J. R. McNeill
McNeill in 2012
John Robert McNeill
October 6, 1954
|Parent(s)||William H. McNeill|
|Awards||Heineken Prize (2018)|
|Alma mater||Swarthmore College |
|Notable works||Something New Under the Sun (2000)|
John Robert McNeill (born 1954) is an American environmental historian, author, and professor at Georgetown University. He is best known for "pioneering the study of environmental history". In 2000 he published Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World, which argues that human activity during the 20th century led to environmental damage on an unprecedented scale.
McNeill was born on October 6, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois. His father was the noted University of Chicago historian William H. McNeill, with whom he published a book, The Human Web: A Bird's-eye View of World History, in 2003.
McNeill received his BA from Swarthmore College in 1975, then went on to Duke University where he completed his MA in 1977 and his PhD in 1981.
In 1985 he became a faculty member at Georgetown University, where he serves in both the History Department and the Walsh School of Foreign Service. In 2003 he held the Cinco Hermanos Chair in Environmental History and International Affairs, until he was appointed a full university professor in 2006. He has held two Fulbright Awards, a Guggenheim fellowship, a MacArthur Grant, and a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He was president of the American Society for Environmental History (2011–13) and headed the Research Division of the American Historical Association, as one of its three Vice Presidents (2012–15). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017, awarded the Heineken Prize in History in 2018, and served as President of the American Historical Association in 2019.
McNeill focuses on environmental history, a field in which he has been recognized as a pioneer. In 2000, he published his best-known book, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World, which argues that human activity during the 20th century led to environmental damage on an unprecedented scale. He notes that before 1900, human activity did lead to a degree of local pollution, but that it barely registered on the environment compared to meteors, tectonic activity, and volcanoes; this has not been the case since 1900. His tone has been praised for its being dispassionate, impartial, and lacking the moral outrage that often accompanies books about the environment.
In 2010, he published Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1640–1914, where he argues that mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever and malaria and the "differential resistance" between local and European populations has shaped the arc of Caribbean history. Specifically, he says that it explains how Spain and Portugal were able to protect their colonies from their European rivals for so long and also why imperial Spain and Britain ultimately lost their mainland empires in the Americas late 18th and early 19th centuries. The book won the Beveridge Prize from the American Historical Association, a PROSE award from the Association of American Publishers, and was listed by the Wall Street Journal among the best books in early American history.
In 2016 McNeill and co-author Peter Engelke published The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene Since 1945. The "Great Acceleration" of the title refers to the starting decades of the Anthropocene, which is a proposed era of greater human interference in the Earth's ecology. He is working on an environmental history of the Industrial Revolution.
McNeill, J.R. "Peak Document and the Future of History," American Historical Review 125(2020), 1-18.