Alison Bashford explores how modern (post c. 1780) population changes have entered discussion on the Anthropocene. She asks how historians, might begin to answer this question, with attention to both accelerating global net population growth and local population decline. She considers the ‘Anthropocene’ (not, say, ‘climate change’), since the former is an historical as well as a geological phenomenon, and, it turns out, a familiar one. In one version, the parameters of the Anthropocene are simply what historians have long called ‘the modern period’ or ‘industrialization’. The Anthropocene was core business for historians long before it was named by atmospheric chemists.
Alison Bashford's work traces historical work on global population from the mid-twentieth century into the era when the Anthropocene was named. 'The population bomb’ era, including its connection to ecological sciences and then environmentalist politics, is the immediate antecedent to political responses to the Anthropocene crisis. Allison Bashford explores how and why ‘population’ went from center-stage to off-stage. This was a remarkable success story of and for ‘critique’: of health systems, of political economy, of Cold War geopolitics, variously via feminist studies, race and postcolonial studies from the 1970s onwards. After and in the light of that impact, she asks how or whether ‘population’ might productively be considered via a ‘postcritique’ humanities and social sciences, not least bringing historians into that conversation.
Alison Bashford, Laureate Professor in History at the University of New South Wales
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