#EnvHist Worth Reading: January 2019

"Wombat," Suzi Edwards-Alexander, 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 read all of our past #EnvHist Worth Reading lists right here. Here are my choices for items most worth reading from January 2019:

1.“O Uommibatto”: How the Pre-Raphaelites Became Obsessed with the Wombat

This piece published by The Public Domain Review looks at a unique aspect of nineteenth-century British art history and its connection to animal history. Angus Trumble focuses on the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelites and their obsession with the wombat, an Australian marsupial . Trumble looks at the history of British interest in the wombat and the influence of John Gould’s The Mammals of Australia (1855). Trumble further describes the Pre-Raphaelites’ wombat art, their frequent visits to the zoo to watch the wombats, and Rossetti’s pet wombats.

2. How California’s Worst Oil Spill Turned Beaches Black And The Nation Green

This article and radio segment looks back at the Santa Barbara oil spill, which took place fifty years ago. The oil well blew out and created an oil patch in the ocean that was about the size of Chicago. Jon Hamilton looks at the technical aspects of this oil spill and how this incident served a lesson as to how to better regulate offshore drilling and take care of oil covered birds and other wildlife. The piece describes Nixon’s reaction to the event, which led him to sign environmental regulations into law more in order to appease his constituents than out of a concern for the environment. Hamilton notes that the Trump administration is now trying to loosen these regulations. The Santa Barbara oil spill also helped fuel the modern environmental movement.

3. Kathleen McArthur, the wildflower woman who took on Joh Bjelke-Petersen

This article by Susan Davis is part of The Conversation’s “Hidden Women of History” series. Davis shed lights on the story of artist and conservationist Kathleen McArthur’s pivotal, but often overlooked, role in the preservation of the Cooloola region in Australia. In 1969, Cooloola was threatened by sand mining and other development. McArthur, who specialized in wildflower painting, understood how to use art to stir human emotions in order to elicit support for environmental causes. She launched a wildflower post card campaign to educate the public about the threats Cooloola faced and to garner support for its protection. Cooloola is now part of Great Sandy National Park. Davis also describes McArthur’s life before and after the campaign.

4. Air in the Time of Oil

In this essay, Gabrielle Hecht examines one of the essential elements of existence: air. We often take air for granted until we experience the effects of air pollution. Air pollution is the leading environmental cause of disease globally and is linked to innumerable environmental justice issues. Explanations as to why underprivileged communities are affected the most by air pollution are, according to Hecht, insufficient. Hecht examines the way in which Western financial and political systems operate in order to cause and exacerbate these environmental injustices elsewhere in the world, particularly in Africa. Specifically, Hecht focuses on ‘jurisdictional arbitage,” or the leveraging of differences across territories to increase profits.

5. Unfrozen

This profile features environmental historian Bathsheba Demuth, who is currently an assistant professor in the History Department at Brown University. Jack Brook begins by looking at Demuth’s experience living in Old Crow, Yukon and training as a sled dog musher. This experience living in the Arctic and learning from the Gwitchin community shaped Demuth’s outlook on both the region and its history. The rest of the profile looks at Demuth’s research and the content of her upcoming book, The Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. “The product of years of archival research for her doctoral history dissertation,” Brook writes, “the book focuses on transformations of the land, animals, and people in the Bering Strait over centuries of colonization by the United States and the Soviet Union.”

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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