#EnvHist Worth Reading: September 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 September 2020:

1. To Wood Buffalo National Park, with love

When I first became aware of this Briarpatch piece by Chloe Dragon Smith and Robert Grandjambe, I felt as though I had finally found the park writing that I had been unknowingly searching for since I began my journey as a park scholar a decade ago. Smith and Grandjambe provide a vivid and profound future imagining of a decolonial park future. Their piece centers around the idea that after 100 years of colonial control (1922-2022), the land that is currently known as Wood Buffalo National Park has been returned to traditional Indigenous land management, which is guided by the needs of the land itself. They recount the trauma enacted on the Indigenous peoples, animals, and the land, and imagine that Parks Canada has done the work to apologize for these traumas. “Our goal,” they write, “is to create sustainable futures where our Peoples can live in two worlds – as part of the Land with all the integrity of our own systems, and part of the modern economy.”

2. Understanding Resilience in the History of Climate Change

“Many climate historians study the past not only to enrich historical scholarship, but also to learn lessons that may inform efforts to plan for the future,” writes Dagomar Degroot for Not Even Past. But while many past climate historians have come to the conclusion that the past shows how climate fluctuations have led to crises or even civilizational collapses, Degroot shows how a new generation of climate historians are starting to challenge these declensionist or apocalyptic arguments. Instead, historians are discovering and demonstrating how past communities have shown resilience. The concept of resilience, Degroot explains, necessitates a broader understanding of the past that takes into account power dynamics, different scales of time and space, and individual and social actions.

3. Listening to What Trees Have to Say

In this Edge Effects piece, Solvejg Nitzke examines the ideas presented in Valerie Trouet’s new book Tree Story: The History of the World Written in Rings. “Each tree records the environmental conditions of any given year, creating an individual chronology that is available for (human) interpretation,” Nitzke writes. These records provide a way to connect local and global histories, enabling comparison across time and space. Although we as humans interpret this information, the rings are evidence of a language only spoken by trees. The rings upset our anthropocentric assumption that only humans can impose meaning on the world. The trees live their own lives. They live for themselves.

4. Ontario has a long, fascinating history of shipwrecks. But it is rarely recognized

In this article for the Ottawa Citizen, Tom Spears examines the Canadian government and Parks Canada’s obsession with the one particular maritime disaster, The Franklin Expedition, which in he argues has been to the detriment of researching and developing education around the country’s other historical shipwrecks. He confers with historians Tina Adcock and Daniel Macfarlane about this fixation. Both discuss how Franklin is used by the federal government as a symbol of Canadian nationalism, and that this storytelling takes away from other more important topics, such as whaling and the fur trade in the arctic or the complicated web of networks that crossed the Great Lakes. Spears also devotes much of the article to highlighting some of these disasters that could be considered more influential than the Franklin Expedition.

5.  The Massive LA Disaster You’ve Never Heard Of

“Early twentieth century water disputes are actually interesting!” Caitlin Doughty notes at the beginning of this episode of Ask a Mortician, in which she recounts the story of the St. Francis Dam collapse in March 1928. This dam was part of the Los Angeles water system, and its collapse is still the second deadliest event in California’s history. Caitlin is always entertaining, and because it is a YouTube channel about death, she focuses in on some of the gruesome details that may be left out in other accounts.


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: G. Wellburn, logging manager counts year rings in a Douglas Fir. The tree was cut near Duncan, British Columbia by the MacMillan and Bloedel Co. [G. Wellburn, le gérant forestier compte les anneaux sur un sapin douglas. L’arbre a été coupé près de Duncan, Colombie-Brittanique par «MacMillan and Bloedel Co]. British Columbia, July 1954, Bibliothèque et 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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