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 October 2018:
Recent (un)natural disasters have sparked an increase in discussions pertaining to environmental justice. In this article, Brentin Mock writes about Duplin County, North Carolian’s racial history and contemporary reality and how these details are connected to environmental and agricultural issues. In particular, Mock focuses on the hog farms in the county, the African American residents that are affected by them, and the legal battles between the two groups. Mock notes that “the black residents who live close to these operations have for decades endured headaches, nausea, and vomiting spells as the smells from the hog-waste lagoons travel to their homes, many of which are less than a mile away. Black families there have caught gusts of the actual pig manure from farmers spraying it on their fields as fertilizer as well.”
This popular article by Ellie Violet Bramley discusses a phenomena that most of us are aware of, but fewer of us know the specific term for: “desire paths.” The paths, according to Robert Macfarlane, are those paths that appear off of designated pathways and illustrate human and non-human free-will. “Desire paths,” Bramley writes, “have been described as illustrating ‘the tension between the native and the built environment and our relationship to them.’ Because they often form in areas where there are no pavements, they can be seen to “indicate [the] yearning” of those wishing to walk, a way for ‘city dwellers to ‘write back’ to city planners, giving feedback with their feet.'” The concept of the desire path offers the environmental historian an interesting opportunity to look at the way in which the built environment and regulations both control and fail to control behaviour.
In this piece, Imogen Wegman looks at the spread of British transportation routes across Australia during the 1800s. Wegman focuses specifically on water routes, i.e. rivers. Wegman effectively described primary sources that demonstrate the importance of rivers during this time period and includes some Historical GIS work that she has done in order to reconstruct an early settlement, Hobart, that was built along a waterway. Wegman writes that “there were plenty more sensible reasons for concentrating on rivers, besides ease of access. They also provided the necessities of daily life: drinking water, irrigation for kitchen gardens, and a sewer for removing the less picturesque elements.” Wegman concludes by connecting these historical waterways to contemporary issues, including flooding.
This article by Ligaya Mishan opens with a discussion of the current Supreme Court case Weyerhaeuser Co. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which will decide the fate of the last 135 dusky gopher frogs, which only survive in the wild in one pond in Mississippi. Mishan then launches into a broader discussion of the fact that since the 1970s two hundred frog species have disappeared and hundred more are expected to disappear in the near future. Mishan discusses the cultural and environmental causes of this loss, and connects it to ecological grief and virtual reality.
5. California wildfires since 1900
November brought historically disastrous fire to California. This video is a simple, but powerful, visualization of the total number of acres that have burned in the state since 1900.
6. The Vietnam War’s Environmental Legacy
In this succinct video, David Biggs of University of California, Riverside discusses the environmental legacy of the Vietnam War and his personal experience choosing and researching the topic. Biggs also explains some of the more general skills that environmental historians have that can be applied to broader topics.
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