Emmanuel Kreike

Norman B. Tomlinson ’16 and ’48 Professor of War and Society; Professor of History
Office Phone
138 Dickinson Hall

Emmanuel Kreike, a citizen of the Netherlands, holds a PhD in African history from Yale University (1996) and a Dr. of Science (PhD) in Tropical Forestry from the School of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University (2006). His research and teaching interests focus on the intersection of war/violence, population displacement, environment, and society. He is particularly interested in how violence (including, for example, colonial conquest, liberation and civil wars, and slave raiding) and the ensuing forced migration led to the destruction of human landscapes and how people rebuild post-conflict lives and livelihoods in often alien environments. He has taught courses in African history and environmental history at Princeton University as well as courses and workshops in forestry and environmental sciences in Namibia and South Africa.

Kreike’s publications include Re-Creating Eden: Land Use, Environment, and Society in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia (Heinemann, 2004); Deforestation and Reforestation in Namibia: The Global Consequences of Local Contradictions (Brill and Markus Wiener, 2010); Environmental Infrastructure in African History: Examining the Myth of Natural Resource Management in Namibia (Cambridge, 2013); and Scorched Earth: Environmental Warfare as a Crime against Humanity and Nature (Princeton, 2021). He co-edited Corrupt Histories (University of Rochester Press, 2004) with William Chester Jordan.

He is currently working on two book projects to complete an Environcide Trilogy to highlight the nexus of war and environment and society as an unholy trinity that has received surprisingly little systematic attention. Scorched Earth: Environmental Warfare as a Crime against Humanity and Nature (Princeton University Press, 2021) constitutes the first book in the trilogy. Scorched Earth argues that the practice of conventional war from the 16th century through the First World War was marked by environcide, that is, intentionally targeting society’s environmental infrastructure to sustain armies’ living off the land while simultaneously employing scorched earth to destroy any resources that could support enemy forces.

Volume two, The Nature of Cold War (Counter)Insurgency: Environcide in the Global South, demonstrates how and why post-Second World War modern (counter)insurgency conflicts persist in routinely treating the rural environment that populations depend on for their lives, livelihoods, and ways of life as subjects, objects, and tools of war, resulting in humanitarian and environmental disasters, including ethnic cleansing, genocide, and ecocide. The book highlights a range of cases from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, including the Indonesian Independence War, The French Indochina War, the Algerian War, the Cuban Revolution, the Nigerian Civil War, the liberation and civil wars in Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, and South Africa, and the Colombian Civil War.

The third volume in the Environcide Trilogy, Violent Natures: Slave Raids, Slave Revolts, Marronage and Environcide, assesses the impact of the violence and the displacement of the Atlantic slave trade on society and the environment in Africa and the Americas. Inspired by Walter Rodney’s seminal How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, the book demonstrates how the violence of enslavement through wars, raiding, abduction, and the “production” of slaves in Africa and during the Middle Passage in many ways resembles the impact of modern “low-intensity conflict,” as discussed in Environcide volume 2. Like unconventional and conventional warfare, enslavement resulted in deeply destructive violence against Humanity and Nature, and often constituted environcide and ecocide as well as being genocidal. Slave wars and slave raiding often were accompanied by scorched earth and caused massive displacement across the continent as survivors fled into inaccessible forests, swamps, and mountains, abandoning their homes, fields, and orchards. The “Wild Africa” that 19th European travelers described was not only a fiction that served to legitimize colonialism and imperialism, but also an actual physical environment. The violence to maintain enslavement in the Americas similarly relied deeply on environmental warfare: slave revolts and maroons typically targeted the plantation agriculture (for example, cane fields and sugar mills), while the planter militias and military forces deployed to suppress slave revolts and marronage destroyed the farms, fields, and other environmental resources that the rebels and maroons depended on. Maroons, rebels, and slaves all relied on forms of “furtive” agriculture, which colonialists and the soldiers often could not distinguish from natural vegetation. The case studies on the African side build on Kreike’s previous research on the early 18th century Gold Coast and late 19th century and early 20th century southern Angola/Northern Namibia and southern Mozambique/Northeastern South Africa. In the Americas, the cases include Brazilian Palmares, Colombia’s Pacific Lowlands, Cuba’s Oriente, and Suriname/Guyana. Each case study is embedded in broader reviews of the literature to offer a comprehensive analysis.

Kreike is also pursuing a research project that systematically integrates birds-eye view spatial visual sources (aerial photography, satellite images, and maps), landscape and settlement photos, sample household surveys, and oral history with more conventional archival documentary sources by using digital and Geographical Information Science (GIS) programs and technology. The project is exploring the possibility of using AI and Machine Learning to machine read archival aerial photography with assistance from Princeton University’s Center for Digital Humanities (CDH), a Microsoft AI for Earth Grant, and support from the Microsoft AI for Good Research Lab.

Kreike has conducted oral history and archival research in Cuba, Nigeria, Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Senegal, and archival research in France and Italy as well as in twenty Dutch national, regional, and local archives, including the West India Company Archive (WIC), the archive of the Dutch Possessions on the Coast of Guinee (NBKG), and the Colonial Archive on the Netherlands-Indies (Aceh collections).

Podcast Interviews

Further information on this research can be found through the following links:

Talk: Podcast
Presentation: PDF
Online article about presentation: Beyond Words: Environmental History, Digitization, and GIS
Animation: kreik20.mov
(Quicktime movie incorporating Quickbird image from Digital Globe and globe image from ESRI)


  • 1982 Kandidaats (B.A.), History, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
  • 1986 Dokterandus (M.A.), Department of History, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
  • 1986-1988 M.A., Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles.
  • 1987-1988 Exchange Scholar, Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley. 
  • 1990-1991 Department of Forestry, Wageningen Agricultural University.
  • 1996 Ph.D., History Department, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 2006 Dr. Sc., School of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
Area of Interest
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Environmental History
Race & Ethnicity
Social History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
15th & 16th Centuries
17th & 18th Centuries
19th Century
20th Century
Sub-Saharan Africa