Microscopic views of the world sent around the globe. Spreading environmental issues through postal stamps. Session proposal for the ESEH Conference 2017: “Natures in between"

Silke Vetter-Schultheiß's picture
Call for Papers
June 28, 2017 to July 2, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Environmental History / Studies

Postal stamps are a widely underestimated pictorial source for historians, and even more for environmental historians. Those little pieces of paper originally designed just to pay the postage for a letter or a postcard, quickly developed to be a medium to spread political propaganda, to celebrate anniversaries, or to propagate societal concerns. In many cases, stamps are not only tiny little images to decorate a letter or to make collectors happy, but they reflect general issues in society. Stamps and the images they display are circulated millions of times. In an unapparent way they help to generate and convey modern views of the world (Josef Fürnkäs).

In this sense, environmental protection as a topic appeared on stamps in the 1950s and 1960s, whereas concerns about environmental pollution, clean mobility, and ending resources became more frequent in the 1970s and 1980s. During the last 25 years, also climate change has been chosen as a topic for stamps. Beautiful landscapes are frequently shown on stamps as well, because they suggest being part of a good life: “landscape beauty matters” (Angelika Krebs).

Seeing the world through the microscopic lens of stamps also leads to contact or conflict zones. This includes debates within one nation as well as between different states. Choosing one topic and circulating it through these tiny receipts means to run these ideas through different groups of interest. They illustrate the values of a nation.

Possible topics for the papers of the session might be, for instance:

landscape and animal protection

environmental pollution and climate change

resource saving (electric energy, water, wood)

environment and tourism

environment and mobility

global and local environmental initiatives (e.g. international cooperation, global treaties, renowned environmentalists)

human views at the space / views of the earth from outer space

Papers may concentrate on the stamps of one country or compare different countries. They may also ask for the discussion process before and after issuing the stamps. They could also direct more generally to the iconic turn in environmental history with a focus on postal stamps.

The session refers to the overall topic of the conference by pointing out how “semi-official” perceptions of environmental issues by countries have been exchanged both with the people inside the country and with any other countries. It will show how state officials wanted the national environment to be seen at home and abroad, but also how international and global environmental initiatives are mirrored in images of microscopic scale, but with an immense number of copies. It will help to introduce a new source for environmental history and to develop the iconic turn for environmental studies.


Please send your submission (title, abstract of 200-300 words, information on your affiliation, short CV) both to Silke Vetter-Schultheiß (vetter-schultheiss@pg.tu-darmstadt.de) and Christian Rohr (christian.rohr@hist.unibe.ch) not later than 26 September, 2016. The submissions will be peer reviewed by a scientific programming committee.

Contact Info: 

Organizers of the session:

Silke Vetter-Schultheiß (TU Darmstadt; vetter-schultheiss@pg.tu-darmstadt.de)

Christian Rohr (University of Bern; christian.rohr@hist.unibe.ch)