#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 2015

Clam gardens can provide more productive habitat for clams than regular intertidal areas. Photo by Darcy Mathews via Hakai Institute, "Clam Gardens are Cultivating a New Look at Ancient Land Use."

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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. You can watch all of our #EnvHist Worth Reading videos right here. Here are my choices for items most worth reading from December 2015:

1. Has Environmental History Lost Its Way?

This piece by Lisa Brady was the “must-read” environmental history piece of December. In the post, Brady summarizes a panel she put together for the Organization of American Historians (OAH) titled “State of the Field: Environmental History.” The four panellists, only one of which was a self-professed environmental historian, that Brady invited to participate all had one thing in common: their work, whether it dealt with the cultural or material, pushed the boundaries of environmental history. One panellist questioned whether the flexibility of the field was undermining its analytical utility. Others discussed the ability of the field to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries. After reflecting on the panel, Brady discusses how she defines environmental history to non-specialists and concluded that perhaps the panel repeated a common mistake: attempting to define a field that by its very nature defies a clear definition. She states that environmental history should act as “both a tent and a lense,” and concludes that “by embracing all paths to environmental history, we aren’t losing our way, we are discovering that all roads lead back to nature.”

2. Clam Gardens Are Cultivating a New Look at Ancient Land Use

This Hakai Institute article describes the work of the Clam Garden Network: a network of archaeologists, anthropologists, and First Nations elders and knowledge holders studying the history and ecology of clam gardens. Clam gardens are human-induced mud flats, terraces that serve as ideal clam habitat and that appear along the Northwest coast of North America. The clam gardens are examples of ancient ecosystem management. Dana Lepofsky, a professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University states that the clam gardens are part of a “continuum of managed ecosystems from fish traps and clam gardens to root gardens, to crab apple stems that were very carefully tended, to culturally modified trees,” further challenging the assumption that Indigenous cultures did not alter the environment.

3. Geotagging Images Then and Now

This post from the Empire, Trees, Climate project serves a useful visual companion to the HGIS lessons located on our Digital Tools page. In the post, Megan Prescott walks the reader through several examples. Tasked with figuring out the location of the paintings in a Bermuda and seeing these sites from a cartographer’s perspective, Prescott walks the reader through her three-step process:

“1. Obtain satellite imagery (a reference with a coordinate system)

2. Obtain historical maps/surveys (scanned maps with no spatial location, but a lot of detail useful for pinpointing and tagging historical scenes)

3. Georeference the historical reference maps using satellite imagery.”

Those with GIS and georeferencing experience will appreciate the work that went into this process. For those not familiar with the process, this post serves as an interesting foray into the digital historical possibilities of this technology.

4. Vikings, Climate, and Self-Publishing

In this post, Dan Allosso tackles two topics. Firstly, he reacts to several articles and headlines about the Vikings and Greenland that surfaced in December and were retweeted by yours truly. The articles, two of which were titled, “Vikings were not spurred to Greenland by warm weather, research shows” (Guardian) and “Vikings’ mysterious abandonment of Greenland was not due to climate change, study suggests” (Washington Post), bring into the question narratives surrounding the ‘medieval warm period.’ Allosso looks closely at these articles and discusses the possible biases of the journalistic sources. In his conclusion, Allosso describes why these new studies do not require him to change the text of his newly self-published environmental history textbook, leading to the second topic of the post, which is the flexibility of self-publishing and the potential for it to allow for textbooks and other books to react more quickly to current events and new research findings.

5. “The Ecology of Erasure” – 2015 Lynn W. Day Lecture by Dr. Paul Sutter

This video, published in December by the Forest History Society, is the 2015 Lynn W. Day Distinguished Lectureship in Forest and Conservation History. This year’s talk was given by Paul Sutter. In his talk, “The Ecology of Erasure: Soil Erosion, Landscape Conservation, and the Greening of the South,” Sutter discusses the extreme soil erosion that plagued the American South in the early twentieth century and led to modern soil conservation. To do this he looks closely at the history of Providence Canyon in Georgia, what he says is perhaps the “largest anthropogenic erosion gully in the United States, if not the entire world.” Sutter describes the way in which locals believed that the canyon was natural and attempted to have it designated as a national park. The lecture is lengthy, but fascinating and worth a watch.

Remember to follow #envhist hashtag and NiCHE (@NiCHE_Canada) on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to keep up with the latest environmental history content.

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NiCHE Social Media Editor. PhD Candidate in Environmental History and Sessional Lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan. Working on dissertation analyzing the comparative history of provincial and state park development in Canada and the United States. Lab Assistant in the University of Saskatchewan HGIS Lab.

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