#EnvHist Worth Reading: April 2018

Detroit Picnic Club: Parshallville Cider Mill and Cemetery Adventure by Sara Hattie (Flickr), November 2015

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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 2018:

1. Scenes Unseen: The Summer of ’78

This beautiful photo essay from The New York Times was extremely popular in April. The photographs, from 2,925 colour slides, were found by a conservancy official in some random boxes while they were cleaning out an office several months ago. They were taken by several staff photographers during a city newspaper strike in 1978. The photographs presented in this piece portray the urban environment of New York City during the late 1970s and the diverse and vibrant populace who lived, worked, and played in this environment.

2. Remembering When Americans Picnicked in Cemeteries

Another popular piece highlighting the history of urban and landscaped environments and leisure is this piece by Jonathan Kendall on Atlas Obscuria. Kendall discusses the 19th century recreational use of American cemeteries. “Since many municipalities still lacked proper recreational areas, many people had full-blown picnics in their local cemeteries,” he writes, “The tombstone-laden fields were the closest things, then, to modern-day public parks.” The article includes more fantastic imagery and connects the American historical trend to its broader cultural antecedents. As this month’s cover photo and Kendall demonstrate, this trend is not extinct. People still picnic in cemeteries to this day.

3. Nazi legacy found in Norwegian trees 

This short article from BBC discusses an elusive topic: a piece of Nazi history that has not been closely studied already. Claudia Hartl, a dendrochronologist, discovered while studying the climate history of near Alta, Norway that the trees in the area lacked rings from 1945. This year corresponds with when the German Navy hid their ships in the nearby fjord and used a chemical fog to hide them. This fog caused damage to the trees in the area, likely making them lose their needles. The article highlights one tree that did not grow for nine years after 1945 and then eventually returned to normal growth patterns after thirty years. This articles highlights how science and history can inform each other.

4. Professor Carolyn Merchant reflects on legacy of ecofeminism

As this article notes, Carolyn Merchant “is well-established as one of the most influential contributors in the studies of ecofeminism and environmental history.” Merchant is retiring from her position at UC Berkeley, which is the impetus for this piece. This article discusses the trajectory of her career, how Merchant was inspired by Rachel Carson and Betty Friedan, and how she integrated feminism and environmentalism in ecofeminism. ‘“Ecofeminism challenged the idea that men were identified with culture and hence were superior to women who were identified with nature,” [Merchant] explained in an email. “Women challenged this hierarchy and demonstrated that women were saving the earth from destruction.”’ The article also includes Merchant’s viewpoints on contemporary climate change issues.

5. ‘Every plant and animal is useful to us’: Indigenous professor re-thinking how we deal with invasive species

Charles Elton’s The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants (1958) and Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange (1972) often serve as classic mainstays of environmental history comprehensive exam lists highlighting the close relationship that the field has with the science and study of invasive species. A growing number of individuals in both science and humanities fields are beginning to challenge conceptions of invasive species as problematic or things that need to be eradicated. This article considers Indigenous perspectives of invasive species and provides an important way of looking at our increasingly, ecologically-interconnected world. “Indigenous knowledge views them as an opportunity, not a menace,” the article notes.

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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