#EnvHist Worth Reading: April 2017

Snipers using water wheels - John Miszzak operates a water wheel outfit, Quesnel River, B.C. Source: Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys / Library and Archives Canada / PA-015383

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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 April 2017:

1. The Giant Sea Mammal That Went Extinct in Less Than Three Decades

The Stellar sea cow was one of the few giant Pleistocene mammals to survive nearly to the present. The cows were about thirty feet long and weighed about ten tons. By the eighteenth-century, the sea cow was limited to two islands in the arctic, near the Aleutians. They were first described by German naturalist, Georg Stellar, in 1741, during a Russian expedition to chart the waters between Siberia and North America. The ship grounded on an island where the sea cows lived. Because of their size, one sea cow could feed a ship crew for a month. Within twenty-seven years the Stellar sea cow was extinct. The article concludes by describing how the disappearance of the Stellar sea cow helped persuade European naturalists that extinction was possible.

2. In Other Words, Water

In this article, Felicity Barringer weaves linguistics with environmental history. Barringer argues that due to the scarcity of water in the American West and different weather patterns, the US West developed a unique vocabulary to describe all things that have to do with water that was more diverse than that of wetter regions. She describes different categories of water vocabulary, including Indigenous words, law terms, and ways to describe interaction with it. One of the most interesting parts of the article is the section that discusses ways of visualising regional water terms, which includes a map of terms for “streams” in the U.S.

3. The Thing About Wind

On this post on her blog, Linden Ashcroft explores the difficulty of using wind data in climate history. According to Ashcroft, wind has been recorded and observed for a very long time, but is difficult to analyse over the long term. One reason for this difficulty is that wind data is often subjective. Ashcroft provides the Beaufort Scale as an example of this subjectiveness. Wind data is also subjective to small changes in the surrounding environment including the growth of a tree or the erection of a fence, making wind often more useful and indicative of local change than of large-scale climate change.

4. Thinking Through Archaeology and the Environmental Humanities

This post features four presentations from a panel at the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference that took place at the University of Southhampton in December 2016. The panel seeks to explore connections between scientific and archaeological study with environmental humanities. All of the presentations include concepts that are of interest to environmental historians as well. For instance, one presentation explores paleoparasitology and environmental justice. In this presentation, Matt Law argues that the presence of parasites through history are also typically illustrative of poor living conditions.

5. History Slam Episode Ninety-Seven: Using & Managing Water

In this episode of History Slam, Sean Graham interviews Jeremy J. Schmidt about his new book, Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity. The interview covers a wide-range of topics, including how Schmidt researched for the book and why he became interested in the topic. The interview effectively illustrates the way that cultural ideas around water management are linked to power structures and affect who has access and who does not have access to water.

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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