By James Devitt
November 5, 2010
The American Historical Association has awarded NYU’s Karl Appuhn, an associate professor in the Department of History, its 2010 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize for A Forest on the Sea: Environmental Expertise in Renaissance Venice (Johns Hopkins, 2009), which chronicles Venice’s efforts to manage its natural resources.
The prize is given annually to a scholar’s best first book in the field of European history.
Venice needed access to large quantities of wood to build its naval and merchant ships, maintain its extensive levee system, construct buildings, fuel industries, and heat homes. Lacking any forests, the state turned to its mainland holdings for this resource. A Forest on the Sea explores the history of this enterprise and Venice’s efforts to extend state control over its natural resources.
Appuhn explains how Venice went from an isolated city completely dependent on foreign suppliers for wood to a regional state with a system of administering and preserving forests. The state bureaucracy supervised management of its forests, developing a philosophy about the environment—namely, a mutual dependence between humans and the natural world—far ahead of its time. Its efforts kept many large forest preserves under state protection, some of which still stand today.