#EnvHist Worth Reading: September 2016

Source: unwinnable.com; http://www.unwinnable.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Paul-Bunyan.jpg

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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 September 2016:

1. Canada’s Founding Myths Hold Us Back from Addressing Climate Change

To the delight of many Canadian historians this past month, in this Globe and Mail article, Naomi Klein connects the Staples Thesis to current climate change and reconciliation issues in Canada. “Why is it so hard for Canadian political leaders, across the political spectrum to design climate policies that are guided by climate science?” she asks. The answer, according to Klein, is deep-seated and goes back the colonial extraction economy that is still alive in a form today. As Harold Innis warned, Klein states that Canada’s continued reliance on export of raw materials makes it nearly impossible for the country to stick to serious climate change initiatives or successful reconciliation with the country’s Indigenous population.

2. How Moby Doll Changed the Worldview of ‘Monster’ Orca Whales

In 1964, an orca whale, later known as Moby Doll, was injured off the coast of British Columbia after a failed attempt to kill it for use as a model for a museum sculpture. Instead of killing it, the whale was taken back and held at the Vancouver Aquarium. This whale was the first captive orca whale. In this episode of The Current, a historian and a scientist that worked with Moby Doll are interviewed about the way that the capture of this whale changed the way that we view whales and other animals.

3. In an Era of Hyperbole, Paul Bunyan Is as Tall as Ever

In this New York Times article, Dan Barry explores the question of why Paul Bunyan is still so popular in Minnesota and other areas of the United States and discusses the origins of this American folkloric character. Bunyan is a product of the 19th century lumber industry. “The lumberjacks,” Barry writes, “distracted themselves from isolation and danger by spinning exaggerated tales of a big, strong, clever foreman named Paul Bunyan.” Barry makes it clear that Bunyan is a product of 19th century ideas of wilderness, natural abundance, rugged masculinity, and an American obsession with all things big.

4. Making Up Ground 

Connecting to the episode of Exploring Environmental History on the unnatural character of The Netherlands landscape that I featured last month, this episode of 99% Invisible focuses on the way in which cities have been built on fill. The podcast begins with the example of San Francisco and discusses a few other historic examples. However, these historic examples are nothing compared to the scale at which land is being created with fill today. The podcast also discusses modern-day examples like Dubai and Singapore and discussions the environmental and socio-economic consequences of the “land-fill” industry.

5. Making Tracks: Yan Gao

The small farm town that Yan Gao grew up in was built on reclaimed wetlands and was protected from the surviving wetlands by a dike. In this instalment in Making Tracks, Gao talks about the “watermarks” in her past that led her to study the history of water management in China, discussing both her dissertation and current research project. She state that “water control is essential to understanding the mechanism of state-society relationships in Chinese history.”

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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