Humans, Technology, and Nature: A Recipe for Crises?
Kranzberg Lecture 2020
James Williams received a doctorate in Public History and the history of technology from U.C. Santa Barbara in 1984. He taught at two community colleges in California from 1971 to 2008 and at Stetson University (Florida) from 2014-2015. He was executive director of the California History Center & Foundation from 1978 to 2002 and worked during these years as a public historian in cultural resources management, historic preservation, and litigation support.
A long-time member of ICOHTEC, he served on the board in the 1990s, as vice president from 2001-2008, as president from 2008-2011, and as editor of ICON from 2011-2015. He was co-founder and co-chair of Envirotech from 2000-2004, served as Treasurer of the Society for the History of Technology from 1992-2000, on the Board of Directors of the National Council on Public History from 1988-1991, and as president and later executive secretary of the California Council for the Promotion of History from 1982 to 1994.
Dr. Williams’s primary field of interest is the historical relationship between people, technology, and the environment. He published Energy and the Making of Modern California (1997) as well as numerous articles. His “Understanding the Place of Humans in Nature” in Illusory Boundary: Environment and Technology in History (2010) has been widely cited and is particularly relevant to the theme of this year’s ICOHTEC symposium.
To understand the human/nature relationship, one must look at how people, technology, and nature interact. Because humans come from many cultures and experiences, we have not always understood our relationship to nature in the same way. Nevertheless, we are all part of nature, and our physical beings are comprised of many of the same elements and rhythms that make up the world around us. Since the Enlightenment, however, Euro-American rationalism cleaved humans from nature even as they remained a part of it. This Cartesian duality led people to harness their technologies toward exploiting the Earth for our own needs and desires, nature’s agency acting as the only constraint against us. Our voracious appetite for control over nature begat an entirely new epoch, the Anthropocene, and consideration of it in the history of technology requires us to examine how the relationship of humans, technology, and nature has been and will continue to be a recipe for crises for humanity and nature.