Every month I carefully track the most popular and significant environmental history articles, videos, audio, and other items making their way through the online environmental history (#envhist) community. Also check out the third installment of our monthly #EnvHist Worth Reading videos above. Here are my choices for items most worth reading from November 2014.
“Every city has invisible histories embedded within its landscape.”: This article provides an excellent example of how to both bring environmental history to the public and how to find ways to visualize environmental history. John Metcalfe discusses the fact that San Francisco used to be covered in small streams, most of which were only wet part of the year. A project called “Ghost Arroyos” plans to paint the roads around San Francisco’s City Hall with pathways meant to represent the approximate location of these historical streams. Visitors will get to follow the paths while listening to curated recordings of hydrological soundscapes and oral histories.
This piece by Peter Coates on the Power and Water project blog pairs well with the article on San Francisco’s lost waterways. Coates writes that in the “former lead mining areas of Derbyshire’s Peak District there’s a disappearing river too. But there’s a sense of mystery about its strange behavior.” Coates demonstrates how the disappearance of the river is partially due to the legacy of two lead mines from the 1700s and partially due to the natural tendency of rivers that flow through limestone regions. He discusses how it is the inclination of most conservationists to try to restore the river to a continuous stream. He states this is due to a cultural understanding of what a river should be. Instead, he argues we should appreciate the river as it is, as an intermittent river, and appreciate the lush foliage that covers the river bed the rest of the year. He concludes that “environmental historians…are well positioned to reconcile the feud between cultural and natural heritage factions.”
3. John McNeill on The Anthropocene
“Anthropocene” is definitely a current buzzword. In this video John McNeill defines the term and discusses the origins of the concept and the debates surrounding the term, particularly when the Anthropocene officially begins. He ends the video by talking about how geologists think they have sovereignty over the term, but in reality, historians and others will use the term whether geologists like it or not.
This blog on the Nature Conservancy’s blog is another example of how man changes nature both on purpose and sometimes by accident. Since the 1950s more than 200,000 wild turkeys have been released in order to make up for prior overhunting. The blog explains that this had two significant ecological ramifications. Firstly, they introduced turkeys to ten states that did not have turkeys before. Alaska is the only state that still does not have turkeys. Secondly, there are five distinct turkey subspecies, but when they were reintroduced, particularly in the early decades, very little attention was given to what subspecies was going where. This oversight led to many different hybrid combinations, and scientists are now trying to sort this genetic mess out in order to preserve the genetic diversity of North American turkeys.
These last two articles from ActiveHistory.ca complement each other because they both deal with current issues revolving around historically significant aspects of Canadian urban landscapes. In the first article, Mike Commito and Kaleigh Bradley talk about the controversy surrounding Sudbury, Ontario’s Superstack. They show that some, who want it saved, argue that it is a historical remnant of the region’s mining heritage. Others, who want it torn down, see it as an eyesore, a representation of the region’s health and environmental problems. The highlight of the article is the way Mike and Kaleigh use social media to illustrate the public debate.
Pete Anderson is writing in response to an announced plan to transfer 60 acres of Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm to the National Capital Commission, which will in turn lease it to Ottawa Hospital for a new civic Campus. Pete, who is writing his dissertation on the farm, explores the discourses that have developed after the announcement. “Particularly,” he writes, “I am interested in the ways history and science are discursively vacated by the text and maps in news about the Farm.”