#EnvHist Worth Reading: March 2019

Robert R. Robinson, kennel master at the White House for Herbert Hoover's dogs, Buckeye, a German police dog; King Tut, a Belgian police dog; and Englehurst Gillette, a Gordon setter, ca. 1929. Source: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-90911.

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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 March 2019:

1. Why Animal Studies Must Be Antiracist: A Conversation with Bénédicte Boisseron

In this episode of Edge Effects‘ podcast and accompanying transcript, Brigitte Fielder interviews
Bénédicte Boisseron about her new book, Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question . Boisseron’s work explores the intersection of Black and animal studies. Boisseron argues that animal studies scholars often co-opt histories and theories of racism to advance their work without critically grappling with the historical and social contexts behind these tropes. Boisseron specifically focuses on dogs because the animal has been used by oppressors against African Americans through time, from slavery to present-day. Boisseron further discusses intersectionality, the problems inherit in it, and the need to bring Blackness back to it. “It’s very important when you talk about intersectionality within the field of animal studies to also look at it through the lens of Black studies and Blackness,” she argues.

2. The Woman Agrostologist Who Held the Earth Together

This post on JStor Daily by Lina Zeldovich was part of the site’s Women’s History Month series on rebellious women scientists. Zeldovich focuses on Agnes Chase, who was a scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Specifically, Chase was an agrostologist; meaning that she studied grasses. Chase was fond of grasses because they are “what holds the Earth together.” Zeldovich outlines Chase’s personal and educational background. Chase was first hired by the USDA as an illustrator, but through personal study became an indispensable expert on plants and grasses and was eventually promoted to assistant botanist in 1909. Zeldovich describes Chase’s social justice activism and the obstacles that she had to overcome as an early woman in a scientific field.

3. Searching for Stability: Energy, Entropy, and the Abandoning of the Panatomic Canal

This article appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Arcadia, an online journal published by the Environment & Society Portal. In it Jordan Coulombe looks at a period of nuclear and engineering history that revolved around the desire to use nuclear explosives to create a new sea-level canal in Panama. This plan was eventually abandoned in 1970. Coulombe argues that “a focus on energy and entropy deepens this discussion by suggesting that the challenge of maintaining the steep slopes created by nuclear explosions played an equally significant role in the decision to abandon the project.” Coulombe discusses how engineers always struggled to impose order on the Panamanian environment and looks the efforts of scientists to better understand slope stability.

4. 1,500-year-old garbage dumps reveal city’s surprising collapse

This National Geographic article by Megan Gannon represents a fascinating intersection between some ancient discard studies and climate history. 1,500 years ago the city of Elusa was a thriving community of 20,000 people in the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire, which is located in present-day Israel. Traditionally scholars have assumed that the city declined two hundred years later during the rise of the Islamic period due to wine production restrictions. Archaeologists excavating the city’s garbage dumps have unveiled that the city actually declined 100 years earlier than believed and was likely caused by “a quick and deadly climate shift caused by a succession of distant volcanic eruptions.” Archaeologists were able to determine this by matching their findings to new developments in climate science.

5. What I’m Reading: An Interview With Environmental Historian Eleonora Rohland

This is an enjoyable interview with Eleonora Rohland, Assistant Professor for Entangled History in the Americas (16th-19th centuries) at Bielefeld University, Germany. In the interview Rohland discusses what she is reading right now and some of her favourite history books. She then delves in to how she got into history, how she feels about the career path she has chosen, and some of her thoughts on the field as a whole. A historian needs to have “an open mind. Curiosity. Imagination. Inquisitiveness. A very healthy dose of skepticism towards anything already written. Persistence. Meticulousness. Frustration tolerance. Self-criticism. Patience,” she 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 is an editor and social media editor for NiCHE.

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