ISSN: 2038-0925

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[2019-03-28] Guaranis na Prefeitura - São Paulo_045_Romerito Pontes by Romerito Pontes on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

“[2019-03-28] Guaranis na Prefeitura – São Paulo_045_Romerito Pontes” by Romerito Pontes on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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“Can the Subaltern Speak” through the Environment?
At the confluence of Environmental History and Subaltern Studies


In 1988 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak published her most influential essay in post-colonial studies and critical theory. Spivak went behind the scene of academic scholarship on colonialism and beyond its issues at stake: she argued for historical accounts explaining why a single-narrative of reality was established as normative and also opened pathways to overcome such normalization (Spivak, 1988). “Can the Subaltern Speak?” posed questions about silenced, colonised, unheard, invisible and unrepresented groups and, since its publication, it has been cited, invoked, imitated, and critiqued (Morris, 2010).

Spivak’s questions seem to us crucial and topical in emerging research foci in environmental history and urge environmental historians to be critical, to speak to and through current ecological emergencies, to reconnect with the environmentalist roots of the discipline (Egan, 2002; Offen, 2004; Armiero, 2008; Barca, 2014). Indeed, recent trends of nature-culture and environmental history research highlight the past of human beings whose perspectives have been neglected and not stored in official archival files, the agency/role of ecological subjects in shaping pasts, potential ways to decolonise research practises and philosophies (Thorpe, Rutherford and Sandberg, 2017).

Moreover, any colonial and imperial enterprise – which is an essential component of subaltern studies – is inseparable from the history of global environmental change. Historians have explored, among other phenomena, flows of raw materials; new methods of farming; displacement of indigenous peoples; the foundation of colonial cities (Beinart – Hughes, 2007; Beckert, 2014).

With this special issue we aim at redirecting and broadly interpreting the term subaltern in relation to the environment and we envision this issue as a forum for ideas and discussion within the subfield of colonial and post-colonial environmental history. We expect contributions addressing these two overarching issues: What does a specific environmental history focus add to the debate on subalternity? What kind of methodological and theoretical implications do subaltern studies have for environmental history as a discipline?

Within this frame, we welcome proposals for contributions interrogating these issues, the list not being exhaustive:

  • unsettling the idea of the environment as a subaltern category in history;
  • exploring colonial and post-colonial times through the lens of the environment (Sluyter, 2001; Sen, 2009);
  • unveiling the colonial and the subaltern in uneven socio-ecological dynamics in non-colonial settings;
  • stressing the political ecology dimensions of environmental histories (Hornborg, 2007);
  • fighting for environmental and climate justice: community responses to environmental hazards (Ziglioli, 2016; Dawson, 2017; Malavasi, 2018);
  • (un)gendering nature: eco-feminist and queer-ecology: (Scharff, 2003; Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, 2010);
  • interpreting the nexus environment-indigeneity (Heatherington, 2010);
  • bridging environmental history and public history (Melosi, 1993).



  • ARMIERO, Marco, «Seeing Like a Protester: Nature, Power, and Environmental Struggles», in Left History, 13, 1/2008, pp. 59-76.
  • BARCA, Stefania, «Laboring the Earth: Transnational Reflections on the Environmental History of Work», in Environmental History, 19, 1/2014, pp. 3-27.
  • BEINART, William, HUGHES, Lotte (edited by), Environment and Empire, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • BECKERT, Sven, Empire of Cotton. A Global History, New York, Vintage Books, 2014.
  • DAWSON, Ashley, Extreme Cities. The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change, New York, Verso, 2017.
  • EGAN, Michael, «Subaltern Environmentalism in the United States: A Historiographic Review», in Environment and History, 8, 1/2002, pp. 21-41.
  • HEATHERINGTON, Tracey, Wild Sardinia: Indigeneity and the Global Dreamtimes of Environmentalism, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2010.
  • HORNBORG, Alf, Introduction: Environmental history as political ecology, in HORNBORG, Alf, McNEILL, John, MARTINEZ-ALIER, Joan R. (edited by), Rethinking environmental history: World-system history and global environmental change, Plymouth, AltaMira Press, 2007, pp. 1-24.
  • MALAVASI, Giulia, Manfredonia: storia di una catastrofe continuata, Milano, Jaca Book, 2018.
  • MELOSI, Martin, «Public History and the Environment», in The Public Historian, 15, 4/1993, pp. 10-20.
  • MORRIS, Rosalind C. (edited by), Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea, New York, Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • MORTIMER-SANDILANDS, Catriona, ERICKSON, Bruce Erickson, Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, Bloomington (IN), Indiana University Press, 2010.
  • OFFEN, Karl H., «Historical political ecology: an introduction», in Historical Geography, 32, 2004, pp. 19-42.
  • SCHARFF, Virginia J. (edited by), Seeing Nature Through Gender, Lawrence (KS), University Press of Kansas, 2003.
  • SEN, Malcom, «Spacial justice: The ecological imperative and postcolonial development», in Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 45, 4/2009, pp. 365-377.
  • SLUYTER, Andrew, Colonialism and Landscape. Postcolonial Theory and Applications, Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.
  • CHAKRAVORTY SPIVAK, Gayatri, Can the Subaltern Speak?, in NELSON, Cary, GROSSBERG, Lawrence (edited by), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1988, pp. 271-313.
  • THORPE, Jocelyn, RUTHERFORD, Stephanie, SANDBERG, L. Anders Sandberg (edited by), Methodological Challenges in Nature-Culture and Environmental History Research, London – New York, Routledge, 2017.
  • ZIGLIOLI, Bruno, Sembrava nevicasse. La Eternit di Casale Monferrato e la Fibronit di Broni: due comunità di fronte all’amianto, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2016.

How to send an article

Interested authors should submit an abstract of 250 words or less (maximum 1000 characters), a short bio of max 100 words (maximum 500 characters) and contact information by email attachment to redazione.diacronie [at] by April 15 2020.
The abstract must include information about the topic, methodology and expected results of the research. Standard article should generally not exceed 6.000 words (paper length in words: between 35.000 and 55.000 characters, spaces included) and must respect the journal style.
To prepare your manuscript please follow the instructions: here.
Authors will be notified whether their proposal has been accepted or not by April 30 2020. The complete article must be submitted by June 30 2020. All proposals will be subjected to a double-blind peer review. Publication of this issue is scheduled for December 2020.
Abstracts and articles may be submitted in Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Greek and Portuguese. Contributions in German, Greek and Portuguese will be translated into Italian by the editorial board.
For any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at: redazione.diacronie [at]

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