Soils and Societies

Perspectives from Environmental History

J.R. McNeill and Verena Winiwarter (eds)

Described in Nature as ‘a delight for the soil aficionado’, this multi-authored collection examines the complex interrelations between societies in different parts of the world and the soils they relied on from the perspectives of geomorphology, archaeology, pedology and history. The geographical spread includes Mesoamerica, Africa, Europe, Australia, India and Easter Island. Few things are more important to human survival than the fertility of the soils from which so much of our food comes. Yet few aspects of the relationship between human society and the environment get so little attention. This book explores some of the enormous variety in the ways that people have worked with, thought about, damaged and restored soils. It also shows some of the ways in which soils, their properties and their histories have influenced human affairs. Soils are the substrate of all human society: from the palaeolithic to the present, their history is our history.

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We are pleased to announce that Soils and Societies has been accepted for indexing in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Book Citation Index.


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‘This collection covers new ground. It is unique in terms of combining geomorphology, archaeology and history as well as in the choice of its study regions. The chapters contribute over a great geographical span to a fuller understanding of the intricate web of relations between soils and humans.’

Prof. Winfried E.H. Blum, President, European Confederation of Soil Science Societies and Former Secretary General, International Union of Soil Sciences


J.R. McNeill is Interim Director and Professor at the Mortara Center for International Studies at Georgetown University.
Verena Winiwarter is Professor of Environmental History at the Institute of Social Ecology, at the University of Vienna.


1.Soils, Soil Knowledge, and Environmental History: An Introduction
(J.R. McNeill and Verena Winiwarter)

2. An Introduction to Soil Nutrient Flows
(Robert S. Shiel)

3. Exploitation and Conservation of Soil in the 3000-Year Agricultural and Forestry History of South Asia
(R.J. Wasson)

4. A Soils History of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean Islands
(Tim Beach, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach and Nicholas Dunning)

5. Wetlands as the Intersection of Soils, Water, and Indigenous Human Society in the Americas
(Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach and Tim Beach)

6. A History of African Soil: Perceptions, Use and Abuse
(Kate B. Showers)

7. Prolegomena to a History of Soil Knowledge in Europe
(Verena Winiwarter)

8. Nutrient Flows in Pre-Modern Agriculture in Europe
(Robert S Shiel)

9. Human Interaction with Soil-Sediment Systems in Australia
(R.J. Wasson)

10.The Dynamics of Soil, Landscape and Culture on Easter Island
(Andreas Mieth and Hans-Rudolf Bork)

11. Know Your Soil: Transitions in Farmers’ and Scientists’ Knowledge in Germany
(Frank Uekoetter)

January 2010, 384pp.
ISBN 978-1-874267-54-6 (PB) £28