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Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth (1955): From the Rediscovery of Marsh to the Emergence of Urban Metabolism

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The growing awareness of environmental issues that first began to spread across the United States in the 1960s and which gathered considerable support from other Western countries, originated in the groundwork of several scientists and humanists who had been challenging the Progressivism of leading intellectuals, since the second half of the nineteenth century, notably by drawing attention to the impacts of human activity. A new approach emerged to understanding the city, not as an artefact separate from its environment but rather as an element incorporated into a global cycle: the territorial 'metabolism of cities' as formulated in the paper by Abel Wolman (Wolman, 1965: 156-174). If we take a step back, we can view the meeting entitled Man's Role in Changing the Face of Earth, held at Princeton in 1955, as the moment when older theories converged and a holistic approach, previously unheard of, towards understanding man and his territory was launched. This paper first looks at how the Symposium was organised. It then goes on to consider its historical background, notably the rediscovery of Marsh's works, which gave rise to this meeting. Lastly the paper analyses the debates that took place and in particular those relating to the development of the concept of 'limit' and the opposition between the conservationist approach and, in opposition, the 'great transition'.
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Keywords: conservation; equilibrium; landscape; limits; urban landscape

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2017

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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