Environmental historian sheds different light on Civil War

  It’s not just about battles and generals, said the 15th annual Lampros lecturer Lisa M. Brady during her presentation on Tuesday.


With a modest crowd of Wildcats and community members, the environmental historian addressed all the environmental factors that defined the American Civil War.


“The Civil War has its origins in the soil itself,” Brady said. “So, if the war was fought over the soil, it was also fought with it.”


The lights dimmed in Dumke Hall as Brady presented her free lecture “Down and Dirty in Dixie: An Environmental History of the U.S. Civil War.”


Lisa Brady
Lisa Brady talked about the environmental aspects of the Civil War during her Lampros lecture on Tuesday. (Source: WSU History department)

With projector screens flashing images of the Civil War, the presentation addressed the environmental aspects that impacted one of our nation’s greatest conflicts.


For Susan Matt, WSU history department chair, the lecture was a great way for a diverse group of people to look at this time period through a different lens.


“This talk looked at both the environmental causes and consequences of the civil war, so it’s a completely different perspective,” said Matt about the discussion.


Brady said this war was a very significant topic to discuss because it was such a huge turning point in U.S. history.


“I’ve been interested in the Civil War for a long time,” Brady said. “It was one of those moments where our nation could have either survived as it did or it could have been destroyed completely.”


Throughout her lecture, Brady emphasized that while human influences  impacted the nation, material and natural elements also affected the outcome of the war.


“We need to understand that nature, not just terrain or weather or disease, is an agent in history that has contributed to the strategic and operational planning during the Civil War,” Brady said.


From soil to slavery, Brady pointed out that environment was just as influential in military campaigns as ideological aspects.


According to WSU professor of history Sara Dant, environmental factors of war are often overlooked when dealing with the history.


“These are elements of warfare that often get ignored, or aren’t really considered in detail,” Dant said.


Dant said Brady was able to address how the environment played a key role in shaping the war’s outcome.



Being fascinated with history ever since she was young, Brady is currently a Boise State University history teacher and has published a number of articles in environmental history journals.


In addition to her many publications, Brady also introduced her first book, “War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War” during the presentation.


The new book offered further analysis of how nature helped shape Civil War strategies and campaigns.


According to Brady, the Civil War is relevant today because it offers insight into the conflicts that arose not only from cultural aspects, but environmental ones as well.


“If we understand how resources can generate conflict in the past, and if we try to think about what those lessons can teach us, maybe we can try to avoid them in the future,” she said.


For Dant, bringing attention to these environmental aspects is a great way for students to get a better understanding of history.


“If you understand the place and influences of the environment, then you understand history at a more complex level,” she said.


Brady is currently moving on to her next project, which addresses the conflicts and environmental aspects of 20th-century Korea.


However, she hoped students left the discussion with not only a new perspective on the Civil War, but also with a new sense of appreciation for history.


“It’s important for student to get involved in history, not only because it teaches us who we are, but because it exposes us to different cultures and ideas,” she said, “I’d like to think we can learn from the past and not go blindly into the future.”