New Scholars October Update: New Directions in Park History

"Guide at Lake Traverse Camp, Algonquin Park, Ont." Library and Archives Canada, Archival reference no. R1196-920-5-E.

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NiCHE New Scholars is recruiting participants for our October event led by Anne Janhunen.

According to Anne: October’s NiCHE New Scholars discussion will focus on new directions in parks history. The idea for this discussion emerged from a panel at this year’s Canadian Historical Association meeting entitled “Revisiting Park Histories: Everyday Voices from Canada’s Protected Places” that highlighted diverse voices and perspectives often missing from official park narratives. Anniversaries such as the centennial of the US National Parks Service and the upcoming 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation provide environmental historians with an opportunity to contribute to the public discourse around parks, as indeed many have this year.

Questions for discussion include:

In what ways are new scholars contributing to existing parks and tourism scholarship within environmental history?

What can we learn from international/national/regional or urban/rural comparative studies of parks?

What types of sources can we use to tell diverse park histories? What are the challenges in locating and interpreting these sources?

How can our scholarship inform contemporary debates about the importance of parks?

Suggested reading:

Sandilands, Catriona. “Cap Rouge Remembered? Whiteness, Scenery, and Memory in Cape Breton Highlands National Park” in Baldwin, Cameron, and Kobayashi (eds.) Rethinking the Great White North: Race, Nature, and the Historical Geographies of Whiteness in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011.

Saari, Paula Johanna. “Marketing Nature: The Canadian National Parks Branch and Constructing the Portrayal of National Parks in Promotional Brochures, 1936-1970” Environment and History, Vol. 21, no. 3 (2015): 401-446.

“Special Places and Protected Spaces: Historical and Global Perspectives on Non-National Parks in Canada and Abroad.” Special edition of Environment and History. Vol. 18, no. 4 (2012).

The discussion will take place within the last two weeks of October. Want to be a part? The Doodle poll can be found here:

September Summary: Environmental Histories of Mining

NiCHE New Scholars kicked off the fall semester with a topic close to my heart. Here’s a quick highlight-reel of our discussion.

Participants were: 

John Baeten: PhD Candidate at Michigan Tech studying low grade iron mining and mining heritage in the Mesabi Range.

Hereward Longley: PhD Candidate at University of Alberta working on the history of oil development in north-eastern Alberta.

Caitlynn Beckett: Master’s student at Memorial University studying community and remediation at Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories.

And me, Mica Jorgenson: PhD Candidate at McMaster University working on gold mining at the Porcupine Gold Rush in northern Ontario.

We were joined by Dr. Arn Keeling and Dr. John Sandlos from Memorial University – editors of the recently released Mining and Communities in Northern Canada: History, Politics, and Memory (University of Calgary Press).

The wide range of geographical and mineral specializations of our group immediately suggested the diversity inherent in our field. The “nature” of iron versus gold versus oil implies very different sets of historical problems.

We started by discussing how people have turned hostile inhuman underground spaces into livable and productive environments. Liza Piper’s 2007 Environment and History article, “Subterranean Bodies: Mining the Large Lakes of Northwest Canada” helped us here. Piper talks about how miners and geologists use the language of the body in order to relate to the earth on which they worked – an “ore Body” with “tails” and “fingers” of mineral wealth allowed miners to think of seemingly lifeless rock as a dynamic, responsive, and perhaps even renewable. Similarly, by referring to valuable ore as a “harvest” miners associated their work with that of foresters and farmers.

We wondered about the possibility of preserving or protecting “ore bodies” in the same way that one might set aside a forest or a historic homestead. We noted that preserved mining sites tend to emphasize human economic and technological achievement (machines, giant holes, computers, and chemicals) rather than “natural” features of the land. From here we moved on a discussion of “discovery” myths at mine sites: These myths generally tell the story of an enterprising white man stumbling on mineral wealth and developing it for the good of national economic progress. Such myths reinforce the legitimacy of the presence of mining companies while erasing indigenous people and downplaying environmental damage. Unfortunately, mining myths are sometimes the only documentary evidence historians might have for a particular mine. The group talked about how historians might effectively use mining myths by, for example, testing them against other versions of the past (including oral history).

What did our group of mining scholars think about the future of environmental histories of mining? The scale of ecological change and the relative invisibility of the industry provoke big questions of the field about heart versus hinterland, capitalism, and environmental declension. Participants discussed the potential practical applications of mining history for policy-making, heritage/memorial sites, and community health. We also talked about the budding potential of transnational and/or business mining history: These days, most global mines are controlled by just a few major companies. Some of the most powerful are based right here in Canada, and trade their stocks on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

A big thank-you to this month’s discussants. This was a rare treat to be able to get together during the regular semester to talk about our research!

If you are interested in joining the NiCHE New Scholars mailing list so you can keep up to date on these and other events, please do not hesitate to contact me!

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Mica Jorgenson is an environmental historian of natural resources in Canada. She works in both the academic and public sectors, and teaches periodically at the University of Northern British Columbia.


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