At the upcoming Western Canadian History Conference to be held in Edmonton in June 2008 there is a planned forum on Environmental History. The forum, to be chaired by Shannon Stunden Bower, will feature presentations by Frank Tough, Claire Campbell, Joshua MacFadyen, Liza Piper, and John Thistle on the question of ‘Settlement’- An Environmental History Perspective. (Audio from the forum now available here). However, we are also looking for contributions in the form of questions or commentary prior to the session. To see abstracts of the proposed presentations go to the conference website http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/~wcsc/Forum.html. You can direct questions to the chair via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or you can post them here. Selected questions will be addressed as part of the June discussion, but we also would like to encourage a parallel online discussion for those who are interested. We will keep this forum open until the June session has passed.
To get things started, here is the question to be discussed:
‘Settlement’- An Environmental History Perspective
Historical geographer Cole Harris has argued the term ‘settlement’ should be replaced with ‘resettlement’, as an acknowledgement of the aboriginal occupancy that predates European arrival in North America. Whether Harris’ correction is accepted, most contemporary scholars recognize that, insofar as it fails to acknowledge the aboriginal fact, that phrase ‘settlement’ is flawed.
For historians particularly concerned with the environmental history of the west, are there other ways this phrase is inadequate? Are there longer term or larger scale processes that must be acknowledged, if the environmental history of the region is to be understood? Does ‘settlement’ imply a focus on agricultural activity, disregarding other environmentally activities such as mining and hydroelectric development and orienting inquiry away from less fertile areas such as the provincial norths? Or are there advantages to the phrase ‘settlement’ that deserve recognition? In rethinking the process of settlement, can a more environmentally attuned perspective reorient historical inquiry of the west?
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