#EnvHist Worth Reading: March 2020

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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 2020:

1. Pangolins And Pandemics: The Real Source Of This Crisis Is Human, Not Animal

In this article, Thom van Dooren opens by reflecting on the possible animal sources of COVID-19, including the pangolin. van Dooren argues that COVID-19 is a symptom of a broader problem: the dysfunctional relationship that humans have with other animals and the environment. “In short,” van Dooren writes, “many of the same processes that are giving rise to new zoonotic infectious diseases are also at the centre of our global biodiversity crisis and the mass-production of animal suffering in increasingly intensive farming operations.” He examines the relatively recent spread of diseases like West Nile Virus and Mad Cow disease, and uses these examples to contend that we owe the other life forms on this planet more consideration and care.

2.  Public Thinker: Jenny Price on Refusing to Save the Planet

In this charming Public Books interview, Nicole Seymour speaks to Jenny Price on the twentieth anniversary of her book Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America. Price discusses her non-academic career trajectory and her public history and environmental work, including her affinity for docents and developing characters to teach the public about the environment and history. Seymour also asks Price to discuss her forthcoming book, Stop Saving the Planet! A 21st-Century Environmentalist Manifesto, in which she critiques ‘green virtue’ and ‘whole-planet-tude.’ Price states that “the core argument in my book is: Stop talking about how to save environments. Start talking about how to change environments a whole hell of a lot better, because we have to change environments to live.”

3. When Butte wouldn’t shut down

In this article, Kathleen Mclaughlin writes a historical and personal reflection on the history of her hometown Butte, Montana’s experience with pandemics. McLaughlin discusses growing up in Butte and walking the cemeteries where the dead from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic are buried and the collective memory and trauma that the town holds for this tumultuous period in its past. McLaughlin discusses the class dynamics in the town that drove the initial response to the 1918 pandemic and led to the high death toll in the city. “Upwards of 1,000 people died in Butte of the flu from 1918-19, nearly a third of all the flu deaths in the state. You can see their graves, but they don’t explain why Butte was so badly affected. To put it simply, the city, a sprawling tribute to America’s potential that prided itself on running mines, bars and brothels 24 hours a day, wouldn’t heed all the warnings to close everything down,” McLaughlin writes.

4. Episode 4: How Green Was My Valley

Environmental historian Sean Munger and Cody Climer have a new podcast: Green Screen: The Environmental Movie Podcast. This podcast is sure to be of interest to environmental historians and the the #HATM crowd. In the fourth episode of the podcast, they reviewed the classic 1941 film, How Green Was My Valley, about a Welsh mining town. “The film touches on the hazards of fossil fuel extraction, the environmental cost of “progress,” and the relationship between environmental problems and labor strife,” they write. I’m really enjoying this podcast so far and suggest checking out all of their episodes.

5.  Caring, at a Distance

A lot of reading lists surfaced during the first month of COVID-19 isolation. One of my favourite lists is this one by Addie Hopes over on Edge Effects. Using the ecological term “crown shyness” to drive an analogy for caring for one another from a distance, Hopes writes: “I’ve been thinking a lot about how trees manage entanglement and separation. And about what I owe myself, my loved ones, and a world of intimate strangers whose canopy I share.”


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


Feature Photo: Copper smelters and mines, Butte, Montana, U.S.A. – The richest mining district in the world, 1904; STEREO U.S. GEOG FILE – Montana–Butte [P&P]; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

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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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