Nature’s Past – Episode 17: Virtual Field Trips, Automobiles, and Global Commodity Chains

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Nature’s Past Episode 17 – click to play | right click, ‘save as’ to download

Over the summer, the NiCHE New Scholars group organized a virtual environmental history workshop that invited graduate students from around the world to participate in two days of discussion and review of working papers on a variety of topics in environmental history. Students from Canada, the US, Britain, France, Japan, and Australia were connected using Skype, Google Groups, and a WordPress blog to review compelling new graduate research in environmental history.

One of the hallmarks of the workshop was the virtual field trip. Because field trips play such a prominent role in environmental history workshops and conferences, the New Scholars organizing committee wanted to somehow include a field trip component in the virtual workshop. Using a combination of the photo-sharing service, Picassa, Google Maps and Google Earth, the workshop participants created an impressive collaborative geo-tagged photo essay on the topic of the automobile and its impact on landscapes as a global commodity.

Workshop participants were asked to upload and geo-tag photos of the impact of automobiles on their local environments and provide brief annotations and captions for each picture. Those images were then three-dimensionally mapped, using Google Earth, to allow each participant to virtually travel this global commodity chain through images of the impact of automobility in all of the participant countries and regions.

On this episode of the podcast we speak with some of the participants from this virtual environmental history field trip and ask them about their collaborative work on this project.

Please be sure to take a moment and review this podcast on our iTunes page.

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Sean Kheraj is the director of the Network in Canadian History and Environment. He's an associate professor in the Department of History and associate dean of programs in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University. His research and teaching focuses on environmental and Canadian history. He is also the host and producer of Nature's Past, NiCHE's audio podcast series and he blogs at

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