Carolyn Merchant




  • PhD History of Science University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • B.A. Vassar College

Research Interests

Environmental history, philosophy and ethics

Research Description

As Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics, I conduct research on these three topics and their interrelationships. I focus on American environmental and cultural history in the overall context of Western history, philosophy, and the history of science. Over the past three decades, environmental history has emerged as a lively new field. Concerned with human interactions with the natural environment at particular times and places, it draws on social, political, economic, and intellectual history, the history of science, and the roots of environmental values. It deals with relationships between land forms, climate, population fluctuations, pollution, wilderness preservation, resource conservation, and environmental deterioration. The goal, as environmental historian Donald Worster puts it, "is to deepen our understanding of how humans have been affected by their natural environment through time, and conversely. . . how they have affected that environment and with what results."

image of bearI am interested in the role of consciousness and symbols about nature, the interaction between productive and reproductive forces in human and nonhuman history, and the place of ecological change in understanding development over time. Studying the past can sometimes suggest guidelines for the future and in this sense environmental history plays a role in policy formation. An analysis of ecological history as the history of an expanding power over nature by social institutions and ideologies, together with identifying possibilities for overcoming an instrumental approach to nature, could lead to a sustainable partnership with the natural world. The viability and success of new human modes of existing within the constraints of the environment and its resources requires both an understanding of the past and the articulation of a new ethic for the future.

Current Projects

image of landscapeMy research investigates the environmental history of the United States and California. I explore the development of natural resources--agriculture, forestry, ranching, minerals, and water--and the history of the environmental sciences and conservation. I use documents from ecological and geological history, Native American sources, the gold rush, farming, mining, water use, and urbanization. My approach is designed to cast new light on the nation's and California's environmental history and contribute to a reassessment of policies. My students are currently working on projects as diverse as the history and philosophy of twentieth century complexity theory, the history of open space in the twentieth century, the history and philosophy of human alienation from nature, and the development of a theological ethic of the land.

Selected Publications

image of treeMerchant is the author of The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (1980); Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England (1989; 2nd ed., 2010); Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World (1992; 2nd ed., 2005); Earthcare: Women and the Environment (1996); The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History (2002; 2nd ed. 2007); and Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture (2003; 2nd ed. 2013); Autonomous Nature: Problems of Prediction and Control from Ancient Times to the Scientific Revolution (2016), as well as numerous articles on the history of science, environmental history, and women and the environment. She is the editor of Major Problems in American Environmental History (1993; 2nd ed., 2005; 3rd ed., 2011); Key Concepts in Critical Theory: Ecology (1994; 2nd ed. 2008); Green Versus Gold: Sources in California's Environmental History (1998); and co-editor, with Shepard Krech, III and John McNeill, of The Encyclopedia of World Environmental History, 3 vols. (2004).

She is a past-president of the American Society for Environmental History and has served on the executive and advisory boards of the History of Science Society, Environmental History, Environmental Ethics, Ethics and the Environment, the International Journal of Ecoforestry, Organization and Environment, and the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.

View Carolyn Merchant's:
Brief Bio
Articles by Category
Talks Given
Reviews of her Books

Listen to Carolyn Merchant's Bernard Moses Lecture, UC Berkeley, May 2010, "Environmentalism: From the Control of Nature to Partnership," Audio; Download PDF

Read Interview on Carolyn Merchant’s book, Autonomous Nature (2016).

Honors and Awards

Merchant has been a Guggenheim fellow; a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies; a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford; the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow in the Ecological Humanities at the National Humanities Center; a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; a Fulbright senior scholar in Sweden; and the 1991 ecofeminist scholar at Murdoch University in Western Australia.

  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) - 2011
  • Distinguished Scholar Award - American Society for Environmental History - 2010
  • CNR Career Achievement Award - UCB College of Natural Resources - 2008
  • Doctor honoris causa. - Umeå University, Sweden. - 1995

Recent Teaching

  • 160AC - American Environmental and Cultural History
  • 161 - Environmental Philosophy and Ethics
  • 194 - SEM IN C RES ST
  • 195 - Senior Thesis


ESPM 160: American Environmental and Cultural History
ESPM 161: Environmental Philosophy and Ethics
ESPM 250: Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics


Contact Information


Office: 138 Giannini Hall

Office Phone: 510-642-0326

Fax: 510-643-4361


Office Hours

M 1-2, Tu 1:30-2:30

Research Group(s)

Mailing Address

Dept of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management
UC Berkeley
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720