Three camoufleurs in the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps  make one woman disappear into the forest floor.  (Photo: NARA/165-WW-599G-1); Source: Atlas Obscura

#EnvHist Worth Reading: October 2016

Three camoufleurs in the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps make one woman disappear into the forest floor. (Photo: NARA/165-WW-599G-1); Source: Atlas Obscura


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 October 2016:

1. #StandingRockSyllabus

This interdisciplinary syllabus is managed by the NYC Stands for Standing Rock Committee. The #NODAPL protests at Standing Rock was one of the most important news stories in October and continues to be an issue of utmost importance. Standing Rock is just one example of environmental protest taking place in North America right now. In Canada, indigenous and environmental groups are also protesting Site C and Muskrat Falls Dams (for more info on these proposed dams, see our Dam Nation Series). This syllabus aims to democratize access to knowledge and make accessible information that might otherwise hide behind a paywall. The syllabus provides a detailed timeline going back 500 years and topically organized sources. This syllabus serves as an example of the way in which scholars can handle dissemination of knowledge related to other contemporary issues.

2. Salvaged Photos Capture the Rugged Life of Pennsylvania’s Late-19th-Century Lumber Camps

In my own research, most photos of the timber industry in Pennsylvania and the post-timber landscape of the state that I have encountered have one thing in common: a lack of people. In the new book, Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers: A Visual History of Pennsylvania’s Railroad Lumbering Communities, emphasis is placed on highlighting the experiences and working conditions of those people that worked the Pennsylvania landscape. The images are the handiwork of 19th century photographer, William T. Clarke. The examples of Clarke’s work featured in this Slate article are gorgeous. “In the early 20th century,” Rebecca Onion writes, “reformers interested in protecting Pennylvania forests used Clarke’s images of the thick old forest and the stripped-down hillsides of the present day to argue that lumber companies needed to be held accountable for the destruction of the forests in the state.”

3. Why Women Pretended to Be Creepy Rocks and Trees in NYC Parks During WWI

This article on Atlas Obscura, reveals a fascinating bit of military and women’s history that crosses with environmental history. The article opens with a 1918 quote from a journalist, Elene Foster, who recounts stumbling over a clump of grass in Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx, New York that squealed. The clump squealed because it was a woman, an individual part of large group of women hiding amidst the landscape of the park. These women were part of the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps; this group was made of primarily of female artists and they used parks as their laboratories. The most fascinating part of this article is the photographs of the operation that were recently unearthed.

4. Ben Franklin’s World: Episode 104: Andrew Lipman, The Saltwater Frontier: Europeans & Native Americans on the Northeastern Coast

In this episode of Ben Franklin’s World, Liz Covart interviews Andrew Lipman, the author of The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American CoastIn her show introduction, Covart points out that we rarely envision Indigenous peoples are active members of coastal economies and this interview challenges this assumption. Lipman demonstrates the way in which Indigenous peoples were involved in the 17th century northeast coastal economy. Of particular interest to environmental historians is Lipman’s discussion of native involvement in the American whaling industry.

5. Finding Place in the Archives: What River Running & Research Taught This Historian

In this beautifully illustrated and engaging post, Sara Porterfield describes a situation that is faced by many, if not most, environmental historians and other historians who write about topics that they are connected to personally: balancing memory and personal experience with objective research. Porterfield, who has spent past summers as a raft guide, states that whilst in the archive she “encountered two rivers: one composed of documents stored in archives, one constructed by (her) lived experience of place.” Throughout the post, Porterfield grapples with what it means to write about place. She concludes:”I believe the answer lies in creating meaning and memories of both the textual and physical rivers, knowing that the experience of one is enriched by that of the other. Through the experience of place we encounter a world not unlike that of the people we study.”

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 at the University of Saskatchewan. Working on dissertation analyzing the comparative history of provincial and state park development in Canada and the United States. Editor of Folklore: Magazine of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society. Lab Assistant in the University of Saskatchewan HGIS Lab.