#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 2017

Yak at Wainwright, Alberta. Source: Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3349648

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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 2017:

1. Long Short Story: An annotated history of the 30-year fight over a single polluted Air Force base

In this piece for ProPublica, Abrahm Lustgarten outlines the environmental history of Tyndall Air Force Base; opened in 1941, Tyndall is a 29,000 acre area located in Florida on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Lustgarten explains that Tyndall is a typical military base in that it is an environmental hazard. He describes the various ways that toxins have leached into the water and soil both on and around the base, including buried toxic drums and burning explosives, and how this pollution has affected communities surrounding the base. The article then describes a decades-long battle between the EPA, the Air Force, and other key environmental players over cleaning up the site and declaring it a Superfund site, and whether  the area needed to be cleaned up at all. What makes this piece particularly enjoyable to read and relatively unique is the way in which Lustgarten interweaves photographs of documents and direct quotes from these documents into the body of the article.

2. Climate Change, Health, and the Anthropocene: Why We Must Study the Past

Alexander More uses this post on Remedia to argue why history is crucial to understanding current and future climate challenges. He opens by asking “With such urgent concerns for current and future climate change, and its impact on human health and survival, what purpose could the study of the past serve?” His succinct answer is that the past offers perspective. He contends that scientists and historians are both looking to the past to understand the present. The rest of the article is dedicated to examining several specific topics, including air pollution, climate-caused famine and migration, and disease, and how the examination and analysis of these past events and patterns help to make sense of today.

3. Coal mining left entire populations psychologically damaged and the impact continues today

This audio clip is a short segment from Quirks and Quarks, which highlights an article by Martin Obschonka, et. al. in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called “In the Shadow of Coal: How Large-Scale Industries Contributed to Present-Day Regional Differences in Personality and Well-Being.” The article highlights the study of 400,000 personality tests of individuals from coal regions of Wales and England. The gist of the segment and article is that individuals in this area trend toward negative emotions, lack of self-motivation, and introversion. These personality traits are a result of the environmental hazards and working conditions of industrial coal mines and factories and these traits have been passed on genetically through generations.

4. A century after the Halifax explosion, grim reminders can still be found in trees

The Halifax Explosion occurred on December 6, 1917 when a French ship containing explosive materials was hit by another ship and exploded. The explosion destroyed a large section of Halifax, killed 2,000 people, and injured another 9,000. Meagan Campbell writes that a large amount of debris was lodged into the tree canopy of the city during the event. While most, if not all, human eyewitnesses are no longer with us, the city’s trees act as a “secret arboreal museum.” The article also discusses instances of debris being found in the trunks of the city’s trees, as well as the fact that the lumber industry avoids lumber from Halifax because of the possible presence of this debris.

5. The bizarre story of Canada’s lost, doomed scheme to import Indian yaks for Inuit to farm 

This article from the Ottawa Citizen outlines the contents of a new article from historian David Meran in Histoire Sociale/Social History, which discusses a Cold War Era scheme to introduce yaks to the Inuit people of Ungava Bay in Northern Quebec. Meran explains that this yak scheme was yet another late-colonial effort to disconnect Inuit from their traditional way of life. The effort was also connected to Canada’s desire to build a relationship with India. The article describes why this plan ultimately failed and gives a general overview of yak in Canada in the mid-twentieth century.

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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