#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 2018

"Glitter," by girlwparasol, 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 December 2018:

1. How Plastic Is a Function of Colonialism

This piece by Max Liboiron is part of Teen Vogue’s Plastic Planet series. Liboiron focuses on the Inuit community of Nain in Nunatsiavut, Canada. Liboiron comments on the plastic pollution in this community and the attempted solutions to this pollution problem. Liboiron argues that none of these solutions will be successful because they do attempt to end the influx of plastic pollution from elsewhere and the structures of colonialism that enable it. Landfills and plastic recycling plants are all examples of colonialism’s use of land as a resource. Liboiron draws comparison between Nain and other places, like China, that the West ships its plastic pollution. Liboiron concludes that “disposable plastics are simply not possible without colonizer access to land. The end of colonialism will result in the end of plastic disposability.”

2. What Is Glitter?

One of the most unassuming and beloved, but also one of the most hazardous, examples of plastic pollution is glitter, much of which is aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate. This substance, according to Caity Weaver, is one of the most beloved symbols of the holiday season. Weaver describes humanity’s seemingly natural draw to the shiny matter and traces the origins of the concept and object described as “glitter” to the early twentieth century. Weaver then looks at the history and contemporary operations of Glitterex, one of the two biggest producers of glitter in the United States. Weaver concludes by discussing glitter’s detrimental role in the environment as a microplastic. Sidenote: Nicole Seymour is working on glitter currently (particularly its connection to queerness), and I’m eagerly awaiting the results of this research. Seymour describes this current work at the end of this recent Edge Effects podcast episode: “Feeling Kinky about Environmentalism: A Conversation with Nicole Seymour.”

3. How Curators Are Finding the Climate in Art History

In this The Nation article, Hannah Stamler examines the “Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment” exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum. This exhibit is curated by Alan C. Braddock and Karl Kusserow. In it, they examine 120 pieces of American art through an ecocritical lens in order to unveil some of the climatic and environmental details that are often overlooked. Stamler describes a number of the pieces, both expected and unexpected, that are included in the exhibit collection. Stamler concludes that ““Nature’s Nation” provokes large and difficult-to-resolve questions about the purpose and ethics of art, and art analysis, within the Anthropocene.” More generally, this article offers us a way to start looking at art from a different, environmentally-focused angle, and offers a way, as Stamler notes, to emotionally connect to contemporary environmental issues.

4. The History of Environmental Journalism: What’s bigger than the whole world, right?

This post by Anna Mary Scott looks at the history environmental journalism, a journalism sub-set that arose alongside the rise of the modern-day environmental movement beginning in the 1970s. The post sets out a basic timeline of events that gave way to the development of environmental journalism. Scott also includes interesting interviews, with accompanying audio snippets, with three seasoned environmental journalists from the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder: Tom Yulsman, Elizabeth Skewes, and Michael Kodas. The article ends by looking at current issues facing environmental journalists and the way that online mediums and social media have changed the field.

5. The Allegory of the American Chestnut

In this TED talk, environmental historian Daegan Miller explores his personal and familial relation to both contemporary and historical environmental issues, including climate change and deforestation. Trees, Miller notes, “are our histories.” When trees are lost, so too are human histories. Miller asks the audience to consider two questions: Who are we? And where are we (when all the trees come down)? He also examines how Henry David Thoreau explored both of these questions in the past.


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 is an editor and social media editor for NiCHE.

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