#EnvHist Worth Reading: February and March 2018

The city of New Orleans, and the Mississippi River Lake Pontchartrain in distance. Source: Library of Congress, PGA - Currier & Ives--City of New Orleans

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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 February and March 2018:

1. We can’t truly protect the environment unless we tackle social justice issues, too

This article by Amal Ahmed begins by looking at Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network and its Green ReEntry Program, which assists former inmates by helping them find environmentally sustainable jobs. Ahmed connects this program to a nationwide network of environmental justice programs and uses it as a jumping off point to explore the history of the concept of environmental justice. Much of the article is based on the words and work of Robert Bullard who is considered to be the ‘father of environmental justice.’ Ahmed writes that “whereas environmentalism is steeped in the language of wildlife, wetlands, and nature, Bullard explains, environmental justice adds the built environment to the list of places that should be protected: where we live, work, play, learn, and worship.” The rest of the article looks at the long history of environmental injustice and justice.

2. In Annihilation, the Revolution Will Not Be Human

I was lucky enough to read this piece by Laura Perry just before seeing Annihilation. Perry’s analysis of the movie helped me pick out nuances that were not readily apparent to the individuals with whom I saw this ecological thriller based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel. Perry traces the origins of referring to invasive species as alien invaders within conservation biology and ecology, beginning with Charles Elton’s 1958 book, The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants. Perry also looks at more recent ecological writing that questions the othering of supposed alien species. Perry effectively uses the example of Annihilation to demonstrate the way in which science fiction can help explore these ecological ideas.

3. Reckoning with History: The Antiquities Act quandary

In this High Country News article, Adam Sowards shows that the recent hullabaloo around The Antiquities Act is not entirely new. The Antiquities Act, as Sowards writes, was passed in 1906 in reaction to a pressing need to protect Native American artefacts. The act enables presidents to protect objects of historic or scientific value without going through the legislative process; it “gave proclamation power to the executive branch because the legislative process is designed to be slow-moving,” Sowards states. Sowards’ article explores two specific events in American history – Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of Jackson Hole Monument in 1943 and Jimmy Carter’s use of the Antiquities Act in Alaska in the late 1970s – which both inadvertently led to Congressional declarations that weakened the Antiquities Act.

4. A future just, green and free, under a tree named Karl Marx

In this post, Daegan Miller illuminates the history of a little-known radical community made up of anarchists and socialists called Kaweah. The logging community, which Miller describes as practising ultra-radical sustainability, was located in a twelve square-mile piece of land near the famous California giant sequoia, known as General Sherman, but renamed by the Kaweahans as “Karl Marx.” Miller recounts how conservationists and the Southern Pacific Railroad worked together to push the Kaweahans off of their land by pushing through legislation that expanded Sequoia National Park to include much of the commune’s land.

5. How One Houston Suburb Ended Up in a Reservoir

“Because Barker is normally a dry, green space, most homeowners in the neighborhood had no clue that their properties were inside an area susceptible to flooding during extreme storms,” states this article about a Houston area suburb, Canyon Gate, and the Barker reservoir that flooded and devastated the community during Hurricane Harvey.  The article traces the history of the reservoir and community. Barker reservoir was built in the 1940s to protect downtown Houston and the land around it was not developed until the 1980s. The strength of this piece lies in the extraordinary images and graphics that effectively show how  past decisions and contemporary weather events led to the flooding of the community.

6. Planet Rock: Environmental Histories of Songs

I’m partial to any article or post that includes a Spotify playlist. If the playlist has an environmental history theme, then even better! This post on Leif Fredrickson’s recently launched Enviro-History website announces a new “series of essays that will explore the relationship between music, especially specific songs, and the environment and history.” So far the series has three posts, which I recommend perusing, and they are looking for individuals willing to contribute to the series in the future.

7. Urmi Engineer, Yellow Fever, Race, and Ecology in Nineteeth-Century New Orleans

I’m also partial to podcasts, and I have been listening to many of the podcast feeds offered by the New Books Network recently. I recommend subscribing to New Books in Environmental Studies, which is hosted most frequently by environmental historians. In this episode Brian Hamilton interviews Urmi Engineer about her new book Yellow Fever, Race, and Ecology in Nineteeth-Century New Orleans. Their discussion is fascinating and covers a wide-array of topics that relate to environmental history, urban history, history of medicine, and other topics.

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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