#EnvHist Worth Reading: August 2016

Rideau river at Manotick Mill. Source: Roy MacGregor / The Globe and Mail

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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 August 2016:

1. The Story of the Rideau Canal: A Major Engineering Feat of the 19th Century

This article on the Rideau River/Canal is the ninth in a excellent series by The Globe and Mail on Canadian rivers. The article opens up with some of the folklore of the canal and then discusses how the canal is a major engineering feat of the nineteenth century. The canal was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The article discusses the centrality of the canal to the British colonial project in North America, the difficulties of constructing it, including malaria and other diseases caught by the builders, and the history of the canal as a place for tourism and recreation.

2. The French Lake Dam Fish Ladder and the Temporality of Usefulness

Moving from an engineering feat, the Rideau Canal, that is still central to the landscape on which it was built to an “architectural folly” in Southwestern Oklahoma, Robert Bailey describes the tall spiral construction at the French Lake Dam that was designed to be a fish ladder, specifically for salmon, in the 1930s. The twist is that salmon are not native to Oklahoma and have never been stocked. Bailey states that this “monument to folly” provides an opportunity to “reflect on the significant lessons about usage and time that it delivers.” Bailey then discusses how this kind of structure can be looked at from an art history theoretical framework to better understand the Anthropocene.

3. Cultured Nature: The Nature Scenery Act of the Netherlands

In this latest episode of Exploring Environmental History, Jan Oosthoek interviews Wybren Verstegen about The Netherlands’ 1923 Nature Scenery Act. Oosthoek comments that The Netherlands is a special case because it is a country in which “nature and human activity are almost inseparable.” Most of The Netherlands is below sea level and  has been reclaimed or drained. Thus, the country is dependent on human intervention and engineering of the landscape. Verstegen uses the example of the Nature Scenery Act to explore this fact, describes how the act was created to save country estates and the park-like settings in which they existed, and compares these estates to those found in the United States and Canada.

4. Histories of American National Parks

The main environmental history event this past month was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in the United States. To explore articles relating to this event check out the hashtag #NPS100 on Twitter. Several reading lists were amongst the plethora of national park articles, many of which left a lot to be desired. My favourite list is this one compiled by Amy Kohout. She state that “national parks have traditionally been central to American environmental history—but, at least for me, it is what national parks can reveal about the world beyond park boundaries that make them so important.” This list was particularly welcomed by those finding the #NPS100 coverage to be overwhelmingly non-critical, narrow, and white.

5. 6 Ways America’s National Parks Have Dramatically Shaped the History of Science

Another one of my favourite national park articles was this one by Business Insider. Most of the #NPS100 articles focused on the recreation side or origin stories of the parks, this article focuses on the less-discussed scientific and education mission of the National Park Service. The national parks are “living laboratories” that have contributed significantly to scientific research. The article touches upon Yellowstone bacteria contributing to DNA research, wolf-moose predatory relationship research, the role of Indiana Dunes in the formation of our our understanding of ecological succession, and several other examples.

Bonus: Grand Canyon 1958

This is just a fun find that I came across this past month. I had not heard of this Disney film prior to the #NPS100-mania. It is classical music mixed with vintage Grand Canyon footage. Good stuff.


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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