gaia myth to Eve's fallen nature, and its impact on today's environment. Its greatest strength "is its recounting of women's environmental history during the past 100 years," according to Library Journal reviewer Susan Maret.
In Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture Merchant addresses the impact of a single, though ubiquitous, myth in Western civilization. "We have tried to reclaim the lost Eden by reinventing the entire earth as a garden…. The Recovery of Eden story is the mainstream narrative of Western Culture," according to Merchant, and her book is a challenge to that myth, both in its traditional (and now, environmentalist) form of a decline from a one-time perfection and its progressive version of an attempt to recreate that original paradise through hard work and careful cultivation. Instead, Merchant would like to see a new ethic of respecting nature as it is, and providing space in which the needs of humanity and "non-human nature" can be equally respected. Women's Review of Books contributor Paula DiPerna felt that Reinventing Eden, "seems more innovative for its analysis of the past than its projections for the future. Her presentations of the Eden narrative … are fascinating and involving. But, her 'third way' is like too many such—long on utopian exposition and short on ways to get there." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly reviewer found Merchant's proposals unoriginal and disappointing: "Yet she covers a wealth of information and sheds light on the thinking of generations of scientists, philosophers, and environmentalists."
Merchant has also provided a great deal of environmental history in a number of reference works. In Green versus Gold: Sources in California's Environmental History, she brings together a wide variety of essays and excerpts on the formation of this large and diverse state. Chapter topics cover thirteen different topics from various time periods, including Native American land use, the impact of the Gold Rush, agribusiness, and the influence of environmental movements. In The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History Merchant extends these topics to the entire country, including overview essays, such as "Conservation and Preservation, 1785–1950" and "Urban Environments, 1850–1960." More recently, she coedited The Encyclopedia of World Environmental History, which provides a global perspective on these complex questions, with over five hundred articles by international scholars.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Merchant, Carolyn, Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1989.
Merchant, Carolyn, Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.
Alternatives, November-December, 1993, John Maskell, review of Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World, pp. 40-41.
American Anthropologist, September, 1993, William Vickers, review of Radical Ecology, pp. 783-784.
American Historical Review, June, 1991, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, review of Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England, p. 945.
American Indian Quarterly, winter, 1994, Robert Blair St. George, review of Ecological Revolutions, p. 109.
American Quarterly, June, 1991, Dana Nelson, "New Worlds in American Studies," pp. 302-309.
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, September, 1991, R. Bordessa, review of Ecological Revolutions, p. 546.
Booklist, December 15, 2002, review of The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History, p. 776.
California Monthly, June, 2002, Russell Schoch, "A Conversation with Carolyn Merchant."
Economic Geography, October, 1993, Laura Pulido, review of Radical Ecology, pp. 445-448.
Environment, January-February, 1982, Jessica Raimi, review of The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution, p. 45; October, 2003, Arthur H. Westing, review of The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History, p. 40.
Environmental Action, summer, 1992, Carolyn Merchant and Janet Biehl, "Perspectives on Ecofeminism."
Geographical Review, July, 1991, M. M. Bellamy, review of Ecological Revolutions.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 2003, Carla S. Tengan, review of The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History, p. 63.
Journal of American History, March, 1991, Yasuhide Kawashima, review of Ecological Revolutions, p. 1326.
Journal of Environmental Planning & Management, June, 1995, Ian Thompson, review of Radical Ecology.
Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, fall, 1994, William E. Kilbourne, review of Radical Ecology.
Journal of Women's History, June, 1995, Virginia Scharff, "Are Earth Girls Easy? Ecofeminism, Women's History, and Environmental History," p. 164.
Library Journal, January 1, 1996, Susan Maret, review of Earthcare: Women and the Environment, p. 135; December, 2003, Eva Lautemann, review of Encyclopedia of World Environmental History, p. 94.
Monthly Review, December, 1993, Victor Wallis, review of Radical Ecology, p. 52.
New England Quarterly, September, 1990, Cynthia Russett, review of Ecological Revolutions, pp. 475-478.
NWSA Journal, summer, 1994, Sarah S. Forth, review of Radical Ecology, p. 324.
Organization & Environment, June, 1998, Robyn Eckersley, "The Death of Nature and the Birth of the Ecological Humanities," p. 183.
Political Studies, March 1, 1997, Keekok Lee, review of Earthcare, p. 205.
Publishers Weekly, March 17, 2003, review of Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture, p. 63.
Renaissance Quarterly, summer, 1982, Maryanne Cline Horowitz, review of The Death of Nature, pp. 294-297.
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society, winter, 2000, Barbara T. Gates, review of Earthcare, p. 602.
Social Science Quarterly, December, 1993, Bob Pepperman Taylor, review of Radical Ecology, p. 918.
Western Historical Quarterly, summer, 1999, Andrew Honker, review of Green versus Gold: Sources in California's Environmental History, pp. 234-235.
Whole Earth Review, spring 1996, Stephanie Mills, review of The Death of Nature, p. 40.
Women's Review of Books, September, 2003, Paula DiPerna, "Who Needs Paradise?," pp. 18-21.
Mindfully.com, http://www.mindfully.org/ (June 12, 2004), Russell Schoch, "A Conversation with Carolyn Merchant."
University of California, Berkeley, http://espm.berkeley.edu/ (May 27, 2004), faculty profile of Carolyn Merchant.