Every month I carefully track the most popular and significant environmental history articles, videos, audio, and other items making their way through the online environmental history (#envhist) community. Also check out the eighth installment of our #EnvHist Worth Reading videos. Here are my choices for items most worth reading from April 2015.
Deborah Rudacille opens her article with a description of two monuments built to honour miners killed in a coal dust explosion in 2010. One of the celebratory memorials reads, “God Bless Coal.” Rudacille argues that traditionally industrial communities share a similar history and a similar type of grief that has led them to hold onto an unhealthy nostalgia. “Thousands of working-class communities,” Rudacille writes, “around the country lament the shuttering of blast furnaces, coke ovens, mines and factories. This yearning for a vanishing industrial United States, a place in long, slow decline thanks to globalisation and technological change, has a name – smokestack nostalgia. It is a paradoxical phenomenon, considering the environmental damage and devastating health effects of many of the declining industries.” Rudacille’s article connects histories of health, environmental degradation, and environmental justice with current economic and psychological issues in these communities that are transitioning to a post-industrial economy. This article pairs well with Mike Commito and Kaleigh Bradley’s piece on the Sudbury Superstack published on Activehistory.ca in November.
Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western University School of law, picked up his daughter’s high school textbook to take a look at the portrayal of the 1960s and 1970s environmental movement. He expected to disagree with some of the ways in which the information was portrayed, but was surprised to find many blatant factual errors. In the article, Adler lists some of the environmental history errors that he found in the few pages that he read. Adler’s article is a reminder that most people will only come into contact with environmental history and history in general by way of high school and college textbooks, making such errors particularly troublesome.
On Episode 12 of the Historically Thinking Podcast–hosted by Al Zambone, a professor of History at Augustana College–Brian Leech discusses some of the seminal works and sub-genres of environmental history. Leech begins with what he calls the three original areas of environmental history–material history, cultural history, and political history–and then branches out to fields like natural disaster histories and environmental histories of disease. The podcast is a good overview of the field and would prove useful in an upper-level undergraduate environmental history course or for PhD students beginning their comprehensive exams.
In this post on her blog, Dolly Jørgensen discusses the fluctuating price of beavers purchased for reintroduction purposes in Sweden during the mid-twentieth century. She shows how political issues, such as the German occupation of Norway, caused changes in the cost of beavers. “This whole episode,” Jørgensen concludes, “should remind us that 1) animals for conservation and reintroduction projects are commodities which are bought and sold, 2) somebody is making a living off of capturing the animals to be moved, and 3) everything has its price.”
The concept of parks as peopled spaces, instead of pristine plots of wilderness, is not a particularly novel idea in environmental history. However, it is safe to say that the wilderness myth of national parks is still popular in mainstream culture. Pieces like this one at SmithsonianMag.com are important for bringing awareness of the human history of the land now encompassed by national parks. The piece provides a number of stunning photographs that capture a number of abandoned settlements that represent the use of national park land for resource extraction, military, and agricultural purposes.
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