Landscapes of Science: The E-book!

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In the last decade, NiCHE has experimented with new forms of digital scholarly publishing. Since 2009, together with the University of Calgary Press, it has produced the Canadian History and Environment series of edited collections. This open-access initiative makes scholarship in Canadian environmental history “free to anyone, any time, anywhere.” In 2016, NiCHE premiered Papers in Canadian History and Environment (PiCHE), an open-access, peer-reviewed series of original, often multimedia research articles. Today, we are pleased to announce our newest publishing venture: The Otter~La loutre E-Book Series.[1] Its open-access thematic anthologies will collect and preserve the best writing published on NiCHE’s blog.

The E-Book Series grows directly out of another of NiCHE’s digital publishing initiatives: the special series that various Otter editors have produced since 2015. It also eases a fear in my mind, at least, about the visibility and retrievability of blog posts over time. As new content is heaped atop old, scholars may find it difficult to unearth and cite a piece written years ago that contains an insightful observation, a reference now needed, or a finely turned sentence that has stuck with them ever since. We all know the frustration of searching multiple combinations of keywords on Google without ever hitting paydirt.

And if—heaven forfend—The Otter should someday reach the end of its mustelid life, whence then its corpus? The humorist Stephen Leacock once quipped that a certain piece of historical scholarship should be “embalmed in a quarterly.”[2] Although the Wayback Machine’s powers of preservation are considerable, we thought it best to act independently to ensure the long-term accessibility of these special series. Each e-book in this series will have an ISBN; each e-book, as well as each of its chapters, will also be assigned a DOI. Each e-book will be permanently lodged in YorkSpace, York University’s digital repository. We also hope to offer a print-on-demand service for readers fond of tangible pages and full bookshelves. (Stay tuned!)

The DOIs help fulfill another aim of the E-Book Series: to broaden the reach of the original, cutting-edge scholarship published in The Otter’s special series. Take Landscapes of Science, our first e-book, published today. It sprang from an observation I made on Twitter in November 2014: that the gap between environmental history and the history of science was (and remains) perplexing, given themes of obvious shared interest to these fields. The discussion that ensued helped inspire “Landscapes of Science,” The Otter’s first special series, which launched in January 2015. Stephen Bocking, a leading Canadian scholar in the environmental history of science, authored its first and eponymous post. It offers an overview of this cross-disciplinary subject, then proceeds to set an agenda for future research in this area—one that elicited a great deal of enthusiasm among environmental historians and historical geographers of Canada. The high level of engagement with this series by academics and non-academics foregrounds the contemporary relevance and importance of the environmental history of science in Canada.

For that reason, among others, the editors of NiCHE’s E-Book Series (Sean Kheraj, Dan Macfarlane, and myself) decided that it would make an excellent pilot project. Landscapes of Science contains revised and, in some cases, expanded versions of the series’ five original posts; an expanded version of a cognate post by Joanna Dean originally published on; and a new closing commentary by Stephen Bocking. It takes a “look at what was done amidst Arctic winds, Georgian Bay breezes, the sounds and smells of the laboratory, or the stillness of the herbarium.” And it demonstrates convincingly that “science has been implicated in key episodes in the environmental history of Canada.” We hope that, like other edited collections, it will be read, debated, circulated, and cited widely.

The cover of Landscapes of Science. Click here to download it!

[1] To the best of our knowledge, The Otter~La loutre is the first collaborative history blog to publish an e-book. Sean Kheraj, the originator of this initiative, took inspiration from Cory Doctorow, a contributor to Boing Boing who published an e-book of his posts, and from Anthologize, a WordPress plugin that facilitates the collation and conversion of blog posts into an e-book.

[2] Quoted in George Douglas to Trevor Lloyd, January 12, 1944, Library and Archives Canada, Trevor Lloyd fonds, MG30 B97, vol. 8, file 206. Leacock delivered the phrase in a gently deprecatory fashion, but it can also be read more positively, as a guarantor of preservation for posterity and thus a bulwark against the inevitable loss of much historical knowledge and endeavour.

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Assistant professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. I research and teach Canadian and environmental history, with a special focus on the Arctic and Subarctic.

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