#EnvHist Worth Reading: February 2020

Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge, USFWS Midwest Region.

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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 2020:

1. Colonialism, The Hidden Cause Of Our Environmental Crisis

In this Worldcrunch article, Séverine Kodjo-Grandvaux begins by discussing recent literature connecting the slave trade, slavery, and colonialism to the beginning of the Anthropocene. “For decolonial thinkers,” Kodjo-Grandvaux writes, “it isn’t humans (anthropos) as such who are responsible for climate change, but a certain kind of human activity linked to Western capitalism. They claim that the current environmental crisis is therefore a direct consequence of colonial history.” Kodjo-Grandvaux goes on to discuss some of the social inequality and ecological implications of this argument, demonstrating how decolonial thinking can help us move forward towards a brighter future.

2.  Harriet Tubman, an Unsung Naturalist, Used Owl Calls as a Signal on the Underground Railroad

This article by Audubon Magazine contributor Allison Keyes explores an often overlooked part of Harriett Tubman’s life: her relationship with and knowledge of the environment. Described as the “the ultimate outdoors woman” by Ranger Angela Crenshaw, Keyes describes the way in which Tubman used owl calls to guide folks on the underground railroad; further Keyes describes how Tubman needed a deep knowledge of the landscape she was traversing in order to guide people north and feed them along the way. Tubman, like other enslaved Black people, initially fostered a connection to the landscape through labour. “Harriet Tubman’s understanding of the human environment, surrounding landscapes, and wildlife prepared her for both the great and small tasks of the Underground Railroad and the Civil War,” Keyes concludes.

3. George Washington Carver: Touching Infinity

Similarly to Tubman, George Washington Carver was an individual born into an enslaved family who developed a deep connection to the landscape through agricultural and other forms of labour. In this article, Devyn Springer argues that relegating Carver to simply an individual obsessed with peanuts ignores the complexity of Carver’s interests and motivations. Springer demonstrates that Carver focused on peanuts because he wanted them to surpass cotton as the main staple crop of the south and thus help to remedy the economic and environmental exploitation that cotton represented. As, what Mark Hersey calls, an early “prophet of sustainable agriculture,” Carver “advocate[d] for a type of “land ethic” or morality surrounding agriculture which equally impacts the treatment of the land’s workers; in the immediate aftermath of slavery and the context of sharecropping, this statement is a radical departure from the norms of the time.”

4. A Walk Along the Port Louisa Shore. Pool 1724. The eastern edge of the Louisa District, Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge.

This post is the latest installment in Matthew Fockler’s captivating Two Mississippi blog, which details “repeat photography trips and other methodological excursions along the Upper Mississippi River.” Repeat photography, or the method of taking a photograph from the exact location as a past photography, offers “an opportunity to inquire into why [past photographers] framed that particular landscape and chose to capture a snapshot of that place at that time.” In this post, Fockler explores the Port Louisa Shore – now part of the Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge – on foot, noting the human history of the landscape and comparing the past landscape to the present. This post and the entire blog are a visual delight, and I recommend exploring Fockler’s project.

5.  Skoki the zoo bear now 33 years old

Skoki, a bear who resides at the Calgary Zoo, recently turned 33. What is remarkable about Skoki and notable about this article, is that he illuminates the way in which we manage wildlife and the ways in which these management techniques have changed over time. Skoki was deemed a threat to the human public and shipped to the Calgary Zoo from the Bow Valley in 1996 after he poked his head inside a Lake Louise bakery and stepped on a tent in a nearby campground. The article discusses how and why bears ended up in captivity rather than killed, the effect this has on the animals and landscape’s ecology, and why Skoki’s character enabled him to survive so long at the zoo. “He wasn’t killed, but we lost a bear. He was taken out of the breeding population and from all the signs he had the character and genetics that we would like to keep in this landscape,” Colleen Campbell states in the article.


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 a 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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