I’ll be the first to admit that I come at my dissertation project from a fairly privileged and personal starting point. Each summer growing up, my parents took me and my siblings to our cottage on Lake Joseph in Muskoka. For those who do not know this area two hours north of Toronto, Muskoka was an exclusively Aboriginal place prior to 1850, was resettled by eurocanadians in the second half of the nineteenth century, experienced a brief period as a major centre for timber extraction and saw-milling before the turn of the century, and became Ontario’s premiere tourist destination as early as the 1880s. From an early age, I learned there was something special about our cottage and the place it occupied in Muskoka. The island where the cottage is located was purchased from the Crown in 1873 by a lawyer from Toronto named James MacLennan. MacLennan also bought several other islands at the same time in order to save them from logging. As a consequence, most of the woods surrounding our 125 year-old cottage is old growth forest. For many years, MacLennan and his guests reached the cottage by railroad and then steamer, which dropped passengers and their trunks off at a wharf that no longer exists, but whose cribs still rest on the bottom of the lake next to a point of land beside the cottage. In the late nineteenth century, MacLennan and his family came up and stayed for most if not all of the summer, bought supplies from local settlers, and seldom traveled more than a few kilometers. Although their reasons for being in Muskoka were much the same then as they are now (escaping the city, being close to nature), limited mobility and closer relationships with permanent residents distinguishes the past from the present.
Knowing a bit about the history of my own cottage quickly piqued my interest in Muskoka more generally, and how the area became such a popular place for cottagers and summer visitors. This lead me to a Master’s Thesis at Queen’s University with Colin Duncan on energy use in Muskoka between 1850 and 1920. While conducting research for my MA, I quickly discovered that Muskoka has a fascinating environmental history, which demanded further study. Thus, I am now working with Colin Coates at York University, on my doctoral dissertation entitled Poor Soils and Rich Folks: Societal Metabolisms and Sustainability in Muskoka, 1850-1920.
My project seeks to explore how life in Muskoka became more or less sustainable over time and place. Since nothing is completely sustainable, only more or less sustainable, what I hope to accomplish is to identify the ways of living and the particular arrangements between humans and their environment that were most sustainable in Muskoka during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By taking the material and energy flows of everyday life as my starting point, I am attempting to assess the social, economic and environmental implications of life on the Shield for First Nations peoples, eurocanadian (re)settlers, tourists and cottagers, and the logging and tanning industries. My overarching take-away for the dissertation is that life on the Shield was (and still is) unavoidably reliant on inputs from outside the region, and that because of this the most sustainable arrangements and ways of living in Muskoka were those that maximized the consumption of local resources, for local consumption, made possible by locally-based interconnections. The most sustainable communities (socially, economically and environmentally) were those that learned how to benefit from the local rather than become dependent on exogenous imports.
In addition to Library and Archives Canada and the Ontario Archives, my research has taken me to numerous small public and private collections of documents. The curators and archivists of local museums, heritage centres, community archives and libraries have been extremely helpful in helping me dig up sources that would not have been available to me otherwise. Doing a microhistory project has enabled me to get to know many members of the community and develop a level of trust that most researchers do not experience. Muskoka is a place steeped in its own romantic and fanatical history. It is my hope that this project will enhance the sense of place people in Muskoka have already, and that through my work I may become an active member of the community able to demonstrate that an understanding of the past is useful and vital to shaping responsible and sustainable choices and policies for the future.
Andrew Watson is a Phd Candidate in the history department at York University in Toronto.
JC: Where do you work? How does environmental history contribute to your job?
RS: I teach in the History and Philosophy of Education Program, Department of Theory and Policy Studies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Environmental history does not play a major role in my teaching, which focuses on the history of education, and history teaching in Canada, though I do discuss with my students the importance of environmental history, and explain what it is. Environmental history does come into the research part of my work, in my work on the history of rural Canada, and of energy use in the home.
JC: What is your current research project?
RS: I am currently working on two major projects, writing a general history of rural Canada, 1870-1940 for the University of Toronto’s Issues in Canadian History Series, and I am conducting research into a SSHRC funded project “Heat, Light and Work in Canadian Homes: A Social History of Fossil Fuels and Hydro-electricity.”
JC: What got you interested in this topic?
RS: In connection with my earlier work in the history of the family and rural history in Canada (with a focus on British Columbia), I conducted a number of interviews with rural people. I was surprised at how late fossil fuels and hydro electricity were adopted in their homes. And I was impressed with how keen my interview subjects were to talk to me about the transformations that electricity finally brought to their lives – it was clearly a subject of great importance to them.
JC: Does this current project build on your earlier publications?
RS: My history of rural Canada builds on my dissertation research, published as R.W. Sandwell, Contesting Rural Space: Land Policy and the Practices of Settlement, Saltspring Island, British Columbia, 1859-91 (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), and a collection of essays that I edited, R. W. Sandwell, ed. , Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999). It also builds on a couple of articles, “Missing Canadians: Reclaiming the A-Liberal Past” Jean-François Constant and Michel Ducharme, eds. Liberalism and Hegemony: Debating the Canadian Liberal Revolution (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009), 246-273, and “History as Experiment: Microhistory and Environmental History,” Alan McEachern and William Turkel, eds., Method and Meaning in Canadian Environmental History (Toronto: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008) ), 122-36. My work on changing fuel use in the home draws from these works to the extent that my research into rural Canada has explored the continued importance of the family and household to the economic, cultural and political history of Canada well into the twentieth century.
JC: What contribution do you hope to make the wider field with this project?
RS: I hope that the rural history project will document and explore the extremely close ties between people and their local environments in Canada until the 1940s, and the key role that these varied relationships played in the “development” of local, regional, national and global economies and societies. I hope that “Heat, Light and Work in Canadian Homes” will expand our understanding of the ways that changing domestic fuel and energy use has transformed the relationship between people and their local environments, between the household and the larger Canadian society, and among people within the household. Women’s lives in particular have been transformed over the past century by changing fuel use in the home. Documenting the varieties of fuels and the technologies that they involved might also be useful as our society moves over the next half century to a world without cheap fuels.
In Victoria County, New Brunswick, there is a certain tree which the locals refer to as the “Big Tree.” This particular tree sits atop a knoll alongside the Trans-Canada Highway, approximately 10 kilometres north of Perth-Andover and directly across from the Hamlet of Aroostook’s water tower. Hundreds of thousands of tourists, truckers, and regular folks going about their daily routines pass by this tree every year, but very few ever notice it. Surrounded by brush and many ordinary-looking trees, there is nothing spectacular about the tree on the knoll that would make it stand out to someone driving by on the highway. However, once you leave your car and actually walk to the base of the tree, then you can understand why locals have named it as they have. At more than two metres in diameter, ecologists estimate the Big Tree is no less than 500 years old. What is even more remarkable is that it is an eastern white pine, the tree species most valued by Eastern Canada’s forest industries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Luckily for the Big Tree, its trunk branches out in several directions a few metres above the ground, making it of little economic value for lumberers (not much “straight wood”).
The Big Tree is a reminder of how badly New Brunswick’s forests have been managed. Hardly any large white pines, or large examples of any other species of tree for that matter, have survived more than two hundred years of intensive forestry in New Brunswick. In a series of transitions starting in the late 18th century, the province’s forest industries shifted from the production of ship masts to square timber to long lumber and finally pulp and paper in the 1920s. Successive industries simply cut the biggest and the best trees they needed to supply a particular market, a process commonly known as “high-grading.” By the mid-20th century, this valuation of the forests in purely economic terms had prompted a debate about forest management policy in New Brunswick. My doctoral dissertation examines the competing visions of various forest stakeholders, including pulp and paper companies, lumber companies, woods workers, independent woodlot owners, and environmentalists, as to how the provincial government should manage the Crown (public) forests after the Second World War. Each group valued the forests differently. The pulp and paper industry, for example, considered the Crown forests valuable solely as industrial landscapes, while the environmentalists were more concerned with the forests as vibrant natural ecosystems (their intrinsic value).
In the 1970s, the poor state of the province’s forests and a cyclical downturn in international pulp and paper markets provided an opportunity for the New Brunswick government to seriously consider alternatives to the dominant industrial model of forest management. In particular, the provincial government formally established the New Brunswick Forest Authority in October 1973, a Crown corporation that administered more than 400,000 hectares of forests near Bathurst as part of a massive forest management experiment. The Bathurst Pilot Project was unparalleled in the history of North American forestry. If it had been judged successful after the initial five years, all Crown land leases in New Brunswick would have been withdrawn and placed under the control of the Forest Authority. The Authority, as the sole harvester of wood on Crown lands, would have assured mills an annual “guaranteed volume” of wood. For a variety of reasons, the project failed by the end of the 1970s and the industrial forestry valuation of landscape/ideology of use became well implanted within government and industry circles. The industrial forestry model has informed Crown forest management policy in New Brunswick to the present day.
At the dawn of the new millennium, the Big Tree suddenly garnered a lot of attention at the local and provincial levels. The New Brunswick government was in the process of expanding the Trans-Canada Highway from two lanes to four, and the section of the new highway through Victoria County was projected to bisect the Big Tree. The potential loss of the tree sparked significant protest from ecologists, environmentalists, historians, and local residents. For them, the tree was valuable as an ecological specimen, as a symbol of what the province’s forests had once looked like, and as a possible tourist attraction (to this day, many claim that it is the largest tree in New Brunswick). This campaign to save the Big Tree was one of the reasons why the provincial government ultimately changed the highway’s course a couple of hundred metres to the east. In this instance, alternative valuations of nature challenged economic orthodoxy. It has yet to be seen if something similar will ever occur in the management of New Brunswick’s Crown forests.
Mark J. McLaughlin is a PhD Candidate in history at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. He is also on the CHESS 2011 organizing committee.
In his well-known, much-loved song “Northwest Passage,” the Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers testified to the enduring fascination of exploration. While travelling west over the prairies, the song’s modern protagonist recalls the storied journeys of early European explorers over the same spaces. He proclaims himself heir to their tradition of travel; he is the “tardiest explorer / driving hard across the plain.” This notion of tardiness well captures the way in which the language and imagery of exploration lingers throughout the twenty-first-century world. The Explorers’ Club of New York, once host to Cook, Peary, and Amundsen, now touts contemporary “explorers” and “expeditions” on Twitter (@ExplorersClub). Certain exploratory acts also retain rhetorical power, as several Russians realized when they “claimed” the North Pole at its seabed in 2007 by planting their country’s flag upon that “virgin” territory. Meanwhile, the Canadian government pursued another act of exploration: the mapping of Canada’s portion of the Arctic submarine continental shelf. This activity recalls the most uniquely modern facet to exploration—its equation with the ever-widening industrial search for lucrative minerals and fossil fuels buried in the earth’s crust and demanded for human consumption.
How and why does exploration continue to resonate in a supposedly post-exploratory age? This conundrum was as pertinent one hundred years ago, when the heroic age of exploration was thought to be drawing to a close, as it is today. It also lies at the heart of my doctoral dissertation, which examines the culture of northern Canadian exploration in the first half of the twentieth century. I focus on the writings and actions of four self-defined explorers: the mining engineer George Douglas (1875-1963), the surveyor Guy Blanchet (1884-1966), the ethnologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962), and the photographer and filmmaker Richard Finnie (1906-1987). Arguing against the notion that northern exploration was unilaterally replaced by professional scientific fieldwork in this period, I demonstrate that these men developed and performed specifically exploratory identities throughout their lives. They adhered to an older, natural historical style of exploratory praxis, characterized by their wide networks of correspondence and their location of authority within their private libraries and archives. Exploration thus produced different kinds of knowledge about the North than that stemming from overtly scientific fieldwork. Far from being a nostalgic, anti-modern activity, as it is often figured, exploration also enabled these men to wrestle with and resolve specifically modern concerns about the role and agency of the individual in an increasingly homogeneous and mass-produced society. Discursive ideas of modernity in southern North America significantly influenced these men’s experiences in the North and shaped their representations of the northern environment.
Exploration was key to the early twentieth-century “opening” of the Canadian North, in which northern landscapes were made legible to southern government and industry and became entangled in related networks of power and capital. Yet a deep and heartfelt ambivalence about the region’s modernization pierces that era’s enthusiastic narratives of progress and development. Many who worked and lived there—northerners and southerners, natives and non-natives alike—remained attached to older configurations of labour and material engagement with the land. That same dissonance still inflects current debates about local and regional development in the North. Exploration, after all, was never only about imperial knowledge and control. It was predicated also on serendipitous travel through unknown landscapes, through spaces of endless imaginative speculation and pleasure too vast to know or control. Exploration enthralls us still because it inspires us, through contact with the new and unforeseen, to imagine different and better ways of being ourselves and living in the world with each other. We seem to need this optimistic desire for the betterment of human affairs as much in this century as ever.
For exposition on the title's phrase, see Felix Driver, “Modern explorers,” in New Spaces of Exploration: Geographies of Discovery in the Twentieth Century, eds. Simon Naylor and James R. Ryan (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010), 241-9.
Christina Adcock recently completed her doctoral degree at the Scott Polar Research Institute of the University of Cambridge. She is now a postdoctoral fellow at UBC.
Toronto’s Lower Don River slides unceremoniously along the eastern limits of the old city core, its muddied, placid channel host to the scattered wreckage of twenty-first-century urban living: plastic bags snagged at intervals along its length; a rusting shopping cart marooned on a broken tree limb; faint spirals of purple and blue motor oil caught in a back-eddy. Viewed most frequently through car windshields on the adjacent Don Valley Parkway, the river is often difficult to make out: a strip of grey-brown water among like-coloured strips of pavement, its moving surface barely distinguishable from the expressway exit ramps that criss-cross the bend near its mouth. Moving into the river valley on foot or bicycle, one is struck by the strange juxtapositions of a post-industrial landscape: a newly paved recreational path alongside an industrial brownfield bordered in chain-link; a recent planting of native vegetation; freight trains running down a still-active rail corridor. It is the kind of place that compels the question, what happened here? Or, as Claire Campbell has said of her own research into the environmental history of Canada’s historic landscapes, “what once were you”?
My doctoral dissertation, completed in 2010, explored the social and environmental history of this changing urban landscape from the late eighteenth century to the present. I was particularly interested in investigating the river valley’s relationship with the city as it grew and developed, charting not only the history of environmental and human-induced change in the watershed, but also the social history of this place at the urban fringe: who used the valley at different times, and for what purposes?
Environment, I found, played an important role in precipitating and perpetuating the valley’s status as a place “at the margins.” A yawning valley difficult to bridge, steep ravine slopes that impeded development, and miasmatic lowlands that fueled malaria outbreaks all contributed to perceptions of the area as a wasteland unfit for development. Despite plans to locate the original town plot near the mouth of the river, Toronto consistently moved north and west as it developed, leaving in the area around the river mouth a vacuum to be filled by less desirable uses: breweries, packing houses, soap factories and tanneries. (For a geospatial representation of these developments, consult the Don Valley Historical Mapping Project, developed with support from NiCHE and the University of Toronto Map and Data Library as a companion initiative to my doctoral research). The river provided a convenient disposal mechanism for industrial wastes and later municipal sewage, with predictable results for ecological integrity and public health.
Following the logic of centres and peripheries, the valley absorbed not only the material wastes of the urbanizing centre, but also human “undesirables,” people who for various reasons and circumstances found themselves pushed to the edges of society. In addition to the institutionalized “others” of the Don Jail, House of Refuge, and valley isolation hospitals, a small number of squatters, hoboes, gangsters, and Roma travellers sought refuge in the valley over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There they found not only respite from authorities, but also a place that provided the means for limited subsistence: water, sources of wood and plant materials for shelters, cast-away items from abandoned dump sites in the valley, and in some cases, fish and other sources of food. In this way, the Don Valley operated (and continues to operate) as a place where various kinds of marginality can be seen. A borderland between rural and urban, the valley also served as a liminal space within which “old” and “new” political economies, modern and premodern lifeways overlapped and asserted themselves. Cottagers who occupied the valley with “back-to-the-land” ambitions carried this sense of the valley as a space apart into the mid-twentieth century.
My current research picks up upon this interest in the persistence of what we typically think of as "rural" activities--cottaging, farming, gathering--in the neglected or undeveloped spaces of the urban landscape. I am currently exploring these themes in a study of the history of bee-keeping in twentieth-century Ontario and New York State as a “traditional” economy that existed alongside and in relationship with urban (and rural/agricultural) industrial norms.
Jennifer Bonnell is a SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellow in History at the University of Guelph
Ph.D. Thesis, “Imagined Futures and Unintended Consequences: An Environmental History of Toronto’s Don River Valley,” http://hdl.handle.net/1807/24690
“A Social History of a Changing Environment: The Don River Valley, 1910-1931,” in
Gene Desfor and Jennefer Laidley, eds., Reshaping Toronto’s Waterfront
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming, March 2011).
JC: Where do you work? How does environmental history contribute to your job?
ME: I'm an associate professor in the History Department at McMaster University. My position was originally created to develop a curriculum in the history of science and technology, but I have managed to integrate undergraduate courses in the history of environmental sustainability. McMaster is also developing a real graduate strength in environmental history; I offer a graduate seminar in global environmental history, and have worked with some tremendously talented graduate students in this field.
Further afield, I am an active member of the American Society for Environmental History. I am currently the chair of the Society's Sustainability Committee, and have been a longtime presenter at the annual meeting. With friends and colleagues from ASEH, I started the Sustainable Future History Project in 2008; the Project is a loose cabal of early-career scholars committed to making environmental history more relevant to contemporary debates about the environment, resting on the premise that in order to fully understand the social, political, economic, and ecological context of contemporary environmental problems we need to be conscious of their historical contexts. Resolving local and global environmental quandaries requires careful thought and planning; future success depends upon a deeper appreciation of the past. Historicizing sustainable and unsustainable futures is based less on the notion that we should learn from past mistakes, but rather on the premise that solving the environmental crisis will demand the most and best information available, and history provides valuable insight into the creation and proliferation of the environmental ills we hope to curb. In 2010, the Sustainable Future History Project inaugurated a new book series with the MIT Press, "History for a Sustainable Future." The series will publish peer-reviewed works designed primarily for the undergraduate classroom and a popular audience, though they should also be useful for scholars in the field. Accessible writing and clarity of purpose will serve as the cornerstone for titles under consideration. Books will be limited to 50,000 words (including notes) and firmly grounded in original, primary research.
JC: What is your current research project?
ME: I'm working on a global history of mercury pollution in the twentieth century. My project is, fundamentally, a global or transnational (I'm still playing with these variants) history of environmental toxicology since World War II, using mercury as its lens. However, I engage not only with the accumulation of scientific knowledge but also with the social and political application of that knowledge in the form of environmental policymaking. Drawing primarily from scientific journals and conference proceedings and governmental documents and reports, I'm investigating the role of scientific knowledge in national and international environmental policy. I'm particularly interested in the struggle for epistemic clarity in and between knowledge creation and policy making—how it worked (when and where), how/why it didn't, and the difficulties inherent in communicating scientific knowledge.
The challenges inherent in understanding and regulating this dangerous and prolific environmental pollutant across boundaries, jurisdictions, and constituencies constitute a vital testing ground for the examination of how environmental knowledge and policy travel in tandem over time and across boundaries; it also comprises one of the most critical chapters of a larger history of the hazardous chemicals regime—a series of independent but functionally related treaties and programs—that emerged after World War II to address the proliferation of new chemicals and pollutants introduced into the environment. In the decades after World War II, mercury was identified as a pollutant deriving from fungicides, mildew-resistant paint, run-off from gold mining, coal-fired power plant emissions, and the construction of hydroelectric reservoirs. Devastating mercury “epidemics” struck local populations in Japan, Guatemala, Ghana, Pakistan, Iraq, and Canada; high concentrations of mercury were discovered in water systems throughout the developed world, most notably in Sweden, Canada, and the United States; and as mercury became universally recognized as a toxic hazard, its disposal posed myriad new problems. In a focused study of this problem, I propose to examine the development of environmental toxicology in light of growing international concerns over mercury pollution after World War II, and put the budding scientific field in conversation with the policies that urgently sought to control mercury’s dangers. I'd also like to think that I stay true to my environmental history roots with this project: In exploring a single pollutant and the scientific and regulatory efforts to control that pollutant, I see my project as contributing to a world environmental history from mercury’s point of view.
When not concentrating on mercury, I'm putting together a short history of sustainability. This comes straight out of my teaching; this past fall, I gave a lecture course on the global history of environmental sustainability, and I hope to use my lectures as the rough draft for a pared-down manuscript, which I hope to prepare this summer for "History for a Sustainable Future."
JC: What got you interested in mercury?
ME: Even though I was trained in environmental history, I've been a lurker in history of science and STS circles. As a graduate student, I was fascinated with the various social nuances that manifested themselves in the production and consumption of scientific knowledge, especially as they pertained to the environment. I've long felt that most environmental knowledge is the product of what the conservation biologist Michael Soulé famously called "crisis disciplines," where decision making has to happen before scientific consensus is reached. This raises a series of important questions about what kinds of decisions are made and by whom. On the one hand, scientific knowledge constitutes an essential form of expertise in environmental policymaking, but when the luxury of certainty isn't available, how do decisions get made? Uncertainty, agnotology, and expertise are fantastic avenues of inquiry in STS and the history of science, and I think there are some fruitful opportunities here for environmental historians, too. As a vehicle for these kinds of explorations, the mercury project began in earnest in 2004; I spent a year on a postdoctoral fellowship in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which was a terrific place to examine the scientific and political history of an element.
JC: Does this current project build on your earlier publications?
ME: I think there's a fair amount of continuity. In general, my work examines how scientific knowledges and political knowledges interact and how they constitute each other. Insofar as the mercury project is opening new research directions (for me) into the relationship between science and governance, especially in the global arena, it also pursues a number of themes that drove my previous work. It follows scientists in the public arena and concerns about environmental and human health. In my first book, Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival: The Remaking of American Environmentalism (MIT, 2007), I examined the social and scientific career of the biologist Barry Commoner and his influence in redirecting the priorities of American environmentalism. Central to that work is the public and scientific debate over environmental risk, and the importance of translating and communicating technical scientific information for a lay audience. During the 1960s, Commoner also spent considerable energy making mercury pollution issues an environmental priority in the United States. My initial inspiration for a research project on mercury in the global environment came from my immersion in Commoner’s work on the subject.
JC: What contribution do you hope to make the wider field with this project?
ME: This project aims to put the disparate fields of world history, policy history, environmental history, and the history of science in concert. In transcending national boundaries, mercury pollution brought together scientific communities and governing bodies that demand the input of a number of different historical subfields. In its praxis, then, this project challenges historians to move beyond the parameters of human, state, or intellectual history to think about how concentration on a non-human agent can alter our perspective on human discourses and the human condition.
But an analysis of mercury pollution and regulation also makes a number of contributions outside the academy. As mercury continues to influence fish consumption and pollute air and water systems, mercury pollution remains a hotly debated issue in various countries and world governing organizations like the United Nations and World Health Organization, the legislative effects of which will undoubtedly have a profound impact on future decisions regarding energy production, petrochemical manufacturing, and food consumption. A more nuanced reading of mercury’s place in recent history could provide a valuable guide in national and international decision-making processes.
For the past five years, I have been researching the environmental history of the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands, a group of subtropical oceanic islands located approximately 1000 km south of central Tokyo. Like many oceanic islands in the Pacific, the Ogasawara Islands today are valued for its white sandy beaches, moderate climate, and “biodiversity.” It is this last category that has been promoted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government since the early-2000s. Branded as Japan’s “Galapagos of the Orient,” the islands have been included in Japan’s growing list of UNESCO World Heritage sites since 2002.
This campaign hasn’t been successful. One of the things that is keeping the islands from making the grade is that endemic species of flora and fauna that the claim for inclusion is largely based on have a lot of company. For some time, the islands have been host to a substantial resident population of invasive species that were introduced to the islands in the over its nearly two hundred years of settlement. The islands are home to substantial populations of feral goats (Capra hircus), cats (Felis catus), anoles (Anolis carolinensis), and, my favorite, being a UCSC Banana Slug, giant African snails (Achatina fulica).
Many of these non-naturalized residents date back to 1830, when former whalers and Pacific Islanders settled the uninhabited Ogasawara Islands to profit from the whaling activity in in the “Japan Ground.” Others, like the giant African snails, were introduced through large-scale cultivation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when large amounts of flora and fauna were introduced to the islands through successive waves of Japanese settlement and government-initiated projects to render the islands profitable. From the Ogasawara Islands' incorporation into the political boundaries of Japan in 1875, government officials and small-plot farmers established an agro-economy in the Ogasawara Islands, producing marketable and refined crops of fruits and vegetables which were sold in metropolitan markets in the Japanese empire. By the 1920s, the settlers produced enough cultivated space on the islands to earn the Ogasawara Islands the label of “Tokyo’s largest natural greenhouse.” The human and nonhuman traces left over from nearly 200 years of human occupation are enough to give the people at UNESCO pause.
One of the historical problematic that drives my research on the islands is how the Ogasawara Islands have been transformed materially and imaginatively from “Tokyo’s largest natural greenhouse” to “the Galapagos of the Orient.” This process wasn’t alway anthroprogenic. In fact, much of the re-branding of the cultivated pasts of the Ogasawara Islands were undone, and the figuring of the islands as the “Galapagos of the Orient” was enabled, by the nearly unrestrained growth of invasive and endemic species that flourished during the nearly fifty years of absence of cultivators and scientific work from the island landscape during a period of intense militarization by the Japanese and American militaries between 1921 and 1968.
When I first started studying the Ogasawara Islands, I naively assumed that their small size would allow me bound my research project within a neat, manageable framework. I was wrong.
Despite their size and their distance from any metropolitan center, the Ogasawara Islands are an excellent example of how routed islands are to national and global histories of biotic exchange. From the late-nineteenth century, the expansion of intensive commercial agriculture and forestry on the Ogasawara Islands was dependent on global connections that were routed through the inter-colonial transfers of agroscience. In contrast to older patterns of biological exchanges, that may have been less planned, the types of exchanges that took place on the Ogasawara Islands were similar to other organized techno-scientific projects that were centrally planned and produced through intensive labor in the context of colonialism. Examining the making of the Ogasawara Islands as a space entangled in a colonized Pacific allows the landscape, along with structures of domination and exploitation that went into its production, to be understood as part of a much larger inter-colonial process that happened in the Pacific.
JC: Where do you work? How does environmental history contribute to your job?
CC: I’m an associate professor of History at Dalhousie University, where I’m cross-appointed to Canadian Studies and Environment, Sustainability and Society. But in all of them, I really start from the relationship between history and environment. So many of the stories in Canadian Studies – the design of the Parliament buildings, the battle of Batoche, confronting Danes over Hans Island – are shaped by where they happen, and I have to visualize these places for my students. Teaching Sustainability is challenging in other ways: I’m supposed to be the Voice of History, which can mean medieval whaling, colonial plantations, or the Nova Scotia apple industry. At the same time, I have to make very clear the relevance of historical and humanities study to current issues and policy debate, to students who are, not surprisingly, kind of impatient to “save the planet.” But that’s a good exercise for me, because history is relevant. We can see harmful patterns in our past relationships with the environment, but often we can find inspiration for solutions there, too.
JC: What is your current research project?
CC: There are three big ones on the go. One is finishing up A Century of Parks Canada, 1911-2011, a collection of fourteen essays about the world’s first national parks agency. This book has been three years in the making, and I’m really proud of it, especially the way we’ve brought together academic and public historians, and literally from Vancouver to Whitehorse to St. John’s. The essays show how Parks Canada has worked to provide for both preservation and use in places created for our “benefit, education and enjoyment” (to quote the National Parks Act), all the while responding to a shifting ground of public demand, political strategy, scientific debate, and environmental concern. A Century of Parks Canada comes out in spring 2011 with the University of Calgary Press, as the first in the Energy, Ecology and Environment series co-sponsored by NiCHE.
The second is a collection of essays that I’m editing with Rob Summerby-Murray, called Environmental Histories of Atlantic Canada, to be published next year with Acadiensis Press. We were amazed at the response when we announced it – it definitely affirmed the growth of and opportunities for environmental history in this region. And the book shows how a regional profile can capture so many facets of environmental history: the history of science, whether natural history or meteorology; property rights and the commons; cultural perceptions of landscapes; conservation management and environmentalist organization; community interviews in former company towns. It’s anchored by a lecture that Graeme Wynn gave at Dalhousie last year, in which he argued that there is actually a very long tradition of “sustainability” in the Maritimes. Working with an historical geographer as a co-editor is also very educational; and here too NiCHE plays a role, as we’re supported by HEAR [Historians of the Environment of the Atlantic Region].
The last one I’m calling “What Once Were You?” Historic Landscapes in Canada. The title comes from a 1962 poem by James Reaney, which begins:
Winnipeg, what once were you? You were,
Your hair was grass by the river ten feet tall,
Your arms were burr oaks and ash leaf maples,
Your backbone was a crooked silver muddy river …
This is especially appropriate since the river forks at Winnipeg is one of the sites I look at. It’s about reimagining older landscapes, which is often a missing dimension of our historic sites. The book will be a comparative study of five lost, preserved, and reconstructed historic places, all of which are iconic in some way, and which are among Canada’s largest and most ecologically complex historic sites: L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland; Grand Pré, Nova Scotia; Fort William, Ontario; the Forks at Winnipeg; and the Bar U Ranch, Alberta. (Originally it was going to include Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, but I decided Grand Pré raised different, especially rural, issues. Plus, I got the mayor of Lunenburg kind of mad at me, but that’s another story.) It’s very Canadian in the sense that it’s true to the specifics of different places, but these places illustrate regional, national, even transnational stories (Norse, voyageurs, Acadians, and cowboys)!
Black Duck Brook and the original beach terrace at L’Anse aux Meadows NHS, Newfoundland
Since my MA in public history at UWO, I’m interested in how historic sites might teach us about both the Canadian narrative and the natural world. The beach where the Norse landed their boats at L’Anse aux Meadows is now 100 metres inland, thanks to Newfoundland’s post-glacial rebound; here’s a chance to talk about long-term climate change in the north. The Bar U is in precisely the same part of the foothills where ranchers are trying to protect open rangeland and fescue grass from exploratory drilling. The Forks represents a post-industrial project of urban reclamation and park design. Too often natural parks design interpretation about their ecosystems but don’t mention human impact, while historic sites never refer to the setting and how it shaped their evolution. Environmental historians know you can’t tell one story without the other! I also think the environment is too important a matter not to talk about whenever possible.
JC: What got you interested in this topic?
CC: My dad taught history and geography for thirty years, so when I was about eight, he bought a Volkswagen camper and over the next several summers we drove all over North America. We’d visit historic sites, national parks, landmarks and attractions, the whole bit. I poked at dried cod on flakes outside the walls of Louisbourg, sat on petrified tree trunks in Washington, and cut my bare feet on grasses at a drought-stricken Swift Current. History was three-dimensional for me right from the start, associated with specific places, so I never understood the clichéd complaints about “just facts and dates” or learning from a textbook.
So now my “research” includes driving for days, across the prairies or up the Great Northern Peninsula, and then traipsing all over these places with a camera. That’s not even work!
JC: What contribution do you hope to make the wider field with this project?
CC: I’d like to see historians and geographers elbow their way into public debate over environmental issues. The history of our national parks demonstrates that “sustainability” – how humans are to exist on and with this planet – is fundamentally a matter for humanists and social scientists. We’re now thinking of these places as cultural landscapes, ghosted by history, but in turn, I’d like to see environmental factors and ecological knowledge integrated into our historic sites. And as a teacher, I want to get my students thinking imaginatively, about where they’re standing. Close your eyes and erase the buildings from downtown - bring the edges of the forest back across the peninsula – call up a stiff wind and fill the harbour with tall ships – that’s the only way to understand Halifax.
Poets and songwriters have romanticized it. Critics and commentators use its symbolism to simplify away differences. Moralists have used it as a metaphysical metaphor to proselytize—“The Great Divide.” Making meaning out of frequently contentious social relations by imagining the physical world as proxy for these complex interactions is as old as humanity itself: Earth and fire come quickly to mind but so do bodies of water and wind directions. Some landscapes, however, are more readily available, and have proven to be quite durable, as models in the past two centuries. Heights of land are visibly accessible systematized landscapes, so little surprise they are not only one of the more imaginably conceived places but have also been more hotly contested. Among others, they have been used as boundary making devices in the Royal Proclamation (1763), Treaty of Paris (1783) and several of the numbered treaties (1871-1922). The seemingly natural process of water separation and downward flow may seem innocuous enough but when such a movement enters the social world of ideas, notions of inclusion and exclusion, possession and dislocation, are hardened while the lines between the physical and the conceptual blur.
Social-spatial relations are put into practice in many ways. I am particularly interested in those landscapes which have associative meaning across cultures and societies but are deemed more ‘natural’ to one group and hence, of more authoritative value. My dissertation, “A Century of Historicizing the Height of Land Idea in the Rocky Mountain Canadian West” considers the ways in which the places (and processes) where the separation of waters occurs at a transcontinental scale have been transformed from a localized watershed concept to one invested heavily in the notions of order, inclusion and possession from afar. Nowhere has this geographical abstraction been more evident than what eventually became formalized as “The Great Divide,” the height of land (in the Canadian context) separating the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds starting at the US border and ending at the 120th meridian. The earliest attempts at “naturalizing the natural” occurred in the 1890s when the federal government attempted to put an end to Stoney (and, to a lesser degree Kutnaxa) hunting practices across the British Columbia-Northwest Territories (later Alberta) boundary by imposing this singular and unbroken height of land that would not only encompass the documented places where the waters did indeed separate but also the vast spaces in between these areas. The formalization of the transcontinental-scale height of land as “The Great Divide” was complete with the Alberta-British Columbia Interprovincial Boundary Commission (1913-1924) and its scientific-cartographical methodology. Specific passes traversing the height of land, another significant associative landscape, became sites of authority.
One of the pleasures and challenges of this kind of research has been the need to relinquish one’s comfort zone of study and traverse disciplinary boundaries. Exploring the enduring language of rhetoric inherent in “The Great Divide” idea has provided this chance. Between 1890 and 1930, “The Great Divide” idea was central to the nation building and nature subjugation process. “The Great Divide” became de rigueur for any rail or automobile tourist travelling through the Mountain Parks. Post cards, poems, travel guides and promotions all conveyed the symbolism of the intercontinental height of land. Almost every Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) Summer Camps between 1907-1930 was located astride the height of land. The eventual normalization of an idea also carries the seeds of its eventual re-interpretation, however, and by the end of the Second World War poets, writers and visual artists began to challenge the assumptions behind “The Great Divide” idea. Supporters of new ventures centering on the “Great Divide” traverse were rejected, while some questioned whether there were actually two intercontinental divides—one Atlantic/Pacific and another Arctic/Pacific. These questions mattered: The ongoing litigation over the western boundary of Treaty Eight attests to this.
Meanwhile, “The Great Divide” idea remains. Today one may experience “The Great Divide” in some highly unlikely places: Crossing the North Saskatchewan along the High Level Bridge in Edmonton (!) during the summer when “The Great Divide Waterfall” is on show, or more faithfully to its location, seated upon “The Continental Divide Chairlift” at Sunshine Village. Of course, there are literally hundreds of the more ‘mundane’ heights of land across the continent, many mapped as such and many many more others hidden away. Some are an easy stroll or accessible from the road while others, not so much. Just try not to think about which boundary you’re crossing.
Sean Atkins is a PhD Candidate at the University of Alberta.
Since 1986 I've worked as a historian for the national parks and historic sites of Yukon and the western Arctic. My job with Parks Canada has two primary goals: to provide accurate and complete historical research to managers and staff in support of their preservation and presentation of site values, and, to work with non-Parks groups, mainly First Nations governments and university students and faculty, to assess, analyze and ensure national protected heritage areas continue to be relevant to the social and cultural needs of contemporary Canada.
Cultural research work with Parks Canada is strongly place-based. Every project involves close and direct contact with dramatic and demanding landscapes and relies on the hospitality and patience of the people who live there. I've stood amongst tens of thousands of migrating caribou, listening to the clicking of their hooves, hiked the mountainous Chilkoot Trail in howling gales, and boated to Gwitchin camps along Nagwichoonjik (the Mackenzie River) with elders, listening to their stories, while chewing on dried fish. This fascinating field work, complemented with archival research and academic reading, contributes to multi-disciplinary projects involving both western disciplines - archaeologists, ecologists, and landscape architects - and Indigenous elders, hunters and fishers.
This research supports Parks staff in their stewardship of park values in a dynamic environment. It also shapes interpretation media, trail panels, visitor centres, television and the web, to help visitors understand their own relationships with these special places. Recent examples of such projects include a history of the Southern Tutchone dispossession from lands incorporated into Kluane National Park/Reserve as background for new exhibits at the park and a project investigating the lasting ecological changes in the Chilkoot Trail, legacies of the gold rush passage a century ago.
Cultural research about Parks Canada is equally stimulating and rewarding. Collaborative work with Yukon First Nations and academics and students both extends the reach of national protected areas and provides an ongoing re-appraisal of program relevance. The past 25 years witnessed the negotiation and implementation of modern treaties between Yukon First Nations and Canada, a fascinating period to engage in as a historian. Parks Canada provided opportunities for me to work with First Nation governments, assisting them in their initiatives. Currently I lead a modest academic team with three graduate students as part of a Yukon FN International Polar Year project on climate change and resilience. Our team is exploring how Western science and Indigenous knowledge can work together to better serve First Nation interests.
These experiences highlight the importance of “writing-back” into western ways of thinking. Parks Canada has a fully developed program designed to propagate the national story of Canada. However radical changes in Canadians perception of themselves, the First Nation settlements in the Yukon being only one example, call for changes in how Parks Canada understands what it does. I've reviewed the Agency's history and my own Yukon experiences to appreciate how we can better serve the interests of First Nation communities. Similarly, as adjunct faculty at Yukon College, I teach northern history centered on cultural contact to public school teachers and work with academic colleagues to organize events such as the 2009 NiCHE Northern Environmental History workshop.
1 Kluane National Park Reserve 1923-1974: Modernity and Pluralism is a chapter in Claire Campbell, ed. A Place for the People: Canada’s National Parks, 1911-2011 (Univ. of Calgary Press, in press).
2 Learning to Drive the Yukon River: Western Cartography and Athabaskan Story Maps (Rachel Carson Centre Perspectives, in press) considers the different cultural conceptions of the environment shaping cartography.
3 Parks Canada, the Commemoration of Canada and Northern Aboriginal Oral History, Oral History and Public Memories, ed. Paula Hamilton and Linda Shopes (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008).
C’est à bord d’une automobile que chaque été de mon enfance, j’ai parcouru les différentes régions du Québec et de la côte-est américaine. Nous étions presque toujours en mouvement. Nos journées étaient faites de longues heures de route, parsemées de courts arrêts pour explorer un musée, faire une randonnée dans les bois ou visiter une ferme. Je me souviens, la tête appuyé contre la fenêtre de l’automobile, de contempler la succession des paysages sur notre route : la mer et la rusticité de la côte gaspésienne, les vallées et les villages de la Beauce, sans parler des forêts du Maine, du bord de mer du Massachussetts et des plaines de la Pennsylvanie. Comme pour beaucoup de nord-américains, l’automobile a été pour moi un moyen de « voir du pays » et c’est à travers le prisme du tourisme que j’ai expérimenté différents milieux.
Avant la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, l’automobile devient le moyen de transport privilégié par les touristes pour visiter le Canada, dépassant le train et le bateau. Cette nouvelle manne de touristes « motorisés » provenant des États-Unis recherche une expérience différente du voyage et ses nouveaux besoins réoriente largement l’industrie touristique existante. L’intérêt qu’on leur porte, dès le début des années 1920, se traduit par un vaste travail d’aménagement du réseau routier et la création de nouveaux circuits touristiques.
Ma thèse de doctorat s’intéresse aux différentes manières dont, historiquement, a été perçu l’environnement, en explorant les liens entre le tourisme automobile et les rapports sociaux à la nature de 1920 à 1975. Elle vise à comprendre l’impact d’une « mobilité récréative » sur l’émergence d’une nouvelle compréhension des territoires québécois et ontariens. J’espère mettre à jour le rôle de différents promoteurs (ministères, municipalités, associations d’automobilistes, etc.) qui se sont engagés dans leur mise en tourisme et les moyens déployés, tant du point de vue des représentations que sur le plan matériel.
J’y explore notamment les aménagements du paysage routier ainsi que l’expérience touristique à proprement dite, par le biais des récits de voyage des automobilistes. Comment transforme-t-on les territoires québécois et ontariens au nom du tourisme automobile au cours du XXe siècle? Quels milieux (ruraux, forestiers, etc.) valorise-t-on et dans quels termes? Quel rapport les touristes entretiennent-ils avec les environnements parcourus? Voilà plusieurs questions auxquelles je souhaite répondre.
Les travaux de Richard White et de Linda Nash ont bien montrés en quoi la technologie oriente le regard que l’on porte sur un environnement. Partant du principe que l’automobile est une médiation à travers laquelle se forge le rapport à la nature, j’espère comprendre pourquoi on a autant axé, avant 1975, le développement touristique de l’Ontario et du Québec sur le système automobile. Et pourquoi, l’automobile a longtemps été le moyen favori des touristes (et l’est toujours) afin de parcourir ces deux provinces? Ma recherche est aussi susceptible d’apporter des éléments de réponse aux débats actuels sur le tourisme, qui soulèvent les problèmes de la compatibilité entre la poursuite de l’accessibilité des sites touristiques, de la démocratisation de l’accès à la nature et de la nécessité de protéger les milieux naturels.
Maude-Emmanuelle est candidate au Doctorat à l’Université de Montréal et travaille sous la direction de Michèle Dagenais. Elle est membre du Groupe d’histoire de Montréal / Montreal History Group.
Suggestion de lecture : Maude-Emmanuelle Lambert, « Québécoises et Ontariennes en voiture! L’expérience culturelle et spatiale de l’automobile au féminin (1910-1945) », Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, 63, 2-3 (automne 2009 – hiver 2010), p. 305-330.
This is the first in a series of scholars profiles, modeled on the popular New Scholars Profiles begun earlier this year.
Dean Bavington is a Canada Research Chair in Environmental History at Nippising University in North Bay Ontario. His research focuses on the history, politics and ethics of managerial relationships with nature. Along with an impressive number of papers from this research (see his CV here), Dean published his first monograph earlier this year with UBC press. A paperback edition of Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse, is due out in November 2010. A lengthy interview with the CBC radio show Ideas (audio is here) and attention to his book in the New Yorker magazine demonstrates the relevancy of his work to understanding current issues in global fisheries particularly the deleterious consequences of managerial relationships between fish and people.
Along with his impressive publications profile, Dean works to develop new collaborative multidisciplinary projects with international researchers at universities in the United States, Norway, and Canada. Closer to home, he works with colleagues at Nipissing University and environmental organizations in Ontario. With Dr. James Murton (Associate Professor, Nipissing University), he has created a funded research network on Vernacular Environmental History and facilitated a unique environmental history workshop on the topic of Subsistence. The papers presented at the Subsistence workshop will be published in a new Environmental History series that he and Dr. Murton helped to arrange with McGill- Queen’s University Press.
Despite his focus on the cod fishery in Atlantic Canada, Dean is committed to working with local communities in Northern Ontario to highlight the connections between social and environmental problems in his new community. He collaborates with Dr. Katrina Srigley (Associate Professor, Nipissing University) on Laurentian University’s Community University Research Alliance (CURA) on the topic of Northern Ontario poverty, homelessness and environmental justice. They also worked on developing a research partnership protocol for Nipissing University and the Nipissing First Nation.
Looking forward, the new focus of Dean’s work is on recent attempts to reform natural resource management through participatory techniques and the integration of traditional and local ecological knowledge. He explains that “Participatory management, while using the rhetoric of empowerment and democratic decision making, often re-inscribes new forms of power relations that continue to place scientists and managers in control and expose the targets of participatory techniques to increasing responsibilities without commensurate resources. Moves toward the incorporation of traditional and local ecological knowledge into NRM programs often act as reductive translation exercises that mine “ways of knowing and living” for data that is compatible with scientific resource managers and their bureaucratic agencies without fundamentally challenging structures of institutional power and ways of knowing that have proven to be undemocratic and ineffective when practiced on the ground.” Dean, along with his colleague James Murton (who I hope to profile in the future) have created a strong centre of Canadian environmental history in a small university in North Bay and together they represent an important node in the Network in Canadian History and Environment.
For more information see Dean's website: http://www.deanbavington.org
Dean Bavington is a Professor of History at Nipissing University