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 September 2015:
1. The Great Quake and the Great Drowning
This article is about how stories merge into histories. Ann Finkbeiner discusses how geologists scientifically retell the Great Quake of January 26, 1700, which dropped the Pacific Northwest coast two meters and brought flooding 300 meters inland. These huge super quakes have been happening every 500 years for at least 10,000 years, meaning one is likely to happen soon and the Pacific Northwest’s infrastructure is not ready. Geologists have known about these super quake events only since 1984, but the region’s Indigenous population has known about these events for generations through traditional stories. The article describes how these Indigenous stories and scientific studies are merging to create a more holistic knowledge of the region’s environment.
2. Pipe Dreams: The Forgotten Project That Could Have Saved America From Drought
This article begins with a Californian wildfire scene that seems ripped from today’s headlines, but actually took place in 1961. Michelle Nijhuis discusses how engineer Ralph Parsons devised a plan in the early 1960s to permanently end the West’s drought issues. The project was called the North American Water and Power Alliance and was basically a plan to pump water from Canada to the American West. The article discusses the various reactions to the plan and its legacy.
3. When Americans Understood That Weather Was Connected to Larger Forces
In another article about coastal flooding, Sean Munger recounts New England’s Great September Gale of 1815. Munger describes how this event was mentioned in the personal accounts of people at the time. He argues that these reactions to this gale (hurricane) illustrate the differences in the way in which people understood weather phenomena historically in comparison to today. Historically, individuals understood weather as connected to other weather and natural events, like volcanoes. Today, we view weather in relation to future events and rarely look backwards. Emphasis on scientific expertise today has made it harder to appreciate weather events as part of greater ecosystems.
Introduced in 1859, the European Rabbit has proven to be a successful and damaging invasive species in Australia. At the National Museum of Australia they have an artifact–a wire netted, wooden fence segment–which was part of one particular ambitious plan to control rabbit populations. In 1901, it was recommended that a 400 mile fence be constructed to block rabbits from crossing into Western Australian grazing and farming land. The article discusses the plans for the fence, its construction, maintenance, and the difficulties that were met along the way.
5. Ecological Explorations of Shaolin: Placing the “Ol Dirty Bastard Environmentalism” of the Wu-Tang Clan
When Patrick Nugent began his dissertation, an environmental history of Staten Island, one of his advisors asked him, “what does all this tell us about the Wu?” In this piece, Nugent attempts to answer this question: how did Staten Island’s environment interact and inform the work of the Wu Tang Clan? Nugent mapped out where the nine MCs grew up and recorded on Staten Island and looked to their lyrics to try to decipher how they understood the environment around them. Nugent argues that by “placing them within this heavily polluted, yet heavily preserved borough reveals that the group’s exaggerated griminess…is best understood as a response to the specific environmental policies and rhetoric that had sequestered them in ‘the Shaolin slums.'”
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