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Power Politics

Carbon Energy in Historical Perspective

Author Clif Stratton, Series editor Jesse Spohnholz, and Clif Stratton

Publication Date - 17 August 2020

ISBN: 9780197520581

176 pages

In Stock

Each title in the Roots of Contemporary Issues series gives students the opportunity to engage with the contours of a historical argument


Growing directly out of the experiences of a team of Washington State University historians who designed a new foundational course for WSU's common requirements, the Roots of Contemporary Issues series is built on the premise that students will be better at facing current and future challenges, no matter their major or career path, if they are capable of addressing controversial and pressing issues in mature, reasoned ways using evidence, critical thinking, and clear written and oral communication skills.

To help students achieve these goals, each title in the Roots of Contemporary Issues series argues that today's problems are not simply the outcomes of yesterday's decisions: they are shaped by years, decades, and centuries of historical developments. Solving the central problems facing our world requires a deep historical understanding of the ways in which humans have been interconnected with faraway places for centuries.

Power Politics is centered around the premise that in order to generate real solutions to the problem of climate change, we must first understand how our relationship to the carbon-based fuels that drive global warming has unfolded over time. Addressing the monumental problem of climate change requires an investigation into the historical exercise of power by carbon energy companies, government officials, and ordinary citizens and workers. It also requires understanding how and why fossil fuels became inextricably linked to the larger processes and systems of colonization, capitalism, industrialization, war-making, diplomacy, and others.

By tracing the historical relationship between carbon energy and political ideas, institutions, motivations, and actions, Power Politics places readers in a better position to understand the entrenched nature of climate change denialism, capitalists' self-proclaimed ability to correct the problem, and the appeal of politically radical solutions to global warming. The book is organized into five chapters that move forward in time and offer selected case studies that illustrate how the pursuit of carbon energy and politics intersect and shape each other over time. The chapters track five key periods in the political history of carbon energy: the pre-industrial, the industrial revolution, the ages of empire and mass democracy, the Cold War and decolonization, and the late- and post- Cold War.


  • Introduces students to history from the point of view of controversial and pressing issues they already know about and many of whom already feel invested in. This increases students' engagement, particularly for general education or required history courses.
  • Every chapter models the analysis of primary sources relevant to the subject. This allows students to imagine the variety of sources available to them for historical research, and to see how historians use different kinds of sources to make conclusions.
  • Every chapter models the engagement with and ways to resolve historiographical debate, helping students to understand that differences of interpretation do not preclude the respectful development of reasonable conclusions.
  • Where appropriate, chapters demonstrate how historians and scholars in other fields rely on one another. Helps non-majors and general education students understand how history can relate to other fields in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
  • Chapters offer depth by offering case studies in world history. Students are able to see the details of a historical argument and narrative instead of relying on surface level descriptions of historical developments.
  • Each chapter models historical knowledge as constructed, not absolute, by describing recent discovery or new conclusions that have changed historians' understanding of the past, or gaps remaining in the historical records. This allows students to understand history not just as the changing events of the past, but as a process of knowledge construction still ongoing today.
  • Connects pre-modern to modern history explicitly. Additionally, each chapter includes both Western and non-Western content. Allows readers to understand the deep past as connected to the present, and to see that the West has interacted with non-Western regions for centuries.

About the Author(s)

Clif Stratton teaches history and is the Director of University Common Requirements (UCORE) at Washington State University.


"Some of us love history for its own sake, but for most students the contents of a college history course seem detached, unrelated to their lives, even meaningless. Yet we are surrounded by the legacy of history. Everything around us--policy, population, culture, economy, environment--is a product of the actions and activities of people in the past. How can we hope to address the challenges we face and resolve contentious issues--inequality, health, immigration, climate change--without understanding where they come from? The volumes in the Roots of Contemporary Issues series are the tested products of years of classroom teaching and research. They address controversial issues with impartiality but not detachment, combining historical context and human agency to create accounts that are meaningful and usable for any student confronting the complex world in which they will live."--Trevor R. Getz, San Francisco State University

"This is a truly innovative series that promises to revolutionize how world history is taught, freeing students and faculty alike from the 'tyranny of coverage' often embedded within civilizational paradigms, and facilitating sustained reflection on the roots of the most pressing issues in our contemporary world. Students' understanding of the importance of history and their interest in our discipline is sure to be heightened by these volumes that deeply contextualize and historicize current global problems."--Nicola Foote, Arizona State University

"In Power Politics, Stratton addresses one of the most pressing and timely issues of our times. In a world literally drowning and burning from the effects of climate change, he explicates the historical roots of our dependence on fossil fuels."--Shellen Wu, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Table of Contents

    List of Maps and Figures
    About the Author
    Series Introduction: Connecting the Past and Present


    Chapter 1. Energy and Politics Before the Carbon Age
    Hydraulic Politics
    Proto-Fossil China
    English Coal

    Chapter 2. Life in the Factory
    Why Britain?
    Slow Steam, Rushing Water
    Coal Fire Spreads

    Chapter 3. Carbon Democracy and its Limits
    Carbon Energy and its Democratic Promise
    The Limits of Carbon Democracy
    Carbon Empires
    Oil Violence in Revolutionary Mexico

    Chapter 4. Cold War Carbon
    The Cold War and Decolonization
    Energy Recovery
    Oil and Democracy in the Middle East

    Chapter 5. The Politics of Energy Crisis
    Posted Prices
    Inventing an Energy Crisis
    Neocolonial Carbon

    Conclusion: Protest Energy


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