#EnvHist Worth Reading: May/June 2019

Swimming class in the Household Science Building, Toronto, 1915. Credit: John Boyd / Library and Archives Canada /

Scroll this

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 May and June 2019:

1. Uses of Environmental Humanities: Lisa Fitzgerald

This piece, “Earth Bodies: Ana Mendieta, Performance Art, and the Environmental Humanities,” by Lisa Fitzgerald is part of the new Uses of Environmental Humanities series on Rachel Carson Center’s blog Seeing the Woods. Fitzgerald looks at the art of Ana Mendieta, a Cuban-American artist who was most active during the 1970s and early 1980s. Fitzgerald explores how Mendieta’s work explored the way in which the body intersected with feminist and environmental issues. ” Countering the traditional framing of the body,” Fitzgerald writes, “artists such as Mendieta explore the constraining aspect of the body on the one hand but also the dynamic and forceful ability of the body to intercede in the environment on the other.” Fitzgerald’s examination of Mendieta’s work illustrates the way in which advances in environmental theory and scholarship can serve to enrich our understanding of the work of past artists.

2.  In Ontario, a Quest to Rediscover the Work of a Groundbreaking 19th-Century Botanist

In this engaging Atlas Obscura piece, Anna Soper details the life of an individual who enriched our knowledge of the natural world. Catherine McGill Crooks was a botanist who collected around 500 sheets of dried botanical specimens from around southern Ontario. Soper notes that Crooks’ work was a invaluable record of the pre-industrial plant population of the region; however, most of Crooks’ work has been lost. Soper recounts her research journey to find out where Crooks’ specimens ended up, which included combing through various biodiversity databases. Soper describes finding one of Crooks’ specimens at the McGill University Herbarium. “While Crooks’s botanical observations offer a glimpse of the landscape around her, finding any more of her lost specimens would offer new opportunities for scientific and historical research,” Soper concludes.

3. Should we “just keep swimming”?

In this post for the Journal of the History of Ideas blog, Luna Sarti explores some aspects of the history of swimming. Sarti argues that an appreciation for the act of swimming can tie into recent arguments for slow scholarship and slow activities like walking. “Less common, but equally interesting, is the idea to turn to swimming as a way to explore waterscapes and regain the perception of our environments as terraqueous assemblages,” Sarti notes. The history of swimming challenges the land-centric nature of much environmental scholarship. Sarti spends much of the post looking at various works that deal with the ancient and early modern history of swimming.

4. Mongolian Environmental and Animal History

This post is a profile of Kenny Linden’s PhD research on the environmental and animal history of collectivization in the Mongolian People’s Republic from 1954-1964. “Collectivization,” Linden writes, “transformed agriculture and animal husbandry across socialist Eurasia based on the model established in the Soviet Union.” Mongolia, Linden asserts, serves as a case study for broader changes in global interactions with the environment and animals. Linden briefly overviews the four primary sections of his dissertation: changes in herding practices, protection of livestock from winter disasters and drought through policy implementation and infrastructure development, the introduction of Western-style veterinary science and technology, and wolf extermination.

5. The Ottawa River’s history re-told in musical notes

In this second research profile, Tom Spears highlights the work of Cristina Woods for the Ottawa Citizen. Woods, who recently graduated from Carleton University with a degree in Public History, took her research of the history of the Ottawa River and sonified it into three songs that represent historic water levels, pulp production, and boat traffic. “’Sonifying’ the history of the river means to express history to achieve a particular sensual engagement with the past. Sonification is the ‘visualization’ of historical data auditorially, to achieve a particular sensory affect,” Woods explains. Woods’ work demonstrates the possibilities that digital technologies provide for the diversification of research output and interaction with historic data.

6. In 1886, the US Government Commissioned 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit in the World

Digital methods have also expanded our ability to preserve and share primary sources. This post looks at the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection, which includes over 7,500 images that were commissioned by the US Federal Government between 1886 and 1942. The post looks at the history of pomology, which is the science and practice of fruit and the important role that these painted images had in agriculture. The fun part is that all of these images are now available to look at and to download in high resolution!


 Pear Apple, Malus domestica. Artist: Bertha Heiges. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705

Remember to follow #envhist hashtag and NiCHE (@NiCHE_Canada) on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to keep up with the latest environmental history content.

The following two tabs change content below.
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.

Leave a Reply