In recent years, natural resources have become a crucial concern and received increasing political attention. Access to and the development of natural resources became an important element of national and international politics during the 19th and 20th centuries. Resource security emerged as an issue vital to national security and resource competition gave rise to international tensions. In the early 21st century, the rapid development of emerging nations has increased the global demand of and pressure on natural resources significantly. China emerged as a leading developer and consumer of global natural resources. Large corporations from many countries competed aggressively for resource development and exploitation on a global scale. Resource markets experienced soaring prices and increasing volatility. While some resource deposits (such as North Sea oil) soon face depletion, technological advances and climate change push speculations about new resource opportunities such as in the Arctic and the deep sea. These developments raise the fundamental question how well European countries are prepared to master the challenge of securing natural resources in times of increasing global competition and tension and confronted with additional pressures such as migration, terrorism, environmental change, rising nationalism and political conflicts in many world regions.
Contemporary debates about natural resources, however, have significant limitations:
Through historical research we aim to analyze the deeper historical roots of contemporary resource perceptions and policies and to contribute to its better understanding and to broadening discourses about it. History has formed lasting material conditions and intellectual traditions of resource policies and use; it has created path dependencies, institutional structures and ideological barriers; and it has informed contemporary problem perceptions and management. At the same time, historical experiences and legacies also represent a resource for understanding and managing present and future challenges.
The state of historical research on natural resources, however, has so far also suffered from limitations such as the following: