John Opie founded the American Society for Environmental History in 1977."ASEH was very much [his] idea,"recalled past president Susan Flader, who had discussed it with him"while riding in the back of Estella Leopold’s jeep in Denver, where we gathered for an OAH conference."Opie explained the formation of ASEH as follows:
"I was already teaching intellectual and cultural history at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. I tried out a primitive environmental history [course] in the fall of 1970…My search in the literature from Rene Dubos and Lewis Mumford , through Ian McHarg to Clarence Glacken was rewarding, but revealed no focus in ‘environmental history.’ I devised AHA sessions in 1972, 1973, and 1976, and at the American Studies Association in 1975 that attracted interested audiences, including early contacts with Don Hughes, Sam Hays, and Don Worster. Rump sessions of fewer than 20 people at the AHA, OAH, and ASA suggested the need for a newsletter to find out ‘who was out there.’"
The environmental history newsletter, first published in April 1974, reached fewer than 100 people. Yet the response was so encouraging that within two years Opie considered publishing a journal devoted to environmental history. The March 1976 issue of the newsletter included a call for the establishment of a journal as well as an organization. [See"Early Newsletters"in this section of this website.] According to Opie, the"key players"in 1976 included Kent Shifford, Keir Sterling, Rod French, Michael Brodhead, John F. Reiger, Edward L. Hawes, Joe Petulla, Joel Tarr, Harold Pinkett, Tad Tate, Tom Cox, Susan Flader, Tom Dunlap, John Perkins, Will Jacobs, and Roderick Nash.
In April 1980 J. Donald Hughes and Robert C. Schultz organized a conference commemorating the tenth anniversary of Earthday at the University of Denver. Opie, who had attended, had asked participants for a list of about ten titles that had influenced them as humanists in environmental matters. Opie plus seven others were forthcoming enough to volunteer their lists, which ranged from D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover to Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. But what was also remarkable about this was the existence of an already shared intellectual canon, for Opie had instructed that their lists were to omit Lynn White, Jr., Roderick Nash, Clarence Glacken, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Loren Eiseley, Rene Dubos, Lewis Mumford, Joseph Wood Krutch, and Edward Abbey, authors whose works Opie assumed his interlocutors had all already read (he had also assumed their familiarity with the volume edited by William L. Thomas, Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, and with three other edited volumes).
Later, as editor of the journal, J. Donald Hughes penned an encomium to his predecessor, Opie, in the Spring 1983 issue (vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 3-4) and titled it"Charivari for an Editor."Meaning a noisy celebration at a wedding, this charivari had none of the connotations of"rough music"of incidents studied by Natalie Zemon Davis. Indeed, it was the very title Opie used for his editor’s notes in the Environmental History Newsletter, the very first incarnation of the journal; the wedding he had in mind was that of two fields: Environmental Studies and History. It was a wedding in multiple ways, for not only were many founding members of our society such as Don Worster, Susan Flader, Alfred Crosby, and Opie himself marrying the two fields by acquiring a dual literacy in environmental science and ecology as well as history, but some were even crossing disciplinary lines,"brought together for a mutual labor of research that was to bear much fruit."
The ASEH's quarterly journal, Environmental Review, began publication in 1976, continuing as Environmental History Review in 1990, and as Environmental History (with the Forest History Society) in 1996. Editors have included John Opie, J. Donald Hughes, Hal Rothman, Adam Rome, Mark Cioc, and Nancy Langston. Oxford University Press began publishingEnvironmental History in 2010.