#EnvHist Worth Reading: September 2018

Colonial Williamsburg Garden, June 2016. Source: Mobilus In Mobili, Flickr Commons

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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 September 2018:

1. W. E. B. Du Bois and the American Environment

In this post for Edge Effects, Brian McCammack seeks to bridge the gap between African American and environmental history. In a 2014 interview, Carolyn Finney commented that African Americans are rarely included in discussion of conservation because “they don’t fit into the way we talk about environmentalism in the mainstream.” W.E.B. Du Bois, McCammack demonstrates, is illustrative of this phenomenon. McCammack argues that Du Bois should be considered and compared to mainstream environmental figures like John Muir because a “more concerted [effort] to put black and white perspectives on nature in closer conversation…helps us see not only the significant ways those perspectives converged but also the ways race—and racism—made them distinct.” McCammack provides a detailed analysis of Du Bois’ life and the environmental factors that shaped it.

2. “The Prospect and the Rarities,” a Case for the Early National Garden

In this piece for The Junto, Elbra David discusses the possibility of gardens as historical case studies. David writes that “though generally humble spaces, they hold out possibilities for looking at cultural tales, national flavors, and the circuits of consumption for the early national period of American history.” David considers  the ways in which gardens reflected consumer tastes and thus food history, and connects these tastes to how the landscape of a garden was often organized in order to segment people by race and gender. David also connects this history to the history of slavery.

3. Humans Are Destroying Animals’ Ancestral Knowledge

This article is an important contribution to studies of animal culture and agency and an example of how human activity can affect animal culture for generations. Ed Yong focuses on a case study involving bighorn sheep in Wyoming. These bighorn sheep suffered from overhunting and disease, which wiped out most of their population during the 1800s. Since the 1940s, relocation efforts have tried to revive the bighorn sheep population in the region. However, these sheep lack ancestral knowledge, and thus do not know where to go and tend not to migrate in the way they are expected to naturally.

4. Problems of Place: Discovering Where I Am in Academia

Environmental History Now, which features POC, female-identified, and non-binary, early-career environmental historians, launched this past month. One of the site’s first posts is this thoughtful piece by Anastasia Day. In this piece Day reflects on how she found herself in environmental history and how the concept of place has affected her graduate study and is currently affecting the way in which she plans for the future. Day discusses how she has developed deep roots in Delaware, where she is completing her PhD, and how she must come to terms with the fact that if she wants to stay in academia she will have to leave. Though she recognizes that this reality is a necessary evil, she notes how this reality is a problematic feature of the system in which we work. “I struggle,” Day writes, “to see how either scholars as people or their bodies of scholarship benefit from an academic system dependent on scholars who can’t be sure they will stick around long enough to see their students graduate, or finish a research project predicated on local archives or resources.” This piece made waves through the environmental history community, and has led to the development of a new #ProblemsofPlace series (for which yours truly will be writing next month).

5. Big Lonely Doug should become Canada’s next provincial park

This article discusses a topic near and dear to me: what pieces of land do we make parks and why? In 2011, a lone 12-metre Douglas fir was saved from the axe by a logger. This tree, now known as Big Lonely Doug, is surrounded by a clear-cut landscape. Now some are advocating for Big Lonely Doug to be preserved as a new provincial park in British Columbia. This park, advocates argue, would act as a symbol for the entirety of British Columbia forest history: from the natural to the anthropogenic. “The trope that we fall in to, however, is seeing our park spaces as untouched slices of wild, sites for immersion into pure nature,” Harley Rustad points out, “Why can’t a park be more than that? Why can’t one represent the past, present and future of a particular landscape – showing visitors the verdant life as well as the dark scars?”

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, 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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