January 11, 2010
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v2.1 Reference

A Forest on the Sea

Environmental Expertise in Renaissance Venice

Winner, Herbert Baxter Adams Prize, American Historical AssociationWinner, Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Award, the Forest History Society

Wood was essential to the survival of the Venetian Republic. To build its great naval and merchant ships, maintain its extensive levee system, construct buildings, fuel industries, and heat homes, Venice needed access to large quantities of oak and beech timber. The island city itself was devoid of any forests, so the state turned to its mainland holdings for this vital resource. A Forest on the Sea explores the history of this enterprise and Venice’s efforts to extend state control over its natural resources.

Karl Appuhn explains how Venice went from an isolated city completely dependent on foreign suppliers for wood to a regional state with a sophisticated system of administering and preserving forests. Intent on conserving this invaluable resource, Venice employed specialized experts to manage its forests. The state bureaucracy supervised this work, developing a philosophy about the environment—namely, a mutual dependence between humans and the natural world—that was far ahead of its time. Its efforts kept many large forest preserves under state protection, some of which still stand today.

A Forest on the Sea offers a completely novel perspective on how Renaissance Europeans thought about the natural world. It sheds new light on how cultural conceptions about nature influenced political policies for resource conservation and land management in Venice.

About the Author

Karl Appuhn is an assistant professor of history and environmental studies at New York University.


"A useful work for upper-level students doing in-depth research."

"The work of Karl Appuhn, based on extensive archival research and rich technical insights, offers a major study devoted to the social, economic, administrative, and political aspects of Venetian forest management."

- David Celetti - Renaissance Quarterly


- John M. Hunt - Journal of Modern History

"A wonderful study of Venetian politics, natural knowledge, resource management, and bureaucratic development."

- Chandra Mukerji - American Historical Review

"With this splendid and painstakingly researched volume, Appuhn is sure to inspire others to the view that nature is to be honored and respected, managed if necessary, but not merely there for human taking."

- Robert A. Pierce - Sixteenth Century Journal

"A must-have. Richly illustrated, highly readable, and filled with fascinating detail, this book should also enjoy a far wider readership among Pacific, colonial, and natural historians alike."

- Emily Manktelow - Journal of World History

"Appuhn blazes a trail where others may very usefully follow."

- Paul Warde - Cultural and Social History

"This remarkable book contains many fascinating details."

- Pamela H. Smith - Isis


"Karl Appuhn’s study of Venetian efforts to control and manage their forests is a fascinating case study in the problems and politics of resource management. By carefully tracing the evolution of Venice’s attempts to control, harvest, and replenish its forests, Appuhn reconstructs a world of experts, bureaucrats, shipbuilders, and rural villagers who all recognized how vital a commodity trees were to an early modern state. An excellent and stimulating contribution to early environmental history."

- Paula Findlen, Stanford University

"An extraordinary book that offers a fresh perspective to see Venice anew in both its materialist and ideological manifestations. Beyond Venice, it challenges readers to rethink a number of issues of broad interest to early modern history in general: state bureaucracies and economy, the production and reproduction of knowledge, and the relationship between humans and nature in theory and practice."

- John A. Marino, University of California at San Diego

"Takes environmental history into the streets and countryside of the Renaissance city-state. Appuhn brilliantly reveals how Venetian political anxieties yielded a remarkable system of forest conservation to promote civic virtue and regional governance. In the interplay between Venice’s crowded lagoons and sylvan hillsides, he overturns the old story of European scientific rationalism as the death of nature. An original and important work."

- Matthew Klingle, author of Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle
Johns Hopkins University Press
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376 Pages
$67.00 USD

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