I had an uneasy feeling about not knowing enough about the history of ecology and after some googling I tried reading Nature’s economy (http://www.amazon.com/Natures-Economy-History-Ecological-Environment/dp/0521468345). I am glad I did. Despite the first 300 pages are a bit slow and deal with the historical process from White and Linneaus, to Thoreau passing through the key figure of Darwin, it’s well written and helps you understanding the different views of nature along our history, which range from “an enemy to tame” to “an entity to conserve”. I didn’t learn a ton from this part, but I enjoyed going through the well connected dots. However, the last ~100 pages were eyeopener and something I highly recommend its read to anyone in ecology. I think this part would do a great lecture to discuss in lab meetings and the like.
Before reading chapter IV, I had a set of snapshots in my head with niche theory, food-webs, Lotcka-Volterra models, the island biogeography theory, Gaia hypothesis, emergence properties of ecosystems, deterministic population dynamics, and so forth… But connecting all this dots through history helped me a lot to understand where we are coming from. It feels that knowing the historical development of the subject helps seeing some historical constrains and even helps re-evaluate the kind of ecology we are doing (e.g. why I am closer to community ecology than to population ecology?). I am not going to try to summarize this last chapter IV here because I would do a poor job, but I think it can be read as a stand alone text, and I encourage you to have a look. If you know any other short-ish summary of the main development of ideas in ecology let me know in the comments. I feel is good to see different viewpoints on this kind of historical perspectives and also is always good to go through it a few times in order to interiorize the story.