Norwegian Postcard "F-1516-3 Tromsø. Byen hvor isbjørnen "vandrer" i gatene." Source: Flicker Commons, Nasjonalbiblioteket / National Library of Norway

#EnvHist Worth Reading: March 2017

Norwegian Postcard "F-1516-3 Tromsø. Byen hvor isbjørnen "vandrer" i gatene." Source: Flicker Commons, Nasjonalbiblioteket / National Library of Norway

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 March 2017:

1. The Uses of Environmental History: John R. McNeill“As Useful as We Want to Be”

In this new series from Rachel Carson Center’s blog, Seeing the Woods, historians are asked to discuss the uses of environmental history. John R. McNeill kicked off the series with a thought-provoking piece that argues that environmental historians do not need to worry about being useful, that it is perfectly okay to be useless. Most history is not justifiable, he argues, if usefulness is a requirement. If environmental historians can, however, choose to be useful. He concludes with some suggestions for how to be useful and a reflection on his own experience addressing Congress about the zika virus.

2. A Conversation about Teaching Early Canadian History in the United States

In this three-part series, Claire Campbell, Alexandre Dubé, Jeffers Lennox, and Christopher Parsons discuss their experience teaching early Canadian History in the United States. The contributors discuss their personal stories about how they ended up in the United States. They also talk about what American students know about Canadian history prior to taking a Canadian history class and what Canadianists can learn from the way in which early U.S. history is taught. The environmental history connection is located throughout, but is of particular interest in part three where three participants discuss the challenges of teaching transnational environmental history. Lennox argues that environmental history is likely the most effective field for breaking down nationalist narratives.

3. Every Single Piece Of Plastic Ever Made Still Exists. Here’s The Story

Diego Gonzaga’s popular post starts off with the thought-provoking truth bomb that “every single piece of plastic ever made still exists” and that it will be another 500 years before the first plastics made will start to disappear. Gonzaga talks about plastic’s early origin as a replacement for ivory. Plastic did not start being used en masse until the mid-twentieth century due to the development of mass production assembly lines and the onslaught of World War II. After the war, plastic was cheap and the industry still wanted to to turn a profit so they started making everything out of plastic. Gonzaga concludes by discussing the environmental impact of all this plastic and what individuals can do about it.

4. Toronto’s buried history: the dark story of how mining built a city 

This post begins at the 85th annual meeting of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and reveals that Toronto is the global hub of all mining companies. 75% of the world’s mining companies are located in Toronto. There are few, if any, other cities in the world with a market as specialized as Toronto is in regards to mining. Despite the prevalence of mining capital, there is little evidence of its existence in the city and many residents do not know how entrenched the city’s welfare is in the health of the global mining industry. The article then looks at the historical antecedents that led to Toronto’s reliance on mining.

5. A bear for the ages: A brief cultural history of the polarizing polar bear

This post is a synopsis of Michael Engelhard’s book, Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon. Engelhard argues that there are few animals that divide opinions as much as the polar bear. He looks at contemporary uses of the polar bear as a mascot for climate change and historical, popular representations. Engelhard surmizes that “over the past 8,000 years, we have regarded it as food, toy, pet, trophy, status symbol, commodity, man-eating monster, spirit familiar, circus act, zoo superstar and political cause célèbre. We have feared, venerated, locked up, coveted, butchered, sold, pitied and emulated this large carnivore. It has left few emotions unstirred. Where the bears’ negative image prevailed, so often a perceived competition for resources or a threat to our dominion were the causes.”

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.

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