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Obituary: Richard Grove

Richard Grove, Professorial Fellow of the Geography department at the University of Sussex (2006-2009) and Founding Director of the Centre for World Environmental History died on 25th June. A trailblazer in global environmental history, he made major contributions into the study of the roots of modern environmental concern linking it to the colonial era and to early scientific debates through his magisterial work Green Imperialism (1995).

He received a BA in Geography from Hartford College, Oxford and then a Masters in Conservation Biology from University College London. His doctoral degree awarded in 1988 at Cambridge traced the story of early ecological thought back in time and literally across the oceans and seas in India, Africa and the Caribbean.

Before his association with Sussex he was a Fellow of Clare Hall, and College Lecturer at Churchill College, University of Cambridge until 1992. He subsequently held visiting appointments at the Australian National University in Canberra and at Yale University in Connecticut. He also spent a year at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington DC.

He held an extensive record of publications on many areas of the British Empire, and a specialist knowledge of the political, environmental and economic history of many Commonwealth nations. He was a pioneer of the relatively new field of environmental history, a field which is of increasing importance in the highly stressed conditions in the tropics, and founded the journal Environment and History.

His work on El Niño and long-term relationships of climate change and economic and social events published in 1997 (Ecology, Climate and Empire, 1997 and El Niño History and Crisis, 2000) was ahead of its time and was the outcome of his interdisciplinary engagements with atmospheric scientists, paleo ecologists and historians. Global warming, he showed, had been studied and known about in Victorian times, though early warning signals were brushed aside and ignored.

He saw the emergence of early scientists in the East India Company as harbingers of a new autonomous actor who could try and check the use and abuse of nature.

The themes of conservation and exclusion was to become recurrent theme in his later work and he did not draw a hard line between research, activism and struggles for environmental justice. Writing about forests or wildlife, for him, was incomplete if it did not naturally point towards challenging environmental exploitation and the wanton degradation of the natural world. His tragic car accident in 2006, which left him severely disabled, sadly cut short his academic career.

Under his auspices, the Centre for World Environmental History at Sussex, which he founded with his wife Professor Vinita Damodaran in 2002, became a world leading interdisciplinary centre for the environmental history of the global south with an active international network of academics, activists and scholars from South Asia and Africa associated with it. The centre continues to attract scholars from around the world.

Author: Rohan D'Souza, Associate Professor at Kyoto University, Japan, and recent colleague of Professor Richard Grove

Obituaries for Prof Richard Grove have been published in the South African Mail & Guardian, and The Indian Express.


By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Thursday, 9 July 2020

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