#EnvHist Worth Reading: June 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 June 2020:

1. ‘Polite’ racism infects Canada says Olympian who was on front lines of Oka protests 30 years ago

This article on CBC by Devin Heroux features an interview with Canadian water polo Olympian and Indigenous activist, Waneek Horn-Miller. Horn-Miller, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, Quebec, spent 78 consecutive days on the front lines of the Oka Crisis in the Summer of 1990. This event in Canadian history followed the town of Oka, Quebec’s plans to expand a piece of land that was sacred to the Mohawk without undergoing any consultation with the community. The Mohawk, who sought to defend their land rights, were met with military force. Horn-Miller, who was 14 years old at the time, recounts being stabbed by a soldier’s bayonet, the work that she has had to do to manage the trauma associated with this event, and racism she experienced later as a member of the Canadian water polo team. “Canadians are polite racists. They don’t want to acknowledge there is that privilege,” states Horn-Miller.

2. The border wall threatens decades of binational wildlife conservation

Forty years ago Valer Clark and Josiah Austin bought the El Coronado Ranch in Arizona. The land was heavily denuded when it came into their possession. Human activity had led to deforestation, overgrazing, and soil erosion. Clark and Austin built 20,000 small loose-rock dams on their 1,800 acres (and 16,000 acres leased by the U.S. Forest Service) over twenty years. The dams enabled dirt to build up and absorb rainwater, which led to a restoration of the land’s vegetation, insects, and other wildlife. This effort led to the founding of Cuenca Los Ojos in 1990, a non-profit organization that focuses on landscape restoration projects on both side of the border in the Madrean Sky Islands region. In this High Country News article, Sarah Tory takes a closer look at these projects, the landscape and wildlife, their legacy, and how the proposed US/Mexico border wall threatens these conservation projects.

3. What Soybeans Can Be

In the latest installment of her Non-Native Species column, Jessica J. Lee lovingly traces the history of soybeans, effectively interweaving personal and familial memory with the broader global history of the agricultural and food commodity. Lee describes the way in which the wild soybean was domesticated and became a key part of culture across Asia. Learning that her grandmother’s family were manufacturers of soy sauce, Lee writes “That soybeans were at the heart of our family: not simply as flavor and depth in our dishes, but as an income that sustained my ancestors’ livelihoods.” Further tracing the globalization of soybean agriculture and consumption, Lee critiques the westernization of the soybean and the way in which Western categorization of soy and its derivatives, namely tofu, as a boring and sometimes stigmatized foodstuff has stripped the food of its ‘vitality’ and deep cultural heritage.

4. Reckoning with Urgency: Crisis & Radical Environmental History

I really appreciated this essay from the Australian & New Zealand Environmental History Network by Jerrod Hore, which was part of History Australia’s ‘Doing History in Urgent Times.’ This essay really speaks to some discussion that I and others’ have been having lately regarding the role of activism in historical scholarship. Hore writes that 2020 has a specific ‘feel’ to it and has brought up a lot of questions about how to do history in what seems like increasingly urgent times. The main challenge, Hore argues is that of scale. Because the average person does not think of themselves as part of a global system, Hore argues that environmental historians are particularly well-suited to helping the general public understand history and environment at different scales and have a responsibility to do so. “Taking the form of ‘radical remembering in place’, environmental histories that proceed from this recognition help us move between scales, reconnect people with the environments that shape their lives in myriad ways, and ultimately, ‘make the planetary personal,” Hore states.

5.  Coastal dunes as historical subjects

Joana Gaspar de Freitas is the Principal Investigator at the ERC-funded “Sea, Sand and People. An Environmental History of Coastal Dunes” project hosted by the Center for History at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. In this Coastal History Blog post, she discusses why she has chosen to study dunes. Confusion as to why dunes are worth studying is, according to Gaspar de Freitas, their history of cultural under-appreciation. Historically have been “regarded as huge masses of sterile worthless sand.” Further, the dynamic nature of dunes and their tendency to move and take over other landscapes, both natural and human-built, also lent to their vilification and the development of projects to keep the sand in place. Gaspar de Freitas examines one response to this perceived threat, which was to turn coastal dunes into forested spaces.


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: Mohawks watching Oka crisis news on barricades, 28 August 1990, Kanesetake, Quebec, Credit: Benoît Aquin / Library and Archives Canada.

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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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