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. You can watch all of our #EnvHist Worth Reading videos right here. Here are my choices for items most worth reading from August 2015:
This article from The New Yorker gained quite a bit of traction this past month. In it, Jedediah Purdy discusses the work of early conservationists like Madison Grant and Theodore Roosevelt and argues that “or these conservationists, who prized the expert governance of resources, it was an unsettlingly short step from managing forests to managing the human gene pool.” The connection between environmental history and environmental justice issues may not be uncharted territory for environmental historians, but the popularity of the post amongst the general public is important, as it demonstrates the inherent complexities and problems of historical and contemporary environmental movements to a broader audience.
Sticking with the theme of unsavory pieces of environmental history, several articles, including this post on Huffington Post, looked at a new campaign, “Stop the Con,” started by an organization called Survival International. The post states that the campaign seeks to bring light to “what it describes as the “violent displacement” of indigenous peoples in the name of conservation. The campaign aims to raise awareness about problematic conservation practices.” The post refers to the work of several environmental historians, including William Cronon and Karl Jacoby.
As the two prior posts have demonstrated, early conservation and outdoor recreation evolved in a racialized sphere. In this piece from NPR’s Code Switch, Shereen Marisol Meraji, discusses how African-Americans retreated to the countryside to temporarily escape segregation and racism. Meraji specifically focuses on a resort called Lincoln Hills, located in Colorado, which was established by a group of African-Americans. The post is part of Code Switch’s summer series Race and Outdoor Recreation, a subject that is gaining traction in environmental history with works like Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces.
In addition to race factors, outdoor recreation is also traditionally genderized. As this post discusses, women were not encouraged to enjoy the great outdoors until the early 1900s, at which point specific guides were published to instruct women in the craft of camping. Within the post, Allision Meier looks at several of these early books, like, The Camp Fire Girls: And the New Relation of Women to the World (1912), which she found in the Rare Book Room of the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM).
I find the LA River one of the most fascinating examples of the way in which humanity has engineered nature, in this case to control flooding. This photo essay features historical photographs paired with contemporary photos of the same scene taken by Peter Bennett. The photos also include commentary by Bennett. Bennett states that “the idea was to get as close to the original spot the older photos were taken and try to match up the lens and framing with the original. … There was a sense of time travel as I viewed the landscape as it is today and the image on the iPad as it was back in the 30s. The visual contrast was quite striking and the changes apparent in the 75 years or so since the photos were taken was at times quite dramatic.”
In this fun article, which illustrates the intersection of pop culture and environmental history, Susan Harlan examines the natural depletion of Virginia’s Mountain Lake, the lake featured in the movie, Dirty Dancing. Despite efforts to manipulate the lake’s water level, it continues to naturally drain, which Harlan portrays as a kind of agency on the part of the lake. As Harlan concludes, “It seems that Mountain Lake will do what it likes; it shows little regard for human intervention or Hollywood nostalgia.”
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