20/20: A Look Back at NiCHE’s Past Year in Images

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2020 was NiCHE’s third year on Instagram. Managing our Instagram account is a lot different from our other social media accounts. A focus on the visual and, to a lesser extent, audio aspects of our site’s content leads to new and unique aspects of the material coming to the forefront. It also leads to a different kind of engagement with our readers and followers and draws new people in to environmental history content.

Our “Top Nine” on Instagram is more than a statistical analysis of our digital popularity, it is an indication of the topics and images that resounded the most with our audience and a chance to look back on the past year. Here are our nine most-popular images from 2020:

#9: Sixty-Foot Telephone Pole

Bell Telephone Company crew erecting sixty-foot pole near corner of King and Dufferin Streets, Toronto, Ont. 1895.
Bell Telephone Company crew erecting sixty-foot pole near corner of King and Dufferin Streets, Toronto, Ont. 1895. Library and Archives Canada, PA-095423)

Our ninth most popular image from 2020 was this photo of a Bell Telephone Company crew erecting a sixty-foot pole near the corner of King and Dufferin Streets, in Toronto in 1895. The image is a vivid reminder of the labour that went into the construction of our urban landscapes and infrastructures. As Michael Feagan notes in “Electric Trees: The Constructed Nature of Utility Poles and Street Trees,” these poles occupied “ambiguous space between the built and natural environment” in nineteenth century North America. This post was part of our series highlighting presentations that would have taken place at the canceled meeting of the Canadian Historical Association.

#8: A Lake Nipissing Sunset

Lake Nipissing Sunset

Few natural spectacles thrill the human imagination more than a sunset, as is indicated by our eighth most popular image from this past year: a sunset over Lake Nipissing by Catherine Murton Stoehr. This image was featured in Tina Adcock’s Eddies interview with Jamie Murton, “Subsistence and Access to Nature in Canada.” In our Eddies series, which debuted in 2020, Adcock chatted with five our NiCHE editorial team about a variety of topics of their choosing.

#7: Jasper National Park in Winter

A vista view of a stream running through a forest with the Rocky Mountains in the background. Taken in Jasper National Park.

Our seventh most popular image of 2020 was one of our last of the year: a gorgeous winter view of Jasper National Park that was featured in our “2020 Year in Review.” Instead of our usual holiday reading list, a group of our editors took the time to look back on some of the positive aspects of 2020 and looked ahead to 2021.

#6: Racial Justice Protest Sign

At a racial justice protest a person of colour holds a cardboard sign that says "It's a privilege to educate yourself about racism instead of experiencing it!!!"
Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

The rise of Black Lives Matter and racial justice awareness was a major part of 2020 both in society as a whole and here at NiCHE, as demonstrated by our sixth most popular image from last year. In June, we issued our “Déclaration du comité exécutif du NiCHE sur la violence policière et le racisme / Statement on Police Violence and Anti-Black Racism” statement. This statement marked the first time that the NiCHE executive has directly taken a stance on a social justice issue, and we intend for it to mark a permanent change in our behaviour and prioritization.

One of the first actions we took was to find all of the past race and environment content on our website and organize it into a “found” series: Race and Environment. We then launched our ongoing series Whose Nature? Race and Canadian Environment. The above photo was featured in our list of “Ten Books to Contextualize Environmental Racism,” which is part of the Whose Nature? series.

#5: The Cover of Plants, People, and Places

Cover of People, Plants, and Places edited by Nancy J. Turner

The power of open-access book reviews is their potential to reach a larger number of people. When reviews are accessible to the general public and broader cross-section of academia, the potential for academic books to increase their influence expands exponentially. One of our book reviews that caused a great deal of excitement amongst our followers this past year was Brittany Luby and Jane Mariotti’s review of Plants, People and Places edited by Nancy J. Turner.

#4: Jessica DeWitt Leaving Academia

A screenshot of Jessica DeWitt's tweet announcing she was leaving academia. "I've pretty much decided I'm leaving academia. I'm going to continue to dabble in academia, keep my connections and foster new ones, and be present in the community, but I'm not applying for TT jobs or PostDocs. I'm going to prioritize other things for a bit."

If I had known how much y’all would love me leaving academia, I would have left sooner! Our fourth most popular image this past year is my tweet announcing my departure from academia that was featured in my Eddies interview with Tina Adcock, “On Academic Weariness and Embracing Uncertainty.” In this interview I discussed my path to this decision and the things I learned along the way. Between this interview and the Twitter thread, I was blown away by the messages of support and commiseration, once again proving the power of speaking one’s truth in public.

#3: Jessica DeWitt at Algonquin Provincial Park

Jessica DeWitt, a white, blond, woman, takes a selfie with a strained smile in front of a wetland made by beavers at Algonquin Provincial Park
Jessica DeWitt on a research trip in 2014 at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario.

If I had known when I first proposed this post that it would feature, well, me so prominently… But the stats don’t lie. Our third most popular image was this photograph of me on a research trip in Algonquin Provincial Park, early in my PhD program, in 2014. I used this image to illustrate the way in which grad school, and the research and travel funding available during it, enabled me to pretend for a brief moment that I was the kind of person that could afford going on these kind of trips. This article, “The Precarity That Binds Us,” was part of our twelve-part COVID-19 and the Environmental Humanities series.

#2: J.E.H. MacDonald’s Falls, Montreal River (1920)

J.E.H. MacDonald, Falls, Montreal River, 1920. Oil on Canvas; 121.9 x 153.0 cm; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Purchased 1933.

It is fitting that our second most popular image is from Lauren V. Judge’s examination of the Group of Seven’s visual colonization. Judge uses J.E.H. MacDonald’s Falls, Montreal River to illustrate the way in which the group of artists used modern European style to portray the way in which Canada’s landscape from different from other imperial landscapes. This post was part of our three-part series marking the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven.

#1: Overhead Wires on Lower Broadway, New York, in 1980

Overhead wires on lower Broadway, New York, in 1890.
Figure 1. AT&T, Bell Telephone Magazine, vol. 26, 1922, 153. “Overhead wires on lower Broadway, New York, in 1890.” This is a drawing of a photo of the same street and not an exaggeration.

And…the image that captured our audience’s imagination the most was this sketch of overhead wires on lower Broadway in New York in 1890. This image, also featured in Michael Feagan’s “Electric Trees: The Constructed Nature of Utility Poles and Street Trees,” is simultaneously familiar and foreign. Most importantly, it pulls back the golden veneer that we place on the past, revealing a messy and complicated scene that mirrors the complexities of our own time.

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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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