George Perkins Marsh – Master of Footnotes

George Perkins Marsh (1801–1882), a polymath and polyglot, was born in Woodstock, Vermont and was a lawyer, congressman, and a US envoy to the Ottoman Empire and later to Italy, where he died.  One of the better known scholars of his times, Marsh’s scholarly interests are themselves interesting to examine.  He edited the first Icelandic grammar in English, and was familiar with the Old Norse language and literature.  Apparently he had knowledge of scholarly resources in as many as 20 languages!  Like many prodigious writers he has been claimed by many academic specialties as one of their own: geography, social science, ecology, conservation, folklorist etc.

In environmental circles he is best known for his 1864 book Man and Nature in which Marsh provided a forceful account of the impact of people on nature, especially their deleterious effects on forested lands. The book remains an influential reminder that the human use of nature imposes significant negative impacts on planetary resources and it anticipated by almost a century the broad contours of the environmental movements’ disquiet with human impacts on the environment.  This book along with Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was the most influential environmental book of its times.  Read on here

About dublinsoil

Professor of Environmental Science
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