#EnvHist Worth Reading: November 2016

Rat in a flowerbox, New York City (David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons)

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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 November 2016:

1. Cultures of Energy: The Energy Humanities Podcast, Episode #42: Andrew Mathews

In this episode of Cultures of Energy, Andrew Mathews, an anthropologist, speaks about his research on Mexican Forests, specifically his new book, Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise and Power in Mexican Forests (MIT Press, 2011). Mathews research speaks to both current and historical issues and crosses interdisciplinary boundaries. The hosts of the podcast summarise topics discussed well, and I will not reinvent the wheel. They state: “we discuss why states fear fire even as they frequently act to parasitize crises as opportunities for political intervention. We talk about how bureaucracies produce both knowledge and non-knowledge and about the gap between rhetorics of state power and the reality of disorder and transience within bureaucracies. We discuss the emotional landscape of patron-client relations and the political landscape of resource conservation. Then, we pivot toward Andrew’s new research on forest protection, biomass energy and climate change in Italy.”

2. The Land Doesn’t Hate: A Conversation with Lauret Savoy

Edge Effects officially launched their new podcast this past month. One of the episodes is an interview with Lauret Savoy. Her recent book, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (Counterpoint Press, 2015), is another brilliant addition to growing scholarship and commentary that seeks to uncover the underdeveloped stories of the relationship between the outdoors and nature and minorities. Savoy’s writing represents an excellent example of bridging and intertwining our academic training with the personal. “Part of what…placing myself in time and space also means understanding how this country’s still unfolding history has marked me as a person—not only me, but society and the land itself,” she states.

3. On “Wastable” Urban Animals

In this post, Tora Holmberg looks at the way in which we, as a society, categorise animals, particularly urban animals. She asks: “How does one cross the boundaries between being integrated into urban ecologies and becoming disposable as waste?” Holmberg uses rats as the sample animal by which to explore this question and looks at some of the ways in which we use and abuse them. She also connects our treatment of rats to society’s waste management systems – the way in which society treats waste and those that work with waste.

4. The Toxic-Waste Drum Is Everywhere

In this Atlantic piece, Rebecca Altman traces the history of the 55-gallon drum. She writes that “over the course of the 20th century, with two world wars and the emergence of global markets, the 55-gallon drum has been one of the most well-traveled objects in human history.” She begins with a discussion of Nellie Bly, the woman that invented the modern steel drum prototype, discussed the way in which unregulated post-war industrialism embraced the steel drum, and ends by looking at the way in which the drum became the representative object of pollution, hazardous waste, and the death of industrialization. “Along with the landfill and the retention pond,” Altman argues, “the 55-gallon drum was the waste-management technology of the 20th Century.”

5. Dumping Chemical Weapons Off Australian Coasts

The 55-gallon drum takes centre-stage in the beginning of Ben Wilkie’s blog post about the dumping of chemical weapons on his Bombs and Biodiversity blog, which focuses on the environmental legacies of war and conflict. Wilkie opens the post by talking about the use of chemical weapons in World War I and the way in which Australia prepared to use chemical weapons in World War II by undertaking controversial test on Australian volunteers. After the war, Wilkie describes the way in which these chemical weapons, which were housed in steel drums, were dumped into the ocean. Wilkie concludes that “over one million tonnes of chemical weapons have been dumped in oceans since the end of the First World War. Whatever their environment impacts, it is well-established that chemical weapons pose a serious risk to human health. As the ocean is increasingly drawn upon as a source of both food and energy, and continues to play a central role in the world’s sprawling telecommunications infrastructure, these remnants of war continue to pose a risk.”

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, project manager, 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). Additionally, she is the Managing Editor for the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon and a Coordinating Team member of Showing Up for Racial Justice Saskatoon-Treaty Six. 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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