#EnvHist Worth Reading: January 2017

Pioneer Cabin Tree. Source: Tom Purcell, Flickr Commons

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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 January 2017:

1. Mercury-tainted soil found upstream from Grassy Narrows First Nation

Related to the environmental justice articles from last month’s list, in this Toronto Star investigative report the soil at the site of an old paper mill in Dryden, Ontario is tested for mercury contamination. Jayme Poisson and David Bruser write that “between 1962 and 1970, the former paper mill — then owned by Reed Paper — dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon River, contaminating the fish and sickening generations who consider walleye a dietary staple.” This site is of particular note because it is located upstream from Grassy Narrows First Nation, which has been plagued by the health implications of mercury contamination for decades. The report also includes interviews of former mill employees, the opinions of scientists, and information on Ontario’s denial that the old mill site is the source of the mercury contamination.

2. How Hamilton’s ghost rivers haunt city’s new development

This piece by Samantha Craggs on CBC News opens with a map of Hamilton’s shoreline from 1909. The map, in contrast with one from today, illustrates the way in which the shoreline has changed dramatically over the past one hundred years. Craggs writes that if you “peel back Hamilton’s surface and you’d find decades of streams, rivers and watercourses that once existed.” The interesting aspect of this article is that the main premise is that these hidden water systems are an inconvenience to growth, specifically construction of new condo towers. The article also touches upon groups that are working to restore wetlands and raise awareness about the city’s environmental heritage.

3. Interpreting climate change through human stories at coastal national park sites

Writing from a public history perspective, Jackie Gonzales discusses the way in which interpreters can use national park sites to help people understand the connection between climate change and human stories. Gonzales, who is an interpreter at Cape Cod National Seashore, argues that it is not difficult to find examples of climate change at these sites because one is surrounded by them. It is the interpreters job to facilitate understanding of the effects of climate change, such as stronger storms, on the environment. Gonzales uses examples from several National Shorelines to support her argument. She concludes that “drawing lines that connect seemingly disparate topics can enable history to remain relevant and a new generation of Americans to see their role in creating and addressing climate change. Coasts are an easy place to start, but they are just the beginning. Integrating human stories into narratives of climate change at all Park Service sites isn’t as hard as it sounds; we just need to bring out the stories that are hiding in plain sight.”

4. We Lost a Tree: Pioneer Cabin Giant Sequoia and Collective Sadness 

Media outlets lit up with the story of the demise of ‘Pioneer Cabin,’ a giant sequoia made famous due to the tunnel cut through it. My favourite response to this event is Sarah Ruth Wilson’s piece on The American Diversion. Wilson begins her post by asking why the felling of this tree prompted a collective emotional reaction. Wilson writes that we understand history through place and thus the historical importance of Pioneer Cabin exists on two levels: “first, its natural history through a connection to an ancient past, and second, its social history with the first tourists to the visitation of that exact spot.” Wilson also connects the emotional reaction to the current political climate and discusses the tree as a symbol of violence committed on the natural world. Wilson concludes by discussing how the loss of the tree is “poignant,” but not necessarily sad, and that we tend to only permit nature to exist for our benefit.

5. A Syllabus for Contextualizing Energy Policy Debates 

Writing in direct response to the Trump Administration’s “American First Energy Plan,” Edge Effects’ Brian Hamilton and Rachel Gross seek to add to growing collection of accessible syllabi on contemporary issues with this list of resources. They argue “that we cannot understand current climate and energy debates without thinking historically.” The syllabus includes five units including “Energy and the Making of Modern America” and “The Riddle of Clean Coal.”


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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