Perspectives on the Environmental History of Northern Canada

Yukon River

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Stephen Bocking and Brad Martin

Canadian environmental historians are heading north! Of course, they have always been there: northern Canada has long been of compelling historical interest. But there is a new momentum in the study of the region’s environmental history.

Perhaps this is a result of the prominence of the North in current affairs: the challenges of resource development and environmental protection in the region, melting Arctic ice and other signs of climate change, ongoing issues regarding security and sovereignty, and the turbulent and path-breaking evolution of northern indigenous politics.

But specifically historical questions are also attracting more attention. These questions explore, for example, how environmental changes have taken place across distinctive landscapes, often accompanied by political and social transformations; how relations between settler and indigenous societies and economies have shifted; how diverse ways of knowing and valuing the land have intersected; and how the contested identity of the North itself has evolved, in both its national and circumpolar contexts.

This growing momentum became evident at a workshop sponsored by NiCHE on northern environmental history held in Whitehorse, Yukon in June 2009. It was an exciting event. Since then, many of its participants, joined by others with strong interests and experience in the North, have formed a community of scholars engaged in a joint project: an edited collection that presents an array of perspectives on the environmental history of the region. This collection is slated for publication in the University of Calgary Press “Canadian History and Environment” series.

Over the next few months, contributors to the collection will post a series of reflections and research summaries on the NiCHE website, previewing their book chapters. Some of the exciting work that will be discussed explores the environmental, social, and cultural dimensions of abandoned mines; the intellectual landscapes of exploration and empire; the imposition of military and state control over northern territories; the evolving character of northern fisheries; the place of Canada in the circumpolar North; and the environmental health of the North in the face of industrial transformation and global change.

These postings are part of the lead-up to an authors’ workshop scheduled for October 28-30 at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario.

The focus of this northern environmental history project is on the twentieth century, and especially on how the North has been transformed during the postwar era. We’re very excited about it, and we look forward to sharing the collection with everyone interested in Canada’s environmental history!

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Stephen Bocking

Professor, Trent School of the Environment at Trent University
Professor of environmental history and policy in the Trent School of the Environment, Trent University. Teaches courses on environmental history, science and politics, and environmental issues in the Global South. His website is:

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