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 August 2016:
This article on the Rideau River/Canal is the ninth in a excellent series by The Globe and Mail on Canadian rivers. The article opens up with some of the folklore of the canal and then discusses how the canal is a major engineering feat of the nineteenth century. The canal was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The article discusses the centrality of the canal to the British colonial project in North America, the difficulties of constructing it, including malaria and other diseases caught by the builders, and the history of the canal as a place for tourism and recreation.
— Jesse Robertson (@JesseRoberts0n) August 18, 2016
Moving from an engineering feat, the Rideau Canal, that is still central to the landscape on which it was built to an “architectural folly” in Southwestern Oklahoma, Robert Bailey describes the tall spiral construction at the French Lake Dam that was designed to be a fish ladder, specifically for salmon, in the 1930s. The twist is that salmon are not native to Oklahoma and have never been stocked. Bailey states that this “monument to folly” provides an opportunity to “reflect on the significant lessons about usage and time that it delivers.” Bailey then discusses how this kind of structure can be looked at from an art history theoretical framework to better understand the Anthropocene.
In this latest episode of Exploring Environmental History, Jan Oosthoek interviews Wybren Verstegen about The Netherlands’ 1923 Nature Scenery Act. Oosthoek comments that The Netherlands is a special case because it is a country in which “nature and human activity are almost inseparable.” Most of The Netherlands is below sea level and has been reclaimed or drained. Thus, the country is dependent on human intervention and engineering of the landscape. Verstegen uses the example of the Nature Scenery Act to explore this fact, describes how the act was created to save country estates and the park-like settings in which they existed, and compares these estates to those found in the United States and Canada.
The main environmental history event this past month was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in the United States. To explore articles relating to this event check out the hashtag #NPS100 on Twitter. Several reading lists were amongst the plethora of national park articles, many of which left a lot to be desired. My favourite list is this one compiled by Amy Kohout. She state that “national parks have traditionally been central to American environmental history—but, at least for me, it is what national parks can reveal about the world beyond park boundaries that make them so important.” This list was particularly welcomed by those finding the #NPS100 coverage to be overwhelmingly non-critical, narrow, and white.
Another one of my favourite national park articles was this one by Business Insider. Most of the #NPS100 articles focused on the recreation side or origin stories of the parks, this article focuses on the less-discussed scientific and education mission of the National Park Service. The national parks are “living laboratories” that have contributed significantly to scientific research. The article touches upon Yellowstone bacteria contributing to DNA research, wolf-moose predatory relationship research, the role of Indiana Dunes in the formation of our our understanding of ecological succession, and several other examples.
Bonus: Grand Canyon 1958
This is just a fun find that I came across this past month. I had not heard of this Disney film prior to the #NPS100-mania. It is classical music mixed with vintage Grand Canyon footage. Good stuff.