#EnvHist Worth Reading: November 2018

tallgrass prairie and savannah with bluestem ~ Andropogon gerardii ~ Huron River and Watershed by j van cise photos, 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 November 2018:

1. Tallgrass

This piece by Robin Wall Kimmerer is the first in a series of posts dedicated to marking Remembrance Day of Lost Species (November 30th). Instead of focusing on one extinct species, Kimmerer chose the collective tallgrass prairie. “As we stand together for Remembrance Day For Lost Species, I want to raise a song for all of those beings knit together by the roots of prairie sod,” Kimmerer writes, “I refuse to write a eulogy for one alone, because the very notion of separability is at the root of the crisis we have created. The life of one is inseparable from the life of another. Our work is not to eulogise them, but to fuel the fires of renewal.” Kimmerer weaves together environmental history, natural history, botany, and ecology into a beautiful and illustrative narrative that piques both one’s emotions and intellect, and challenges us to get over our inherit “plant blindness.”

2. In the Chesapeake Bay, Shell Mounds Show a Long History of Sustainable Oyster Harvests

In this Hakai Magazine article, Evan Lubofsky examines the history and present-day conditions of oyster harvesting in the Chesapeake Bay. Oyster harvests have declined significantly throughout the 1900s. Depletion of the bay’s oyster population also contributed to a decline in water quality in the bay. In discussion with archaeologist Alex Jansen, Lubofsky discusses how researchers are looking at and excavating Indigenous oyster mounds in order to determine how they harvested oysters sustainably for several thousand years. “Even though we no longer have the same technological limitations as our ancestors, that doesn’t mean we can’t heed the lessons of the past and leverage simpler approaches,” Lubofsky writes.

3. Archives of the Anthropocene 

The Anthropocene, Harriet Mercer argues, is creating new archives for historians. This trend is of particular note in the field of climate history. In addition to traditional documents in various archives and institutions, historians are now using evidence from ice cores, tree rings, fossil pollen, and more. Mercer traces several examples of historians employing these new sources in their work. She also touches upon the challenges of using this data, such as the need for increased scientific literacy. Literacy and uncertainty are not challenges that are unique to historians, but rather Mercer contends that that they are simply realities of doing work in both the humanities and the sciences.

4. “The Joy of My Life”: Seeing-Eye Dogs, Disabled Veterans/Civilians and WWI

This piece by Aparna Nair was published by the gender and medicine history blog, Nursing Clio. Nair weaves together animal, military, and disability to demonstrate how the pervasiveness of today’s guide dogs can be traced back to World War I. “Today,” Nair writes, “as much a signifier of blindness and disability as the white cane and wheelchair, the guide dog has a history that is deeply entangled with the broader histories of the First World War.” World War I resulted in a massive number of injured and permanently disabled veterans. Although guide dogs existed well before World War I, Nair notes that this conflict resulted in a marked increase in the use of service dogs. Nair artfully connects the rise in guide dogs to a post-war effort to rehabilitate disabled veterans and make them ‘productive’ members of society once more.

5. The Meat Matrix

This episode of Outside/In is one of the best explorations of contemporary and historical food systems that I’ve encountered. The episode is based on Taylor Quimby, one of the show’s producers, reaching out to Laura, a vegan listener that frequently contacts the show. The result is thought-provoking and well-worth one hour of one’s auditory time.


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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Jessica DeWitt is an environmental historian of the American and Canadian environment, editor, and digital communications strategist. She serves as social media editor for NiCHE.

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