Environmental Psychohistorian J. Donald Hughes

J. Donald Hughes, PhD, was born in 1932 in Santa Monica, California. He is John Evans Professor of History at the University of Denver where he teaches ancient and environmental history as well as psychohistory.  He is the author of Pan’s Travail: Environmental Problems of the Ancient Greeks and Romans (1994); “The Dreams of Alexander the Great,” Journal of Psychohistory 12(2) (Fall 1984):168-192; and co-editor with Robert C. Schultz of the anthology Ecological Consciousness (1981). He is a past editor of Environmental History Review and a past president of the C.G. Jung Society of Colorado.
[My] article, “The Dreams of Alexander the Great” is a historical paper about dreams that are recorded for Alexander.  It required my finding all the dreams ascribed to him — a great number, and winnowing out the ones he might actually have had, that come from reliable sources.  I ended up with six dreams for which I thought one could make a good case. They’re recorded in the same way as his other actions, often in more than one source, and they use images and symbols that we could expect in ancient dreams.  I tried to see what those images and symbols would have meant to someone growing up in his time and community.  [I believe that we here in the 20th century can be empathic with people who lived millennia ago because] I don’t think that human nature has changed all that much.  I judge that because, being an ancient historian, I read a lot of ancient literature, and find the authors reflecting the same emotions, talking about many of the same issues, as we still do today.

There certainly is [a psychological component to environmental history] — our attitudes and values and behavior toward nature.  Is there a relationship between the way people regard nature — or at least the way they say they regard it — and what they actually do?  I have found less correlation between the two than I would like to have thought.  Major religions, for instance, have rather strong views about how we ought to treat nature. Yet, when you look at the way their followers treat the environment, you see they cause a lot of damage.

Our ability to see ourselves in relation to nature has not kept up with our technological advancement. It’s in the balancing of technology with nature, and in the ecological process. We are so terribly out of balance. We may need something other than just ethical or religious teachings to get us on the right track — something from the field of psychology.

Interview by Bob Lentz. [Excerpted from March 1996.]

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