#EnvHist Worth Reading: January 2018

C.N.R. Coal Works showing stock of coal, Port Arthur, Ont. Source: Canada. Dept. of Mines and Resources / Library and Archives Canada / PA-021148

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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 January 2018:

1. Writing Global Ecological History ‘From Below’: An Interview with Gregory Cushman

In this interview with Gregory Cushman on the Toynbee Prize Foundation website, Cushman answers questions about past and current research. The interview opens with Cushman explaining how he became interested in Latin American environmental history. “I began studying to become an ecologist at university and it was there I discovered environmental history. I loved this idea that instead of trying to remove humans from studies of the environment, we could place them at the centre in our attempts to understand the natural world,” Cushman states. Cushman then discusses his first book, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: An Ecological History, and the work and thought-processes that went into its creation. The final part of the interview focuses on Cushman’s current work on the Anthropocene, specifically his concept of “lithospheric history,” which focuses on the rocks and minerals that have been extracted from the earth and how these materials have been used and moved around the world.

2. Why Ecology Needs Natural History

In this article from American Scientist, John G.T. Anderson offers a detailed, yet succinct, history of the field of natural history and how it was usurped by ecology during the 20th Century. Anderson writes that, “natural history began as a descriptive practice, and classification created a common language and a methodology whereby experts from different areas could compare observations and begin to formulate patterns to make predictions. In this way, natural history—and one might say science as a whole—was born.” Anderson’s ultimate argument, as the title suggests, is that universities need to start training natural historians again and integrating it into ecology and other sciences. Anderson ends by listing what scientists can learn from natural history, including the importance of travel and exploring new surroundings and the need to involve the broader public.

3. Women of wildfire: revolution, superheroes, and the case for diversity in fire management

In this post Allie Weill,  a PhD candidate in Ecology at UC Davis, discusses the way in which the history of fire relates to gender and women’s history. Weill opens up with an anecdote about a former U.S. Forest Service employee who decried the decline of the Forest Service due to the increase in women working for it. Weill then looks at why this individual may have come to this opinion. She looks at how the 1960s and 1970s were a time of change for the Forest Service; there were changes in forest management, a movement away from fire suppression strategies, and a loss of power to other government agencies. These changes, which caused anxiety amidst Forest Service employees, coincided with a class-action lawsuit representing all women employed by the USDA. The result, according to Weill was “the result was a decree that the USFS had to hire enough women to match the workforce as a whole, up to 43% women.” Thus there was an influx of women into the U.S. Forest Service at the same time that major changes were happening in the department. Weill then discusses and takes issue with the way in which Pyne has represented and analyzed this time period in the history of the U.S. Forest Service. Weill wraps up by discussing the current conditions for women working in fire management.

4. Carbon’s footprint in Chinese modernity

Victor Seow traces the way in which coal became intertwined with Chinese national identity from the mid-nineteenth century onward in this article. Seow demonstrates how coal has been equated with national wealth, power, and most importantly, progress. Coal powered the industrialisation and modernisation of the country. Part of this national narrative has relied on a false perception of inexhaustibility. Geological surveys during the late 1800s determined that China had hundreds of billions of  tons of coal. Seow writes that ” the immensity of such projections fed popular imaginations about the limitlessness of this carbon resource and ambitions of mining it on a large-scale through the might of the machine.” Seow then traces the way in which different governments used coal to fuel its agenda and maintain power and ends by discussing how China is now being forced to reevaluate and change its close relationship to coal mainly due to environmental concerns.

5. Clara, the 18th-Century Rhinoceros Who Became a Sensation

This piece by Allison C. Meier on Mental Floss offers a interesting example of the way in which attitudes towards and knowledge of various animals has changed through time. In this case, Meier looks at the way in which European understandings of rhinoceroses changed because of the popularity of one individual rhino, Miss Clara. Before the 1730s when Miss Clara arrived in Rotterdam after being orphaned in India, Europeans thought of rhinos as “more battering ram than animal.” Meier traces the popularity of Miss Clara in the popular culture of the time and the way in which Miss Clara’s handlers treated her, which enabled her to travel Europe for almost two decades.

Remember to follow #envhist hashtag and NiCHE (@NiCHE_Canada) on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram 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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