#EnvHist Worth Reading: January 2020

Howard Robbins, one of original members of Matador Cooperative Farmer, has quick coffee during harvesting operations. Saskatchewan, 1952. Credit: 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 January 2020:

1. To burn or not to burn is not the question

In this Inside Story article, Daniel May explores the history of Australian bushfire royal commissions and their relation to current prescribed burning debates. As a historian of the politics of Indigenous burning in Australia, May notes that prescribed burning is often conflated with Indigenous fire management practices and that there is a heated multi-sided debate surrounding prescribed burning techniques. May uses three bushfire royal commissions from Australia’s past (1939, 1961, 2009) to demonstrate how individuals have used prescribed burning as a proxy for other political issues. May concludes the piece by discussing the dangers of appropriating Indigenous fire practices, the way in which Australian fire management is connected to deeper, global trends and how contemporary issues are linked to this longer pattern of debate surrounding prescribed burning.

2.  Remembering the Night of Noah: Flood Memory and Townsville’s Floods of 1998 and 2019

Moving from Australian fires to Australian floods, this article by Rohan Lloyd looks at two contemporary floods in the town of Townsville that illustrate the way in which collective memory can fail individuals in the future. “Two recent floods, in 1998 and 2019, demonstrate that although Townsville often experiences heavy rains, it has failed to foster a communal memory and understanding of how to live with flooding,” Lloyd writes. Lloyd demonstrates the way in which the media handled these events, highlighting the supposed unexpectedness of the disasters. Lloyd argues that painting prior floods as securely in the past and unusual handicaps the community’s ability to properly prepare for the next major flood event. The frequency of these floods suggest that they are parts of the region’s climate, and residents should adjust their way of life accordingly.

3. How a disease known as coffee rust could impact your favourite cup of joe

This CTV News article focuses on Stuart McCook, his research on current and historical coffee production, and his book Coffee is not Forever: A Global History of the Coffee Leaf Rust. McCook describes what coffee rust is and how it adversely affects coffee plants. This rust, which causes leaves to fall off of the coffee plants, spread globally between 1869 and 1970. McCook connects the contemporary spread of coffee rust to climate change. Rainfall and temperature changes have caused outbreaks in certain parts of the world. McCook discusses how these rust outbreaks affect the economy. Ironically calling out the article’s own title, the piece concludes by noting that McCook is frustrated that North Americans focus solely on how coffee rust will affect the price of their cups of ‘joe’ and not on the affect it has on the agricultural workers whose livelihoods depend on the commodity.

4. Understanding Women’s Contributions to Ecological Field Research

Unintentionally, Simone Schleper realized after finishing her book manuscript that she had written a book about men. “Without bad intentions, I had done what is so easily done in the history of science: the reproduction of scientific gender hierarchies through following the well-documented traces of male scientists, and using the rich and available collections at the organizations and universities where they worked,” she writes. Schleper uses this Environmental History Now post to discuss some of the contributions to ecology made by women that are not easily identified in traditional scientific archive collections, particularly the role of spouses in collaborative fieldwork and writing. In order to uncover these histories, Schelper notes that we have to look beyond the archive to the personal writings and oral histories of these women.

5.  Faculty Favorites: Environmental Books to Read and Teach in 2020

In a meta move, my last pick for this month’s list is another list. This reading list from the folks over at Edge Effects includes five book suggestions that were not yet on my radar. “This semester’s list,” they note, “features work that challenges conventional environmental narratives, whether about nuclear power, real estate speculation, or water scarcity. We hope you enjoy the recommendations below.” Happy reading!


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, 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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