#EnvHist Worth Reading: May 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 May 2020:

1. Robin Wall Kimmerer: ‘People can’t understand the world as a gift unless someone shows them how’

In this Guardian interview, James Yeh sits down with Robin Wall Kimmerer to mark the UK publication of her bestselling book, Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Kimmerer, who is a professor of environmental biology at the State University of New York, discusses her calling to educate people and bring them closer to the natural magic of plants, and the natural world in general. The interview is also set in the time of COVID-19, which enables some discussion about teaching online and how the pandemic can shape or expand our ways of thinking. ‘“A contagion of gratitude,” she marvels, speaking the words slowly. “I’m just trying to think about what that would be like. Acting out of gratitude, as a pandemic. I can see it.”’

2. I am dandelion, hear me roar

Those who follow my personal social media may know my obsession with the colour yellow and my impassioned defense of the dandelion. This essay by Thelma Fayle in The Globe and Mail is a delightful ode to this plant and overview of its history with humans. Fayle recounts falling in love with the dandelion in a college course thirty years ago and makes a case for fostering more respect for this unfairly maligned plant. Fayle connects our war with dandelions to lawn mythology and culture and the negative connotations of the ‘invasive species’ label. Fayle asks how we go from children enchanted by these flowers to adults in an eternal war with them, spraying our lawns with dangerous chemicals. How might we live with instead of against this plant? “If the relationship between self and the natural world is governed by reciprocity, as so many Indigenous people teach their children, could Canadians ever learn to love dandelion back?” Fayle asks.

3. Living with Sea Otters Next Door

In this Hakai Magazine article, Brad Badelt asks “what happens when an animal comes back from the brink?” In this specific case, Badelt is looking at the comeback of sea otters in the Pacific Northwest and the effects that had on both the environment and the people who live along the coast. Badelt discusses how the sea otters were nearly wiped out by the fur trade and then were reintroduced to the region, to great success, beginning in the 1960s and 1970s. Although the reintroduction of sea otters to the region had ecological benefits, it also created challenges for the Indigenous communities along the coast because more otters meant fewer shellfish, and thus a threat to their food security. Badelt looks at a specific project involving nineteen Indigenous communities and researchers from Simon Fraser University who are studying how to better manage this tension. The project has found that Indigenous people need to be more involved and directly consulted in sea otter and other conservation projects.

4. Epidemics & Ecologies: Reading in the time of COVID-19

This collection of eleven reading lists–ranging from Virgin Soil Epidemics to AIDS, Ebola and SARS, was compiled for the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations (ICEHO) by William San Martín, Alexandra Vlachos and Graeme Wynn. ” COVID-19 and other zoonotic illnesses raise several questions about multispecies interactions, public health, and global ecological changes.  They also highlight critical issues regarding risk and vulnerability, socio-economic inequality, and environmental justice. At the intersection of these challenges, we believe historical and socio-environmental expertise can provide important insights about the current management of this global crisis and the future changes in our societies,” they write. The reading lists

5.  In conversation with Dr. Sean Kheraj {Pandemic Pedagogy convo 23} Imagining a New ‘We’

I’ve been really enjoying and learning a lot from Samantha Cutara’s Pandemic Pedogogy and Imagining a New ‘We’ series on YouTube. What better place to start than with an interview with our director, Sean Kheraj? They talk about historians and technology, the Anthropocene, and other scintillating topics. Worth watching, for sure.

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

Feature Photograph: Sea Otters from Prince Williams Sounds, Alaska, August 2015, Mike’s Birds, Flickr Commons.

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is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States, editor, project manager, 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). Additionally, she is the Managing Editor for the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon and a Coordinating Team member of Showing Up for Racial Justice Saskatoon-Treaty Six. 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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