#EnvHist Worth Reading: June 2016

On The Beach At Trouville by Claude Monet; Source: WikiArt

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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 June 2016:

1. Inventing the Beach: The Unnatural History of a Natural Place

This article was definitely the most viral amongst environmental and other historians this past month. In this Smithsonian.org piece, Daniela Blei explores how the beach became a focal point of western leisure. Blei begins by talking about how before the 19th century, the beach was a feared place, something to be avoided, not to flock to. The rest of the piece explores the question: “How was the beach transformed from perilous place to preferred vacation destination — its white sand and rolling waves becoming the ultimate landscape of leisure?” Blei writes that “the modern embrace of the beach for the purposes of health and hedonism, recreation and retreat, came with the rise of urban, industrial society. The European “discovery” of the beach is a reminder that human ideas about nature have changed over time — with real consequences for the environment and the world.”

2. There’s No Such Thing as Pristine Nature

The title claim of the article may not strike most environmental historians as revolutionary, but this piece in The New Yorker demonstrates that the myth of pristine nature is still alive and well in popular culture. Primarily focused on the article “Ecological consequences of human niche construction: Examining long-term anthropogenic shaping of global species distributions” by Nicole Boivin, et.al., Michelle Nijhuis also refers to the work of environmental historian, Dolly Jørgensen.

3. Gone But Not Forgotten: Filipino Fishers Recount the Region’s Disappearing Species

This article begins by emphasising the inherent inaccuracies of scientific data regarding biodiversity. The rest of the article features work being done in The Philippines to use cultural sources to develop a more accurate record of biodiversity loss. “The country is home to one of the world’s most biodiverse—and most threatened—marine ecosystems. But there, wildlife censuses are a relatively new tool. Scientists assume that Filipino seas have been losing species, but without data it’s hard to say for sure,” writes Jason G. Goldman. Researcher Margarita N. Lavides is heading a project which has interviewed 2,600 fishermen to record their knowledge of their catch-rates. The article states that “by mining the fishers’ memories, Lavides produced a record of species loss in Filipino seas that stretches back nearly seventy years.”

4. Our National Parks: Indigenous Voices

This page includes a short article/radio segment that provides a succinct summary of current and historic issues related to Indigenous peoples and the creation of national parks. Robert Manning discusses how Indigenous people were displaced by park creation and how the national park idea does not jive well with Indigenous beliefs. He also discusses more recent efforts to co-manage national parks with Indigenous groups. He concludes that “It’s important that Native Americans play a vital role in establishing, interpreting and managing national parks. And to understand the full diversity of our nation’s history, it’s equally important that all Americans hear the voices of indigenous people.”

5. The Great Sparrow War of the 1870s

House sparrows were introduced to North America by Europeans who thought they would help to rid cities of pesky insects and because they reminded immigrants of their homeland. As with most introduced species, the sparrows soon spread out of control and were called a “zoological catastrophe” by some scientists. In this post, Matthew Willis, provides an interesting synopsis of this early ecologically-based battle in the scientific community, which includes links to articles and studies for further exploration of the topic.

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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is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States, editor, project manager, and digital communications strategist. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Saskatchewan in 2019. She is an executive member, editor-in-chief, and social media editor for the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE). Additionally, she is the Managing Editor for the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon and a Coordinating Team member of Showing Up for Racial Justice Saskatoon-Treaty Six. A passionate social justice advocate, she focuses on developing digital techniques and communications that bridge the divide between academia and the general public in order to democratize knowledge access. You can find out more about her and her freelance services at jessicamdewitt.com.


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