#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 2019

Album 32, Reindeer, 1922-1950, Canada, Library and Archives Canada. ,

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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 December 2019:

1. The Reindeer Games

In this JStor Daily article, Matthew Willis summarizes Roxanne Willis’ Western Historical Quarterly article, “A New Game in the North: Alaska Native Reindeer Herding, 1890-1940.” Willis explains that caribou and reindeer are the same species; what distinguishes them is geography and history. Further, in Eurasia, reindeer were domesticated by the Sámi, but caribou were not domesticated by Indigenous peoples in what is now known as Alaska. Willis recounts an effort to import domesticated reindeer from Siberia to Alaska. Reindeer herding, it was believed, would help to assimilate Alaska’s Inupiat into ‘civilization.’ Willis recounts how the reindeer were brought to Alaska, the economic and ecological effects this scheme had in Alaska, and how a white settler, “The Reindeer King of Alaska,” came to dominate the industry.

2.  GreenUP: Plan for Peterborough’s future, learn from Peterborough’s past

In this article, environmental historian Hayley Goodchild demonstrates how environmental history informs her work as program co-ordinator for GreenUP’s Sustainable Urban Neighbourhoods (SUN) program. Goodchild states that she “works with residents, municipal staff, and other partners to reimagine how future neighbourhoods can be more sustainable and resilient to the impacts of climate change.” Despite the fact that the project is future-focused, Goodchild discusses how looking to the future is dependent on fully understanding past decisions and actions that led to current conditions. Goodchild points to Jennifer Bonnell’s work on Toronto’s Don River Valley and uses Peterborough’s flooding problem as an example of a present-day problem with roots in historical decisions. “Despite our power to alter environments dramatically, we don’t control nature nearly as well as we think we do. Environmental historians often tell stories about the ability of the natural world to shape and constrain human activity,” Goodchild argues.

3. A High-Pressure Job

This short video from Hakai Magazine artfully ties together the history of medicine, labour history, and environmental history. It looks at the history of “The Bends” or Decompression sickness, which is most readily associated with scuba divers. The video looks at the history of the condition in relation to mining and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

4. The Fishy Reason this Ancient Roman City was so Wealthy

This Smithsonian Channel video features archaeologist Mounir Fantar and his findings in the remains of the ancient Roman city, Neapolis, located on the coast of modern-day Tunisia. Fantar sought to understand why Neapolis was such a wealthy and powerful port city in the empire. Fantar and other archaeological researchers found ~200 stone tanks on land and underwater that indicate that the city was a mass producer of garum, a popular fish sauce at the time.

5.  Where Christmas trees come from, 1981

This 1981 CBC clip released on Christmas Eve caught my eye and serves as a fabulous primary source. The segment features Nova Scotia’s Lunenburg County and its profitable Christmas Tree industry. The clip highlights the “modern methods” that are the key to the area’s Christmas Tree industry success. It pairs perfectly with Sara Spike’s “Ode to a Christmas Tree Baler” that we published last month.

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, 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). She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon. 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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