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 January 2016:
January was a fruitful month for commentary on contemporary issues by environmental historians. One of the main events this past month was the militia-takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Nancy Langston weighed in on the situation in an op-ed in The New York Times. Langston writes that “anger at predators, environmentalists and federal managers who threaten the mythic past of cowboys on the range is as strong there as anywhere in the West.” Langston discusses the mythic version of the past to which many ranchers and other locals subscribe, the dangers of this myth, and some of the factual complexities of Malheur and its region’s history.
Another environmental event making headlines this past month was the Flint Water Crisis, which brought attention to infrastructure, environmental justice, and other issues. In the New Republic, Chris Sellers, explains why Flint is not as unique or recent as most reporting suggests. Sellers explains that there are approximately six million miles of lead pipes still in use in the United States, making another Flint-esque crisis probable. Sellers discusses why lead was chosen over other material in the 19th and 20th-centuries, also making links to medical knowledge and perceptions at the time. Sellers also discusses the power of the lead industry, the movement against lead in the 1970s, and some of the measures that the federal government took to reduce lead contamination and improve drinking water standards.
Last month I highlighted Lisa Brady’s provocative essay, “Has Environmental History Lost Its Way?” The essay sparked a number of response pieces and was the topic of our latest episode of Nature’s Past. In his response to Brady’s essay, Joshua Specht states that ultimately he agrees with Brady, that the inclusivity of the field nurtures its richness. The field, Specht writes, is divided into two main camps, “materialists” and “culturalists.” The rest of the piece is devoted to arguing for the marriage of these two camps. “If materialist environmental history explains how the human and nonhuman world fundamentally shape each other, culturalist environmental history helps us understand why the human world so stubbornly stands outside the natural one,” he writes. The health and relevance of environmental history, according to Specht, relies on combining materialist and culturalist approaches.
In this post, Zoe Todd, considers the way in which Indigeneity interplays with the concept of the Anthropocene. Todd, who is Métis, discusses how she has watched her home province Alberta’s environment be transformed by economic activity. To her, the Anthropocene demonstrates the “inextricable relationships between land, bodies, time, and stories.” If the Anthropocene began in 1610, then the violent colonial forces that victimized Indigenous peoples in the past share a direct link to current environmental power relations. Todd concludes by asking what we can learn from still-living Indigenous peoples whose lives have been shaped by the upheaval wrought by the early forces of the Anthropocene.
This post on the Inhabiting the Anthropocene blog seeks to demonstrate (and succeeds) one way of visualizing the effects of humans on the environment. The post anchors itself in the work of Erle Ellis and the concept of “anthromes” (short for anthropogenic biomes). “Anthromes,” the post states,”are human biomes in which the global ecological patterns are classified according to the effect of human interactions with the ecosystems.” The author demonstrates this concept with four anthrome maps of Oklahoma (from 1700, 1800, 1900, and 2000). The author then further visualizes the change in land use in Oklahoma by graphing the changes, demonstrating the way in which semi-natural land has been taken over by croplands and rangelands.