Last year, I wrote about the historical geography / environmental history titles I saw while trolling the book fair at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. I’m not making it to Congress this year, but the books, they keep on a’comin’. Here are some published since BookLook 2012 to keep an eye out for. That is, for which you should keep an eye out. Or rather, for which you should keep out an eye. A preposition is not something to end a sentence with.
Start at the UBC Press table: the Nature/History/Society series celebrates its 20th title this year. Having heard Darcy Ingram at the ASEH offer a distinct take on early Canadian environmentalism, I’m especially interested in reading Wildlife, Conservation, and Conflict in Quebec, 1840-1914. But I also look forward to Sean Kheraj’s Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History, because I know him well, and Caroline Desbiens’ Power from the North: Territory, Identity, and the Culture of Hydroelectricity in Quebec, because I don’t know her well. UBC also has geographer Bruce Erickson’s Canoe Nation: Nature, Race, and the Making of a Canadian Icon coming out this month, and the collection Social Transformation in Rural Canada has a clear historical component.
The other two of the big three Canadian university presses, Toronto and McGill-Queen’s, have to date largely given over the environmental history / historical geography field to UBC. But McGill-Queen's has launched its Rural, Wildland, and Resource Studies series this year with Peter A. Russell's How Agriculture Made Canada: Farming in the Nineteenth Century. And Toronto has The Oak Ridges Moraine Battles: Development, Sprawl, and Nature Conservation in the Toronto Region by Anders Sandberg, Gerda Wekerle, and Liette Gilbert coming out.
Much more is happening at some of the smaller presses. NiCHE supports the Canadian History & Environment series at University of Calgary Press; alas, there are no new titles in the series this season. But I promise that Jennifer Bonnell and Marcel Fortin’s edited Historical GIS Research in Canada will be a great stocking stuffer come Christmas. (While waiting at the Calgary table, test drive Christopher Armstrong and HV Nelles’ Wilderness and Waterpower: How Banff National Park Became a Hydroelectric Storage Reservoir.) Wilfrid Laurier Press has also embraced environmental titles, and has a vibrant Environmental Humanities series developing. This fall will see the release of Sustaining the West: Cultural Responses to Western Environments, Past and Present, edited by Liza Piper and Lisa Szabo-Jones. (Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography, by Will. C. van den Hoonaard, also looks interesting.) And this spring Acadiensis Press published the NiCHE-supported collection Land and Sea: Environmental History in Atlantic Canada, edited by Claire E. Campbell and Robert Summerby-Murray. Full disclosure: I have a chapter in it. Fuller disclosure: It’s still good.
And don’t forget Andrew Nikiforuk, author of The Energy of Slaves … and Tar Sands …and Empire of the Beetle …and lot’s more. Environmentally-minded, historically-minded, politically-minded, Canadian, read. He’s a real source of inspiration and envy for me these days.
Cigars for all the proud parents of these books. I look forward to reading, researching, and teaching from all of you. Have I forgotten anyone? Undoubtedly. Email me with more titles, or add them via the Comments below.
Originally posted on ActiveHistory.ca
In November 2012, as newspapers reported, an “all-but-forgotten” painting by A.Y. Jackson, “Radium Mine” (1938), emerged from the private collection of a prolific prospector. The painting went to auction, selling for an astounding $643,500, and, fleetingly, popular news sources grazed the surface of a subterranean history that disrupts the very bedrock of Canadian identity. In the foreground of the painting, a craggy outcrop slopes down into the pale blues and greys of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories—just hidden from view is the head frame of a radium and uranium mine that produced ore for the American nuclear arms program in the 1940s and 50s. Media attention sparked by the sale of the painting was only short-lived and the story of Canada’s uranium project on Great Bear Lake quickly returned to the archives. However, for people who live in Délįne, NWT, a small fly-in community across Great Bear Lake from the former Port Radium mine, the story told by Jackson’s painting remains part of everyday life as the community continues to grapple with the environmental and health legacies of the mine.
A.Y. Jackson was a founding member of the Group of Seven, that group of Canadian landscape painters formed in 1920 and oft credited with shaping a Canadian school of art (Hill, 1995; Jessup, 1998). He first traveled to Port Radium in 1938, when he composed “Radium Mine,” the painting that, 75 years later, is among his more valuable works. Jackson’s expeditions to the Sahtu (Bear Lake) region were funded by Eldorado Mining and Refining, the company that owned the mine at Port Radium, which was nationalized in 1944 to supply uranium ore for the Manhattan Project (Bothwell, 1994; Jackson, 1976; Mingay, 1977). During this and later visits in 1949 and 1959, Jackson produced a huge body of work consisting of sketches and oil paintings, some held by the National Gallery of Canada, and many owned by private collectors. These works were displayed widely, lauded as seminal to the Group of Seven and the Canadian art scene. With accolades from institutions with “‘national’ mandates” (Jessup, 1998, p. 203) like the National Gallery of Canada, the Group’s vision of the Canadian landscape gained significant clout. Recently, the National Gallery of Canada has organized exhibitions like “Terre Sauvage: Canadian Landscape Painting and the Group of Seven” (2001)—named after Jackson’s own painting, “Terre Sauvage” (1913)—and the retrospective exhibition “The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation” (1995), showcasing the persistent power of the Group’s vision of Canada.
Recently, Jackson and the Group of Seven have been criticized for painting Canada as a sublime ‘terra nullius’ (a land belonging to no one), “a pristine, edenic expanse” (Bordo, 1997, p. 25)—notions that played a vital part in molding the now ubiquitous idea of a Canadian “wild” (see Jasen, 1995; Bordo, 1997; Jessup, 1998 & 2002). By emptying Canada of (Indigenous) people, this wilderness ideal justified colonial expansion—after all, an unpeopled land cannot object to imperial domination; a wild land must be tamed. Structuring an imagined divide between nature and culture, primitive and civilized, north and south, a colonial wilderness ideology contributed to the dispossession of Indigenous people from all corners of the territory we now call Canada (see Jessup, 1998; O’Brian and White (eds.), 2007.)
While Jackson’s landscape paintings can be read as “devices of colonial legitimation” (Bordo, 1997, p.29), his Port Radium scenes are unique in their depiction of industrial action in the very unpeopled wilds decried by anticolonial critics. His minescapes are a hybrid space where ‘rural’ life meets ‘urban’ demand. Jackson represented Great Bear Lake as a wilderness enrolled in industrial development, churning out radium and uranium ore. These pictures complicate the wilderness ideal by picturing an industrial, capitalist facet of the modernist Canadian agenda for the north. In this sense, Jackson’s Port Radium images represent a new phase in the twentieth century Canadian national imagination, a phase of industrialism at the margins, a phase “Beyond Wilderness” (O’Brian and White (eds.), 2007).
As Jackson’s industrial scenes of mining on Great Bear Lake were combined with the wild hinterland and the terra nullius of other Group of Seven paintings, Port Radium was disseminated not as a violently industrial project but as a benign facet of the land. Read in this light, the Port Radium paintings describe the minesite as wild-hinterland, radium extraction as landscape. They naturalize industry as part of the northern scenery. Note, for example, the lighting in Jackson’s “Radium Mine, Great Bear Lake” (1938) (not to be confused with “Radium Mine” cited above). Head frame, muskeg, and outcrop blush in the indiscriminate gold of the setting sun; oil tanks and snow glimmer the same bright white; utility pole and jack pine stand in shadow, side-by-side in the Canadian north. A viewer would not be remiss in thinking that this Port Radium is simply a part of the land, ‘nature,’ glowing on the shores of a shimmering lake.
With a similarly gilt effect, the minesite finds itself in the same tranquil light in “Radium Mine” (1938), From a higher vantage than “Radium Mine, Great Bear Lake,“ the viewer can no longer see the mine head frame. Instead toy-sized buildings in the middle right of the painting, made small by rolling hills and epic lake, puff their warmth from tiny chimneys. The scene is surprisingly domestic; the viewer imagines the mining man sitting down to dinner in his cozy cabin; warm in the waning northern sun.
Jackson’s Port Radium works are most confounding when the landscape productions of both of artist and miner are understood in tandem: Jackson sitting on knoll or muskeg, donning a black beret, wielding pencil and brush, and sketching the Sahtu, as he described it, “with its moss and lichen and small plants turning red and orange” (Crawley, 1941; Jackson, 1976)—his colleagues and friends at Eldorado, meanwhile, mapping very different facets of the land, digging deep below moss and lichen, to extract high grade radium and uranium ores. In his work at Port Radium, Jackson was both painter and prospector, artist and amateur geologist—straddling an uneasy line between art and science that lies hidden in his canvasses. Despite the reverence for the landscape expressed in these works, they were nonetheless complicit in colonial expansion, and reliant on an industrial program that dismantled the very “wilderness” they depict. It is through this duplicity that A.Y. Jackson’s representations of the Sahtu, the Great Bear Lake region of the Northwest Territories, can be understood, not simply as representations of a place, but as stories enacting a discourse about that place which normalized the industrial development of the north while erasing Sahtúot’ine, the Bear Lake people, from popular, southern Canadian perceptions of the region.
Carmella Gray-Cosgrove is an MA Candidate in Geography at Memorial University. Her research examines representations of uranium landscapes in the Sahtu Region, Northwest Teritories.
Bordo, Jonathan. (1997) The Terra Nullius of Wilderness—Colonialist Landscape Art (Canada & Australia) and the So-Called Claim to American Exception. International Journal of Canadian Studies. 15(Spring).
Bothwell, R. (1984). Eldorado, Canada’s national uranium company. Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.
Hill, Charles C. (1995) The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada.
Jackson, A. Y. (1976). A painter’s country: the autobiography of A.Y. Jackson. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin.
Crawley, R. (1941). Canadian Landscape. National Film Board of Canada.
Jasen, P. J. (1995). Wild things: nature, culture, and tourism in Ontario, 1790-1914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Jessup, Lynda. (1998). Prospectors, Bushwackers, Painters; Antimodernism and the Group of Seven. International Journal of Canadian Studies. 17(Spring), 203-214.
—————– (2002). The group of seven and the tourist landscape in Western Canada, or the more things change. Journal of Canadian Studies, 37(1), 144-179.
Mingay, Jane. “Interview with Dr. Maurice Haycock” Mingay Historical Project – The Artists. National Archives of Canada, RG 134.
O’Brian, J., & White, P. (2007). Beyond wilderness: the Group of Seven, Canadian identity and contemporary art. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Originally posted on ActiveHistory.ca
In November 1948, long-time northerner L.A. Learmonth, engaged in archaeological work near Fort Ross, sent word to the RCMP detachment at Cambridge Bay (Iqaluktuuttiaq) that sixteen Inuit had fallen terribly ill at Creswell Bay on Somerset Island in the summer. Nine of the sixteen had died. At the time of writing, the remaining seven were still seriously ill. The news only reached Cambridge Bay in January 1949, at which time the RCMP sent relief and evacuated survivors to southern hospitals. English- and French-language newspapers across Canada reported extensively on the “mercy flights.” And, in doing so, employed all the stock-in-trade stereotypes that had come to characterize the North for most Canadians: that the civilized world ended somewhere around where the permafrost began, that the North was ridden with plague, and that the Inuit needed to be cared for and “properly fed” by the state.[i]
The mystery of the “strange malady” at Creswell Bay captured the mostly-southern media.[ii] Initial reports suggested influenza or starvation was the cause. Then, a “plague” of gangrene: this after one of the two survivors was sent south with severe gangrene in both of his feet.[iii] Typhoid and food poisoning were posited next. One newspaper reported that food poisoning resulted from “inhabitants of the village … eating parts of the carcass of a dead whale which had washed ashore.”[iv] This last comment was pure speculation on the part of a journalist, who aimed to make sense of what was, in fact, a much more complex and challenging story.
The Inuit who fell ill at Creswell Bay had been relocated first to Arctic Bay (Ikpiarjuk) from Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik) and Pangnirtung in 1936 and then, the following year, to Fort Ross at the south end of Somerset Island. In 1947, when the post at Fort Ross closed, they were moved again to Spence Bay (Taloyoak) on the Boothia Peninsula. They made repeated requests to be returned to Baffin Island, but to no avail.
In 1948, these Inuit crossed Prince Regent Inlet to Creswell Bay and en route consumed some walrus meat. Walrus was a common food for the relocated Inuit in their home region, and walrus liver was regarded by many Inuit as a delicacy. However, by contrast, the local Netsilingmiut of the Arctic coast west of Hudson Bay were “very superstitious about eating the liver of the Bearded Seal or the Walrus, saying that if one eats this the skin will fall off the person’s face and arms.”[v] This horrific description presents, with some accuracy, what happens to a person who suffers from hypervitaminosis-A (or an excess of vitamin A), which can cause excessive skin peeling particularly on the arms, legs, and face, in addition to a headache, nausea, and debility. Moreover, this was what one of the surviving Inuit, the teenage Kayoomyk, had described as experiencing, after he was evacuated with serious gangrene in his feet. Alternatively, the “strange disease” may have been trichinosis, as the group had suffered from serious diarrhea (a contributing cause in some of the deaths).
Either trichinosis or hypervitaminosis-A can result from eating the liver of so-called “carnivorous” walruses. Most walruses rely on a wide range of benthic organisms such as shrimp, crabs, molluscs, clams, soft corals, and sea cucumbers. In areas where such food is scarce, walrus have been known to eat warm-blooded mammals, such as seals and even whales; it is these walruses that are described as carnivorous. In eating other marine mammals, and especially in eating their blubber where vitamin A is concentrated, the carnivorous walruses consume much more vitamin A than their benthic-organism-eating counterparts. Their livers become – like polar bear livers – highly toxic to humans.
Trichinosis is caused by consumption of the Trichinella spiralis parasite, which “is primarily a parasite of carnivores and its transmission is mainly accomplished by one mammal eating the infected flesh of another.”[vi] The relocated Inuit had not worried about walrus livers in their homelands and considered them safe to eat. They ate these livers after their relocation to a new environment with tragic consequences.
Beyond the immediate tragedy, this particular story can tell us much about the larger history of country food hazards in the North. The discovery of mercury contamination in freshwater fish in the early 1970s led directly to concerns about toxic contamination of country food resources across Canada and particularly in the North, where freshwater fish remained a major part of local diets. Given the cultural and health importance of traditional foods, the hazards brought by industry (whether located in the North or far beyond) present a major, complicated, and ongoing issue.
But the history of toxic food, as we see here, does not begin with industrial contaminants. Botulism, trichinosis, and hypervitaminosis were serious food hazards throughout the twentieth century. Knowledge of local environmental conditions, as well as care and attention in harvesting and food preparation, was essential to mitigating these and other food hazards. Studying the longer experiences with and knowledge of northern food hazards can teach us much about the construction and transmission of place-based expertise in harvesting the resources of lands and waters, as well as the ways this expertise was both sustained and disrupted by new colonial and industrial relationships in the twentieth century.
This post is drawn from a chapter, “From Subsistence to Nutrition: The Canadian State’s Involvement in Food and Diet in the North, 1900-1970,” that will appear in Brad Martin and Stephen Bocking, ed., Perspectives on the Environmental History of Northern Canada, with the University of Calgary Press.
Liza Piper is an associate professor of History at the University of Alberta. She has published widely on health and northern environments and twentieth-century industrial change, including her 2009 book with UBC Press, The Industrial Transformation of Subarctic Canada.
[i] “North Mercy Flight Enters 2nd Phase,” Edmonton Bulletin, 17 Mar 1949, p.13.
[ii] “Two Planes Fly to Aid Plague-Ridden Eskimos,” Edmonton Journal, 1 Feb 1949, p.1-2.
[iii] “Eskimo ‘Plague’ Gangrene, Two of Stricken Flown Out,” Winnipeg Citizen, 15 Feb 1949, [n.p.].
[iv] “Whale Meat Blamed for Mystery Ills” Edmonton Bulletin, 22 Feb 1949.
[v] Extract from report of Mr. A. Stevenson, Northern Administration, Western Arctic, March 1949, RG 85 vol. 1511 file 1000/128?1 part 2.
[vi]Francis H. Fay, “Carnivorous Walrus and some Arctic Zoonoses,” Arctic 13, 2 (1960), p. 115.
Sometime this weekend, The Otter group blog became the most-visited project ever on the NiCHE website. It overtook the first edition of The Programming Historian, a longtime hit with the digerati, among others. (That audience now more often visits the second edition of The Programming Historian, off our site.) It seems like a good moment to congratulate Jim Clifford on starting up The Otter two years ago. Building on his experience with Active History, Jim pressed and cajoled a series of contributors to start things off, and the result convinced a chorus of more bashful folk to join in. Kudos. Congratulations and thanks to Josh MacFadyen, too, for taking over the efficient running of the Otter over the past year.
I’m often asked – ok, I’ve never been asked – why it’s called The Otter. Our original placeholder title was Nature’s Chroniclers, a name self-important and possessing all the aural elegance of The Rural Juror. Since The Beaver had recently changed its name, we thought about calling it that, but then remembered what had happened when Bob Wiseman tried to become Prince. So we chose The Otter, in part to riff off The Beaver and in part – of course – for the pun. We wanted it to be a place for the environmental history / historical geography community not only to offer scholarship but also to offer opinion pieces, to be prescriptive, to suggest what we – scholars, Canadians, people – ought to do. And it is such a place, and that’s why it’s been popular.
That’s enough porchfront, rockingchair reminiscence for one post. Next time, I’ll tell you how NiCHE almost became CHiEN.
Two weeks ago several NiCHE members presented a roundtable at the National Council of Public History Annual Meeting on Making Environmental History Public through Digital Technologies. One of the presenters was on the Returning the Voices to Kouchibouguac National Park project by Professor Ronald Rudin. He also provided an overview of the project here for The Otter, including a preview of one of the interviews.
Professeur Rudin a également écrit une version en français pour Qu'est-ce qui se passe.
In 1969 the Canadian and New Brunswick governments agreed to create Kouchibouguac National Park along the east coast of the province. At the time, establishment of a national park required removing the people who resided there, in the belief that nature should be exhibited to visitors without signs of any human presence. Over 1200 individuals, 260 families living in seven separate communities, were uprooted, having been told that their lives were worthless and that they could only be helped by being forced to move. While these individuals were far from wealthy, they had built lives that they valued, based upon the resources of the region--the forests, the land, and especially the waters that they fished. The government statistics that led to the conclusion that they were impoverished could not take into account either the fish and farm products that they consumed or the barter that often took place between families. Conveniently written off as worthless, the residents were offered little compensation and sent off to fend for themselves elsewhere.
But government officials had not taken into account how this particular case of forced removal would be viewed by the residents, most of whom were Acadians, a people with a strong memory of having been removed once before. This memory of the grand dérangement and the sense that the creation of Kouchibouguac constituted "une deuxième déportation" helped fuel large-scale resistance that resulted in the park being shut down on several occasion. As for the leader of the resistance, Jackie Vautour, he refused to leave his land, remaining there until his house was bulldozed in 1976, only to return two years later, where he remains -- a squatter -- to this day.
Parks Canada drew from its experience at Kouchibouguac that there were better ways of creating new parks, and so the practice of forced removal came to an end. Nevertheless, the Kouchibouguac story remains important for Acadians, whose artists have produced novels, music, poetry, sculpture, paintings, and theatre inspired by this experience of removal and resistance. The story has also been told by way of two documentary films: Kouchibouguac (1979) and Kouchibouguac: L'histoire de Jackie Vautour et des expropriés (2006).
Through these various tellings of the Kouchibouguac saga, it became understood as a story of resistance. And the opponents to the creation of the park became symbols of a greater assertiveness among Acadians who were experiencing their own révolution tranquille at the time. However, in this emphasis upon the dramatic conflict between aggrieved residents and government officials, the experience of the vast majority of the expropriés was lost. While the story of resistance was part of what happened at Kouchibouguac, there was also the experience of most families which simply and quietly left their lands to create new lives, often within kilometres of the borders of the park. In collaboration with the Montreal-based multimedia producer Philip Lichti, I have developed the website Returning the Voices to Kouchibouguac National Park to tell a wide range of stories inspired by the experiences of the residents.
The central feature of the site is the presentation of 26 video portraits drawn from interviews with former residents, who often told their stories while standing on the lands where they once lived, an experience that was not always easy for them. Visitors to the site are encouraged to interact with the map that was created at the time of the expropriation to facilitate the process. Here, however, the map is used as a navigational device to return the voices of the residents to their lands, as visitors are encouraged to click on those properties for which there are stories to be seen and heard. The expropriation map has been superimposed on the current landscape so that visitors can learn about the impact of the park upon both the former residents and the land itself.
Along the way, visitors will encounter stories that span the full spectrum of human emotions. There were residents who told us stories, still filled with anger. Take, for instance, the case of Norma Doucet (whose video can be viewed below) who told us how her father had served in World War II only to return and have his land taken away: "Papa, he’d gone to war to save his country... but… when he came back, he wanted to raise his family and he says he was pushed out to go and live somewhere else ... They felt their freedom had been taken from them. Like prisoners." Others reflected on lives of great value that had been destroyed. Norma Doucet's brother Félix observed: " We had everything. It was a good life." Still others appreciated the jobs that came from the park. Howard Vautour observed: " I cannot say anything bad about it ... myself ... because I worked in the park since 1980. Most of my family did ... I think about where I would be today if it hadn't been for the park ... probably be in the United States or Alberta."
The website has been designed so as to serve slightly different functions depending upon whether it is viewed on a computer screen, or on a handheld device. In the latter case, since it might be possible for the visitor to see and hear these stories while on the very land being discussed, the mobile version of the website (available at the same URL) provides a link that will bring up a map showing where the visitor is located in relationship to the selected story.
The residents who were removed to allow the creation of Kouchibouguac National Park can never return to their lands, but this project makes it possible for some of their voices to return, if only virtually.
Ronald Rudin is Trudeau Foundation Fellow and Professor of History at Concordia University.
For Earth Day 2013, The Otter posts a reflection on eco-comics, zombies, and environmental popular culture.
Organizing academic conference panels over pints of beer is a practice as old as conference panels themselves. Is there a better way to do it? I think not.
This is exactly the way Mark McLaughlin and I came up with a panel for the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) annual conference held this past April in Toronto. One year earlier, Mark and I were enjoying a couple of barley pops with a few other people at the ASEH in Madison when we hit upon a shared interest: environmental imagery in comic books. Mark had recently come across a unique example of early eco-consciousness in New Brunswick, while I had been mulling over the veiled environmentalism of zombies. We decided this would be excellent fodder for the following year’s conference; when else would we have an opportunity to present papers on comic books!?
Now, grand ideas borne of beer often don’t pan out, so we knew we needed to lend our panel an air of legitimacy. Mark immediately thought of Finis, and we agreed that his research on the intersection between environmentalism and visual culture was the perfect way to make our idea seem like something more than just a couple of grad students keen on comic books. After a few conversations and several emails between the three of us, we agreed to broaden the scope of the panel to ‘Popular Visions of Environmental Anxiety’. And, thanks to the hard work that Mark put into organizing the abstracts and submitting our proposal, the panel was accepted for ASEH 2013!
Below you will find a brief synopsis of each of our presentations and a video link to each of the actual talks (the batteries on the camera ran out before the end of my talk, so I created a separate video based on my presentation after the conference).
"Captain Enviro Battles the Pollutians: A Visual Cultural Analysis of the World's First Eco-Superhero"
Mark J. McLaughlin, University of New Brunswick
The emergence of modern environmental values in Canadian comic books, or as I have termed them, "eco-comics," was part of a larger transition in how the state responded to growing concerns about the environment in the 1960s and 1970s. Citizens demanded that governments pay attention to the environmental consequences of unchecked resource development and economic growth, and governments responded by strengthening environmental regulatory frameworks, creating environmental departments and divisions within state bureaucracies, and distributing environmental literature, including eco-comics. Governments in Canada, though, used eco-comics to advance their own environmental agenda, one intended to counter what they considered to be the radical views of some elements of the North American environmental movement.
This paper analyzes the contexts surrounding the rise of eco-comics in Canada, and examines the visuals and the text that constitute the message of one such publication, the comic book Captain Enviro. The governments of the Maritime Provinces wanted to address public concerns about the environment, but not at the expense of the region's resource-based economies. The Maritime environment ministers thus commissioned Halifax-based Comic Book World to produce an anti-pollution comic for kids in the early 1970s. In response, the comic book company's owner, Owen McCarron, along with his occasional creative partner Robin Edmiston, developed what was most likely the world's first environmentally-themed superhero, or "eco-superhero," in 1972. With at least five main interrelated components, the environmental message of the eco-comic Captain Enviro focuses on individual actions and avoids critical discussions about the possible root causes of environmental problems. This messaging strategy fit perfectly with the more conservative form of environmental values advocated by the Maritime governments.
“Green Goes Mainstream: The Visual Politics of American Environmentalism, circa 1990”
Finis Dunaway, Trent University
As Earth Day 1990 approached, green went mainstream in the United States. A wide array of visual media all seemed to align with the environmental movement, to disseminate disturbing images of crisis and to promote a new era of ecological responsibility. This paper looks at a few prominent examples—including portrayals of the garbage crisis, the danger of Alar-laced apples, and signs of global ecological collapse—to show how media images mobilized feelings of environmental anxiety, but also played a crucial role in codifying neoliberal templates of environmental citizenship. Placing these images within the larger contexts of the end of the Cold War, the triumph of neoliberal values, and the rise of recycling programs, I explain how the visual media lunged between the global and the personal to create a contradictory politics of scale. The macro-notion of planetary crisis would be joined by a relentless focus on the micro, on the individual as the agent of change, the virtuous consumer who can redirect markets to ensure sustainability.
I argue that the period surrounding Earth Day 1990 constitutes not only a crucial environmental moment, but also a pivotal phase in the emotional history of capitalism. Capitalism and emotional politics became enmeshed in new and complicated ways during this period: while corporations sometimes seemed responsible for the environmental crisis, the market, spurred on by enlightened consumers, also seemed to offer the most promising path out of the abyss. Ultimately, media packaging of environmental hope presented the movement itself as a form of therapy, a way for individuals to cope with the distressing imagery of environmental crisis. My paper seeks to explain why this particular vision of environmentalism—as an individualized form of therapeutic politics—become so widely represented and enshrined during this particular historical moment.
“Zombies, Environmental Declensionism, and the Fate of Humanity: Symbolism in the Zombie Metaphor, 1968-2013”
Andrew Watson, York University
Zombies have come to occupy a very prominent spot in North American popular culture. This popularity has spilled over into other aspects of everyday life, making zombies a reoccurring metaphor. As a sub-genre of post-apocalyptic stories, zombies reflect society’s concern with crises such as political conflict, social and cultural change, and economic decline. Yet, since the crystallization of the modern zombie in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), zombies have also contained an under-current of environmental anxiety in addition to political, social and economic anxieties. This presentation traces the rise in the popularity of zombies by correlating the growth in the number of zombie movies produced since 1950 with certain moments or trends of environmental anxiety since WWII. In doing so, it becomes apparent that zombies are historically contingent, and stand-in for specific types of environmental anxieties that shift and evolve to reflect the times. In the 1970s for example, zombies were representative of over-consumption and critiques of consumerism, while in the 1980s they came to embody a growing fear of incurable disease. After 9/11, however, zombies become proxies for a growing anxiety about urban environments, including over-crowding, collapse of the inner core, and disillusionment with the suburban dream. By examining the imagery contained in Romero’s zombie films, as well as several twenty-first century zombie films, this presentation suggests that the popularity of zombies tells us a great deal about how we have coped with environmental anxiety in the past.
Andrew Watson (York University), Finis Dunaway (Trent University), and Mark McLaughlin (University of New Brunswick) presented at ASEH 2013 in Toronto.
For a few days in early April, Toronto was at the epicentre of environmental history exchange.
Around 600 delegates from six continents and 20 countries joined Canadian colleagues at the American Society for Environmental History conference, held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. The ASEH is the largest annual meeting of environmental historians in the world. The theme of this year’s ASEH conference was “Confluences, Crossings and Power.”
The seeds of this project were sown years ago at a NiCHE Executive meeting. Bringing the ASEH to Canada for a second time (it met in Victoria, BC, in 2004) would represent a capstone event for the networking activities of NiCHE. I volunteered to lead the bid to bring the conference to Toronto. I was most pleased by the enthusiastic collaboration of colleagues first at York University, then at other universities in the Greater Toronto Area. McMaster University in Hamilton played an absolutely key role, quickly promising $12,000 in support for the conference. Trent University and the University of Toronto came on board as well, and we had a stellar organising team that included many long-standing ASEH participants: Richard Hoffmann, Anders Sandberg, Andrew Watson (all from York), Ken Cruikshank, H.V. Nelles, Michael Egan (all from McMaster), Stephen Bocking (Trent) and Laurel MacDowell (University of Toronto). With financial support from NiCHE and the different universities, we raised over $35,000 from all the institutions.
This support allowed two key innovations. Led by Anders, and with help from Ken, Stephen and myself, we published a volume of environmental history essays that provided textual form to the nine planned field trips, always a highlight of the ASEH conference. This publication, Urban Explorations: Environmental Histories of the Toronto Region, contributes to the understanding of the region as well as providing a series of walkable, cyclable or drivable tours that illustrate important features of the environmental past of the area. In addition to the nine field trips associated with the conference, another seven chapters provide an itinerary to explore other important themes of food distribution, waste water management and ornamental parks. Second, we wanted to provide a copy of this publication to each delegate. With the support of NiCHE, we did so on a USB key that includes as well the conference programme and a series of the Nature’s Past podcasts. We also printed copies for sale to delegates who preferred a physical version of the book. This book will be made available to Toronto area bookstores and in due course through sources such as Amazon as an e-book. It can also be obtained from the Wilson Institute for the Study of Canada at McMaster University.
Along with Oxford University Press, the Wilson Institute sponsored the opening reception on Wednesday evening in the beautiful Imperial Room. The following day, everyone moved upstairs to the Ballroom, location of the publishers’ display and the posters. Twenty-two publishers’ representatives, including four Canadian university presses, displayed the latest research in environmental history.
The heart of the ASEH conference is, of course, in the sessions and the plenary talks. One hundred scheduled sessions over the three days provided papers on a range of topics from the culture of mountain biking, chemical diplomacy, climate change in seventeenth-century Mexico, zombies, and the implications of space debris. Delegates presented their papers in the geographically and historically themed meeting rooms of the Fairmount Royal York. The British Columbia room boasts, for instance, not only apparently ersatz totem poles by also an original EJ Hughes waterscape.
On Thursday, ASEH President John MacNeill presented his address on “Arnonld Toynbee: World Environmental Historian?”, a reflection on the environmental interpretations of the most popular historian of the 20th century in the English-speaking world. The conference plenary focused, appropriately enough, on one of the most important environmental issues facing North Americans, the use and transport of oil from the oil sands of northern Alberta. Historical geographer Graeme Wynn, cultural theorist Imre Szeman, sociologist Sara Dorow and film-maker Warren Carriou, provided different perspectives on our economic and cultural reliance on oil and the specific issues facing exploitation of the bitumen in northern Alberta. In the question and answer period, one delegate from Arkansas provided another reaction, sharing local concerns about the recent oil pipeline rupture in Mayflower, AR.
On Friday, the field trips spread out across the Greater Toronto Region, enjoying the bright sunshine but chilly temperatures to explore the Lower Don Valley, the Leslie Spit, the location for the new national park at the Rouge River, the McMichael Collection, Queer Toronto, indigenous Toronto, a walking tour in the area near the hotel, and Hamilton Harbour. Graduate students returned to the Imperial Room for their reception and raffle. Because of the generosity of NiCHE scholars, publishers, and graduate student association sponsors, almost all graduate students in attendance left with a prize of a scholarly book or another item.
A final busload of brave delegates left the hotel very early on Sunday morning towards Niagara Falls and the Niagara wine region.
As the conference sessions wound down on Saturday evening, and we headed into the final events, the poster session and the awards ceremony, we found our registration desk area displaced by an upscale circus-themed charity ball. We had juggled with many key issues in environmental history over the previous three days, but we now had to run a gauntlet of jugglers to make it to the final event. Somehow, for the organisers at least, the circus theme put the events of the previous few days into perspective.
Colin M. Coates, is Canada Research Chair in Canadian Cultural Landscapes at York University, a member of the NiCHE Executive and chair of the local organising committee, ASEH 2013, Toronto.
Three weeks ago, a male Barbary lion named Cous Cous attacked and killed Dianna Hanson at a wild cat park in Dunlap, California.
While Hanson, a volunteer at the park, was cleaning an enclosure adjacent to the lions’ feeding cage, Cous Cous lifted the latch on the partly closed door separating the two spaces and leapt through. The park had numerous protocols in place to enforce such boundaries: walkie-talkies to keep employees in contact with each other, rules governing who could enter the lions’ cage, and so on. Yet Cous Cous transgressed that line all the same—and paid with his life. A sheriff’s deputy shot him as he worried Hanson’s body, unable to leave it alone. Hanson had been fascinated with big cats her whole life. Her father, Paul, told reporters, “I've always had a premonition this would happen. She really loved getting up close and personal with the animals.”
This encounter shows how easily physical and imaginary lines that separate people and animals can be elided, smudged, or transgressed. Fascination draws humans dangerously close to wild animals. Cages are not foolproof. An intent paw can lift a latch, and a “tamed” captive lion can become uncontrollable very suddenly. We consider similar lines between species and their crossings in our ASEH panel, which deals with issues of power and agency in human-animal relations in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Canada and the United States. We argue that neither humans nor animals possess full control in such relationships. Rather, both are subject to a constrained, or modified agency founded upon the circumstances and environments in which they’re located. These entangled lives act upon each other with equal, if different kinds of force.
Each panellist explores these issues within different entanglements of places, actors, and bonds. Susan Nance details the experiences and perceptions of elephants in American travelling circuses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Circus owners and animal trainers tried to “instrumentalize” these animals, turning elephants into tools capable of illustrating live natural history lessons for audiences waiting to be entertained and educated. Yet it’s impossible to force a 6000-pound animal to do something she doesn’t want to do. Increasingly violent, and sometimes fatal encounters between elephants and circus workers produced a popular discourse in which elephants were figured as inherently criminal and dysfunctional animals by the humans (and other spectators) to whom they refused to submit.
Jennifer Bonnell considers the delicate bind that entrapped beekeepers at the beginning of the last century. Honeybees are neither fully domesticated nor fully wild; they are contained in hives, yet must have the freedom to forage. Insecticides and bee diseases increasingly threatened the welfare of these insects in the fields and orchards of Ontario. Unable to limit bees’ ability to roam, beekeepers worked with their neighbours and governments to minimize environmental risks through the development of practices and laws that reshaped the landscapes through which their wards moved. New and widespread insecticides now render these landscapes more dangerous than ever. In 2007, colony collapse disorder resulted in the loss of 30 billion bees—one-quarter of the northern hemisphere’s population—in Europe and North America.
Attempts to control mammals led some humans to tread dangerously close to the species line. Tina Adcock explores normative discourses within North American fur trapping handbooks published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Practical manuals urged trappers to “know the wild animals like a mother knows her child”—to develop empathetic relationships with fur-bearers and intimate knowledge of their habits and habitats to bring them within the reach of traps. Handbooks also encouraged trappers to enroll larger nonhuman networks of distributed agency in this task. Using snow, mud, twigs, and leaves to embed traps into “natural” and “undisturbed” settings, trappers could subtly bend landscapes into configurations that enabled better human control over local fur-bearing individuals.
Jessica Wang explores the interactions of humans and domesticated animals on city streets in nineteenth-century New York. Suspected mad dogs on the run, along with free-ranging pigs, stampeding livestock, and other rampaging urban dwellers on four legs, possessed significant capacity to disrupt human notions of order and control. Wang wonders, however, whether agency has become an overly banal and clichéd way of understanding animals’ relations with humans. Might it be more fruitful, in Deweyan pragmatist fashion, simply to follow the consequences of shared urban space? If “agency” constitutes a form of description rather than an analytical device that offers explanatory value, we could also employ a social history approach that shows how domestic animals’ presence shaped the texture of everyday life in the city. The end result was small dramas of age, class, gender, and social geography surrounding what Christine Stansell once called “the uses of the street.”
The study of historical human-animal relationships continues to move closer to the centre of our field’s attention. Flip through the last year or two of Environmental History, and you’ll find scarcely an issue without at least one article featuring animals in starring roles. What you won’t find is any overarching or programmatic approach toward this topic, or the questions about agency, power, and representation that inevitably attend it. Employing the sensitive, responsive pragmatism that is the hallmark of our discipline, environmental historians have used a wealth of narrative and analytical perspectives to tease out the nuances and consequences of these relationships in ways that suit disparate times, places, and actors best.
So, if you find animals to good to think with and interesting to think about, as we do, come along to our panel. Perhaps you’ll find something useful in the specific ways we approach these fascinating, maddening, and, yes, occasionally fatal relationships in our own work.
Tina Adcock (Rutgers), Jennifer Bonnell (University of Guelph), Susan Nance (University of Guelph), and Jessica Wang (UBC) are historians presenting at the American Society for Environmental History meeting in Toronto.
Panel 8-C will be held on Saturday, April 6 at 10:30 am in the British Columbia room.
 Laila Kearney and Alex Dobuzinskis, “Woman killed by caged lion in California died suddenly of broken neck: Coroner,” Reuters, 7 March 2013, accessed 22 March 2013 (http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/07/17228987-woman-killed-by-cage...).
Several years ago, Vancouver experienced an unusually tough winter, which is to say that it snowed.
And the snow lasted for several days. The usual chaos followed on Vancouver streets with buses and cars spinning out of control as fair weather drivers tested their summer tires on ice. More unexpectedly, the unusual conditions provoked landslides on the sheer slopes above the Capilano reservoir, located at the base of several North Shore mountains, the source of a goodly portion of the region’s drinking water. Higher than normal turbidity was registered in the water as a result and the Greater Vancouver Regional District, the caretaker and supplier of the region’s water, took the unusual step of advising households to boil water before drinking it. In the post-Walkerton era, this level of caution was understandable. The quality of the water and the health of the citizens had to be ensured.
As I boiled large pots of water and witnessed Vancouverites scramble in the grocery stores for bottled water, any bottled water, I began to wonder about the city’s relationship with drinking water. Brushing your teeth with Perrier has a way of focusing the mind. Only a few weeks earlier the City of Vancouver had sought to ban bottled water from civic buildings as a vote of confidence in the fine quality of the region’s drinking water. And now this. How had our ideas about clean water emerged exactly? And just what did people think “pure” water meant?
These questions led to a new research project examining the history of Vancouver’s water supply from the founding of the city to the present. I wanted to know how the water network had been constructed over time and how people perceived, valued and used potable water. There is no doubt that Vancouver draws on high quality water sources, close to the city, bounded by protective mountains and forests which suffer no interference from sewage disposal. But just how were these water sources identified, set aside and protected? And how did the notion of good water come to be enrolled in the Vancouver myth of a beneficent urban environment? What meanings have been attached to Vancouver’s “good” water over time and what has happened when that “good” water has been deemed of poor quality?
My upcoming conference paper at the American Society for Environmental History meetings in Toronto takes up these questions in the context of the Second World War. The war was something of a break point in the city’s social and political history and so too in terms of its water history. During the war, the federal government ordered the city’s water to be chlorinated for the first time. While many other North American cities had chlorinated water for decades, Vancouverites assumed some virtue in the fact that this form of treatment had not yet been required in their city blessed by nature. The imposition of chlorination under the federal war measures act responded to local water testing which pointed to declining water quality. The decision, however, provoked incredulity and questions in Vancouver. Local defenders asked how anyone could question the water’s purity-- it was widely established and self-evident! Some wondered mysteriously whether other reasons might be behind the call for chlorination. Mass public meetings were held to protest the chlorination measures and civic leaders in the region went on record voicing opposition. Critics claimed that chlorination would pollute the water, alter its taste and destroy its precious purity. Proponents of chlorination to the contrary argued that the health of war workers and sailors in port had to be safeguarded and that chlorination provided insurance against the threat of sabotage attacks. In any event, they argued, systematic testing had provided clear evidence that chlorination had become a necessity. Despite the arguments over chlorination, the measure went through in 1942 and citizens learned to live with the new tastes and smells of a chlorinated supply.
Comic in some respects, and certainly reminiscent of the genre of melodrama, this single episode provides insight into the domestication of water in North American environmental history, the perceived relationships among water, environments, and bodies, and the impact of the Second World War on the politics of the environment. It also provides some basis for understanding what Claude Dolman, a prominent University of British Columbia bacteriologist and the director of the Provincial Laboratories during the war, meant when he referred to Vancouver’s “peculiar brand of local citizenry.”
The Dominion fisheries museum first appeared at the Great International Fisheries Exhibition in London in 1883 offering a “didactic diorama” of Canadian fisheries and modeling fish as a coherent object of state administration.
Back in Ottawa the museum welcomed visitors during an era of technological, scientific, and administrative change in Canadian fisheries: new fishing boats and gear-types such as trawlers and seiners appeared on Canadian waters; applied fisheries science became established at marine biological stations; and state interventions including marine vermin-control programs and rail subsidies multiplied. Dependent on American ichthyological expertise and American taxidermists, however, the museum also struggled to materially model a slippery aquatic nature, one that could be justified as “Canadian.”
The last time NiCHE featured my research, I was planning an ambitious study of Canadian natural history museums, and I speculated that my research would probably circle back to fisheries, my abiding passion. Fast forward and my dissertation is now completely dedicated to fisheries, though an unexplored area of them which is their representation in exhibitions and museums. At the upcoming ASEH in Toronto, I will demonstrate how the popular understanding of fish as commodities helped bring about the demise of the fisheries museum in 1918.
Fish make recalcitrant materials for modeling. Fin and scale are more fragile than fur and horn, making fish more difficult to preserve and mount. And when mounted, fish lack the illusory “liveness” that seems to animate taxidermied mammals. Fish with avian eyes, split seams, and cracked fins did not inspire confidence in scientific or administrative expertise. Such material challenges suggest why 19th century natural-history museums tended to avoid fish (apart from fossilized and alcohol-preserved ones) and left the job of public fish exhibition to civic aquariums.
I think of my dissertation as continuing the conservation that Lissa Waddewitz began when she posed the question “are fish wildlife?”
My ASEH talk will describe the fisheries museum’s exhibits at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto between 1913 and 1918. The fisheries museum collection was incorporated into an exhibit designed to promote fish consumption and convince consumers that it was a safe “sanitary” food. This campaign, which also included a fish cookbook and a fish restaurant, was infused with gendered and patriotic ideas about fish consumption, which intensified in 1917 when the campaign was integrated into Canada’s war-time food strategy.
The CNE experience convinced fisheries officials that the fisheries museum was outmoded if not fusty. Consumer-oriented exhibits of fish in various commodity forms—from fresh to smoked—were more effective than displays of badly mounted dead fish arranged in systematic order. The CNE exhibits also reveal the changing landscape of fisheries and Canadian food production in the first decades of the 20th century. Fisheries—especially the Atlantic fisheries deemed to be “languishing”—were on the cusp of industrialization as the first steam trawlers began fishing off Nova Scotia. And while the artisanal production of salt cod was still strong, fresh and frozen fish were increasingly important. At the CNE, these problems of production were re-imagined in terms of consumption, a gendered act that fisheries officials hoped cookbooks and restaurants could stimulate to increase.
This particular episode in the fisheries museum’s brief history has particular contemporary resonance for me. In the first decade of the 20th century, central fisheries administrators were searching for ways to match the increasingly industrial production of fish with consumption by stimulating and supporting demand. A century later, local Canadian fishing communities are also seeking to stimulate demand for fish—but for those caught in small-scale fisheries. The challenge is to protect these fisheries from the economies-of-scale logic that drove industrial fishing while ensuring market access and fair prices for producers. There are some interesting projects that hope to accomplish this objective, including the first community-supported fisheries that bring the CSA farming-model to the sea. One organization promoting this approach—and which I want to recommend in conclusion—is the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, which publishes a great blog called “Small Scales” (http://smallscales.ca/).
William Knight is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Carleton University in Ottawa