#EnvHist Worth Reading: February 2019

"Dandelion" by Randi Hausken, 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 February 2019:

1. Sloughs, Bogs, Grassland and Scrub – The Islands Before Richmond

This post by the Friends of Richmond Archives looks at the historical landscape of Richmond, British Columbia, which they call “a child of the Fraser.” Richmond was built on islands in the Fraser River delta. The natural landscape of the area was made up of islands covered in forests and grasslands and surrounded by sloughs. The blog post discusses the way in which the Coast Salish peoples used the islands and the sloughs and the way in which settler populations changed the landscape. The post notes that “farmers and road builders built ditches and canals, dyked their property to prevent flooding and filled in the original sloughs. By the end of the First World War most of the natural sloughs in Richmond were gone.” The post includes excellent archival imagery that illustrates the changes in this landscape through time.

2. Bushfires and the 19th-century Victorian goldrushes

In this post for The Fifth Continent, Douglas Wilkie explores the interconnected nature of historical events and the way in which historians can more effectively investigate the various factors that converge to cause an event. Wilkie’s post interweaves mining, fire, and weather history to connect mid-1900s gold rushes in Victoria, Australia with drought, fire, and flood events at that time. “The connections between these events are complex, and involved not only human, but also environmental factors,” he concludes, “geology, weather, fire, and flood — earth, wind, fire and water — had a significant influence in determining the ease and timing of the gold discoveries of 1849 and 1851.”

3. How Removing One Maine Dam 20 Years Ago Changed Everything

This article on The Revelator by Tara Lohan explores the history of one dam and its removal. On August 1, 1999, in Augusta, Maine, the Edwards Dam was removed, which freed the flow of the Kennebec River for the first time since 1837. Lohan argues that this dam removal was a pivotal moment in the history of environmentalism. It was the first time that a functioning hydroelectric dam was removed and that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had voted to not relicense a dam. Lohan explores the history of the dam and the immediate effects that the dam had on the river, particularly on its alewife population. Lohan then traces the growing support for the dam’s removal during the 1990s and the positive effects the removal of the dam had on the river’s ecology and the region’s economy.

4. The Empire of the Dandelion: Environmental History in Al Crosby’s Footsteps

In this post for Not Even Past, Megan Raby reflects on Alfred Crosby’s scholarship and contributions to environmental history. Raby begins by noting that she first encountered Crosby’s work as early in grade school when the general ideas of the “Columbian Exchange” were already considered common knowledge. Crosby caused a narrative shift in history that is often taken for granted, according to Raby. Crosby began writing environmental history before it was a ‘thing,’ and he stood out amidst other early environmental historians because of the global nature of his research and the way in which he wrote big/deep history. “Crosby’s voice and approach live on as much in the expanding new scholarship of environmental history as in his own body of work––as pervasive, permanent, and familiar in the historical landscape as the plentiful dandelions that sparked his imagination,” Raby concludes.

5. Using oral history in the research of mining communities – Iva Peša

In this post Iva Peša discusses some of the work of the Comparing the Copperbelt  (CTC) project, which “provides the first comparative historical analysis – local, national and transnational – of the Central African copperbelt.” Peša discusses some of the ways in which past researchers have attempted to record the social change of mining communities in the region and discusses how CTC is unique in that it seeks to do comparative analysis on both sides of the Congo and Zambian border. In 2018, Peša and other members of the project conducted one hundred oral history interviews with a diverse set of residents from these mining communities. Peša provides a rundown of the interview questions and their findings. Peša concludes by discussing the inherited problem that academia does not provide a way, as it is now, to give full credit to interview participants in publications. “No matter how significant their indebtedness to local respondents and assistants, academic publications list as their ‘authors’ only the names of researchers,” Peša notes.


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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