#EnvHist Worth Reading: July 2016

Road building in Banff, 1925. Source: Environment and Society Portal; Second Century Club collection.

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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 July 2016:

1. Gorgeous Maps Reveal the History of America’s National Parks

One of the most popular items this past month, this post features a “new map exhibit at Harvard celebrating the 100th anniversary of the formation of the National Parks Service.” The article features several visually-stunning maps from the collection and provides background information for each. The article and exhibit effectively illustrate the richness of historical maps that expands far beyond coordinates.

2. Banff Is … Hell? The Struggle of Being Canada’s First, Most Famous, and Most Visited National Park

In this article, Alan MacEachern starts and builds on the 19th-century association of Banff, Scotland (Banff, Alberta’s namesake) to the fires of hell. MacEachern artfully boils down the recreation/preservation debate to an accessible and enjoyable read, concluding that “The spotlight of attention that Banff National Park receives ensures it will continue to be a site of intense human use and intense protection. Not heaven, but not hell either, Banff exemplifies the contradictions inherent in maintaining inviolable a place for people, the contradiction at the heart of the national park idea.”

3. The Perplexing Problem of Manitoba’s Nameless Lakes

In this article on Atlas Obscura, Cara Giaimo interviews Manitoba’s official toponymist, Des Kappel and highlights thow the natural world and the cultural labels, most namely “names” (pun intended), that we place on them are inextricably intertwined. The article points out the way in which names are important for accessing natural resources and for protecting them. It also talks about how Kappel is attempting to name the approximately 90,000 unnamed lakes in Manitoba, including recent initiatives focused on unearthing Cree and Assiniboine names.

4. Wild Birds Communicate and Collaborate with Humans, Study Confirms

This study challenges the nature/culture divide and demonstrates the way in which humans and animals have evolved together. The study is focused on the bird species, the greater honeyguide, in Mozambique. “The greater honeyguide,” Russell McLendon writes, “responds by leading the human to a wild beehive, where both can feast on honey and wax. The bird does this without any training from people, or even from its own parents.” This example of mutualism between humans and animals is rare according to the article, but I think it is an interesting concept/natural phenomena for environmental historians to explore.

5. Pablo Escobar’s Hippos Keep Having Sex and No One Is Sure How to Stop Them

This article highlights the potential consequences of keeping exotic animals. When renowned drug lord, Pablo Escobar, was killed in 1993, his hippos were left behind at his estate, Hacienda Nápoles, and have proceeded to breed profusely. Sarah Emerson writes that “Escobar’s captive hippos were never meant for the rivers and estuaries of northern Colombia, yet since his death they’ve behaved as wild animals are wont to: by vigorously breeding and multiplying, slowly establishing themselves as the largest invasive species in the world.”

Remember to follow #envhist hashtag and NiCHE (@NiCHE_Canada) on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to keep up with the latest environmental history content.

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is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States, editor, and digital communications strategist. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Saskatchewan in 2019. She is an executive member, editor-in-chief, and social media editor for the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE). She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon. A passionate social justice advocate, she focuses on developing digital techniques and communications that bridge the divide between academia and the general public in order to democratize knowledge access. You can find out more about her and her freelance services at jessicamdewitt.com.

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