#EnvHist Worth Reading: August 2017

Flood on McGill Street, looking south from Notre-Dame Street. Montréal, Quebec. April 1886. Library and Archives Canada.

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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 2017:

1. How Humans Make Disasters Worse

Referring to this tweet by historian, Andy Horowitz, Jacob Remes, author of Disaster Citizenship: Survivors, Solidarity, and Power, lends his voice to the flurry of reaction pieces seeking to understand the antecedents to and implications of Hurricane Harvey. Remes argues that a hurricane is not a disaster until it interacts and upsets society’s infrastructure, both built and social. Remes states that disasters “often replicate and deepen social inequalities.” The poorer members of society often also live in the most flood-prone areas. Remes ends with a hopeful message, stating that disasters often lessen social divides by pulling people together.

2. Day 5. Danube Excursion: Krems—Vienna

Rachel Carson Center’s summer blog series, “Danube Excursions,” on Seeing the Woods has explored the length of the Danube River. In this instalment, Christoph Netz describes an outing near on the Danube near Vienna. Netz starts at a lock and weir where flow dynamics research on different river beds is conducted. The flow of the Danube has been greatly altered by hydroelectric dams, which trap sediment, and other developments. The research is supposed to inform the government as to how to better manage the Danube’s sediment regime. Netz also discusses other ecological projects connected to the river’s environmental history, including the invasive plant, the Japanese knotweed, and the restocking of sterlets.

3. The forgotten story of how a toxic spill and a book launched Britain’s environmental movement

In this post on Discard Studies, John Clark discusses the way in which the Smarden pesticide incident led to the birth of the modern British environmental movement. Clark opens by stating that “today we take for granted an awareness of environmental matters, but this was not always the case. It could be said that in Britain there was a moment when that environmental consciousness arrived.” In 1963, some farm animals died in Smarden due to a pesticide spill at a local chemical plant. This was the first recorded mass-poisoning of livestock in Britain. Clark discusses why the timing of this incident paired with the release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to create the perfect atmosphere for international consequences.

4. The Fuzzy History of the Georgia Peach

In this post, William Thomas Okie, discusses the way in which the “story of the Georgia Peach” was developed. This year has been one of the worst for Georgia’s peach industry; there has been almost 80% crop loss. However, this is not necessarily disastrous to Georgia’s agricultural economy because the peach is less important economically than it is cultural and historically. The peach tree was introduced to the Americas by Spanish monks in the 1550s, but it took much longer for the peach growing industry to be perfected. Okie argues that “producing large, unblemished fruit that can be shipped thousands of miles away, and doing so reliably, year after year, demands an intimate environmental knowledge that has developed slowly over the last century and a half of commercial peach production.” Okie discusses various facets of this slow development including peach blossom festivals and peach farm labour’s connection to the Civil Rights Movement.

5. Cows in Antarctica? How one expedition milked them for all their worth

In this fascinating piece, Hanne E.F. Nielsen and Elizabeth Leane, demonstrate the way in which three cows got mixed up in the geopolitics of Antarctica during the during the mid-1930s. In 1933, US Admiral Richard E. Byrd took three Guernsey cows – charmingly named Klondike Gay Nira, Deerfoot Guernsey Maid, and Foremost Southern Girl – with him on his Second Antarctic Expedition. Nielsen and Leane point out that it was a lot of work to keep these cows alive and ask the question as to why it was worth it. They then connect these cows to conceptions of fresh milk as representative of purity and US national identity and to geopolitics as colonial agents.

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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