#EnvHist Worth Reading: August 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 August 2020:

1. The Things I Tell Myself When I’m Writing About Nature

This list of eleven tips for writing about nature compiled by Helen J. MacDonald represents my favourite kind of writing: writing that is full of care and love, but also realistic, frank, and humorous. MacDonald writes that this is “a not-too-serious and also quite serious list that is entirely non-prescriptive, and is absolutely not a set of instructions. Your mileage will vary wildly. There are as many ways to write about the natural world as there are kinds of beetles.” I recommend all environmental historians take in this collective piece of wisdom about representing and ruminating about human-nature relations.

2. The Empty Space Where Normal Once Lived

This essay by environmental historian Bathsheba Demuth is the most moving piece of writing that I have read about COVID-19 to-date. In the essay, Demuth artfully connects her personal experience with contracting the virus to the broader environmental effects of climate change. “Long COVID and climate change are alike in this: live ill for long enough, and the absence of health threatens to become normal,” Demuth observes. Although the essay captures both the abject terror and unnerving normality of the pandemic and climate change, she ends on a note of hope, calling upon us to look backwards to better times and forward to a possible future in which things may be better once more.

3. The Trees of Tavrichesky Garden: Forgotten Actors in the Politics of Cultural Landscape

In this piece from the Summer 2020 edition of Arcadia, Lewis Purcell focuses in on trees, arguing that their role as actors in history is often overlooked by historians, adding to a growing body of scholars calling for greater consideration of non-human actors in history more generally. Focusing on the trees located in Tavrichesky Garden, in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia, Purcell shows why these trees should be considered significant political actors. Purcell walks the reader through the history of these trees, beginning in the 1700s and moving through to the 2000s. “The greenery of St. Petersburg’s Tavrichesky Garden is part of Russia’s political and social history. The trees and vegetation of urban parks are actors in their own right and deserve a page in the history books,” Purcell argues.

4. How to Take a Hike

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen the above tweet. Most sources, books/podcasts/articles/etc., will focus on national park history and completely ignore state or provincial park history, but in this episode Christine and Caroline actually take the time to discuss the role of state parks in propping up discriminatory Jim Crow laws in the southern United States! The episode more generally focuses on the outdoors, race relations in the outdoors, and the way in which outdoor spaces are sites of both Black joy and pain. The episodes features interviews with Carolyn Finney and Kenya and Michelle Jackson-Saulters from Outdoor Journal Tour.

5.  Unnatural Disaster: The Coronavirus Pandemic as Environmental History

This lecture by Matthew Klingle is a great source for those who want to learn more about the environmental aspects of the coronavirus. “There is no way to explain the rapid spread of the coronavirus without accounting for both the social pathologies and the physical nature of this particular pandemic. Only by acknowledging these entangled interactions can we understand the social inequities and ecological consequences that emerged around this and so many other pandemics across time,” the video description states. Recommended viewing for anyone interested in better understanding the environmental aspects of our current pandemic or as a resource for those looking to teach this topic.

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: Walking Shadows, Tdyy, Flickr Commons.

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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-in-chief, 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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