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The Matter of History
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Book description

New insights into the microbiome, epigenetics, and cognition are radically challenging our very idea of what it means to be 'human', while an explosion of neo-materialist thinking in the humanities has fostered a renewed appreciation of the formative powers of a dynamic material environment. The Matter of History brings these scientific and humanistic ideas together to develop a bold, new post-anthropocentric understanding of the past, one that reveals how powerful organisms and things help to create humans in all their dimensions, biological, social, and cultural. Timothy J. LeCain combines cutting-edge theory and detailed empirical analysis to explain the extraordinary late-nineteenth century convergence between the United States and Japan at the pivotal moment when both were emerging as global superpowers. Illustrating the power of a deeply material social and cultural history, The Matter of History argues that three powerful things - cattle, silkworms, and copper - helped to drive these previously diverse nations towards a global 'Great Convergence'.

Reviews

'In this original, important, and beautifully written book, LeCain develops a neo-materialist theory of history to illuminate the environmental histories of seemingly disparate subjects: copper mines, silkworms, and longhorn cattle. Using insights from evolutionary theory, animal studies, and the anthropocene, LeCain shows how the cultural and the material are deeply interwoven in every aspect of resource extraction.'

Nancy Langston - Michigan Technological University

'By putting things front and center, LeCain challenges us to rethink our most basic assumptions about how we write history in the twenty-first century. He offers us both a lucid guide to a wide range of materialist theories and a set of fascinating examples.'

Linda Nash - University of Washington

‘The Matter of History constitutes the first successful attempt to create an historical narrative truly grounded in a non-anthropocentric ethos, both in terms of its theoretical premises and of its methodological choices … a valuable example of an historical research able to interpret past events in order to read the present time.'

Claudio de Majo Source: Global Environment

‘[A] profound and provocative book … thoughtful critique of antimaterialist history with an equally thoughtful summary of recent scholarship … [LeCain] argues convincingly that giving animals, plants, and minerals credit for shaping the world will allow us to write a more accurate and interesting history.’

Steven Lubar Source: Technology and Culture

'[The Matter of History] easily counts among the ten most fascinating books that I have read over the last decade.'

Stefan Berger Source: Journal of Social History and the History of Social Movements

'A fresh, provocative, and profound book … [The Matter of History] pushes environmental-history methodology to a new level of engagement with all actors of the material world.'

Anne Norton Greene Source: Journal of Interdisciplinary History

'The Matter of History constitutes the first successful attempt to create an historical narrative truly grounded in a non-anthropocentric ethos, both in terms of its theoretical premises and of its methodological choices.'

Caludio de Majo Source: Global Environment

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