Caroline Ford


On her book Natural Interests: The Contest over Environment in Modern France

Cover Interview of February 21, 2017

In a nutshell

Natural Interests explores the appearance of an impressive range of environmental initiatives in France and its overseas colonial empire between the late eighteenth and early twentieth century as well as the emergence of a new “environmental consciousness” that underpinned them. These initiatives included flood control, efforts to address climate change, reforestation, the protection of natural landscapes and resources, the “greening” of urban spaces, and the convocation of the world’s first two international congresses devoted to the protection of nature, which took place in Paris in 1923 and 1931 respectively. The book takes up the larger question of why the natural environment became an object of concern in French civil society in a way it had not been in previous centuries and how various actors began to argue that it should be conserved, preserved and protected for future generations. It argues that the driving forces behind environmental protection were anxiety over the pressing dangers of environmental degradation and nostalgia for a vanishing pastoral countryside. What distinguishes this book from other studies is its focus on the pathways and the circulation of ideas and practices between different social groups and historical actors, between metropolitan France and its empire beyond the borders of Europe, and between France and other nations of the world.