#EnvHist Worth Reading: November 2017

"Mount Robson, B.C. - Looking down Fraser River showing Hogan's camp, 1914." Credit: William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada/PA-011193

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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 November 2017:

1. Listening to a River: How Sound Emerges in River Histories

In this article in the latest issue of Open Rivers: Rethinking Water, Place & Community, Christopher Caskey responds to Peter Coates call for environmental historians to consider sound in their research. Caskey argues that sound history is relevant to water history and particularly relevant to the history of rivers. “Rivers are particularly auditory places,” Caskey writes, “they make their own sounds and they have played important roles in influencing aural culture.” Caskey further states writes that river historians that do touch upon sound in their work usually use music or verse or, less commonly, recordings of the actual rivers, also known as the “river’s voice.” The majority of the article is devoted to analyzing the historiography of rivers and sound, demonstrating how much opportunity there is for expanding this subsection of environmental history.

2. “The Ecological Indian” and the History of Environmental Ideas

In this post on the blog, The Disorder of Things, Philip Conway discusses the topic of his thesis, which is examining the origin of the term “environment,” and looks at some of the problematic aspects of such a study, namely how labelling this history “Euro-American” leaves out the contributions made by Indigenous people in North America. There are at least three ways that this history, according to Conway, cannot be easily summarised under this label. Firstly, much early environmental and climate research was connected to racial science. Secondly, ecological awareness is inherently connected to colonial history. Thirdly, it is questionable as to how European these ideas were because researchers today cannot be entirely sure how much influence came from interacting with Indigenous groups. The rest of the article discusses Krech’s The Ecological Indian and the scientific origins of the term “environment.”

3. A Troubling Look at the Human Toll of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Mountaintop removal mining first originated in the 1970s, but increased exponentially in the 1990s when the Clean Air Act (and its provisions for lowering acid rain occurrences) made it more lucrative to mine coal that was lower in sulphur. This timeline means that researchers are now able to begin looking at the long-term effects of mountaintop removal mining on the environments and humans around these minds. This article in Yale Environment 360 is an interview with Michael Hendryx who is researching the health impacts of this type of mining on surrounding communities. Most research looking at health has focused on the miners. Hendryx and his research team have found that there are 1,200 excessive deaths per year in towns near mountain top removal sites. The interview goes into specifics about the types of health problems these individuals are experiencing and some of the ways that the environment is contaminated by this type of mining.

4. The West, when women are telling the story

Emily Wortman-Wunder tackles the topic of the influence of gender on our conceptions of the American (and Canadian) West. Most early nature writers who shaped our culture’s understanding of the West and the related concept of ‘wilderness’ were men like John Muir. The American West myth was written by men obsessed with wilderness and rugged individualism, Wortman-Wunder argues. Many women writing in later years stayed within the boundaries of this early, masculine framework of the West. However, recently, literature and research about the West is being produced more and more by women. Wortman-Wunder asks if our collective understanding of the West will shift as women’s voices become more prominent. Wortman-Wunder then interviews to writers, Blair Braverman and Emily Ruskovich, to get their opinions on writing about the west as a woman.

5. Rain: A history for stormy times with Cynthia Barnett 

This TedTalk from Cynthia Barnett, author of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, is an example of packaging environmental history for a public audience and a particular political message. The main point of Barnett’s talk is that nature and rain, particularly the large quantities of rain that are falling due to climate change, are not what people should fear; rather, people should fear human action and inaction. Barnett supports this opinion by looking at some scientific evidence that rainfall is increasing due to climate change and then uses examples of the way in which rain has affected human activity through history, as well as the ways in which humans have attempted to control rain.


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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