#EnvHist Worth Reading: April 2021

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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 April 2021:

1. Revisiting a 19th century medical idea could help address covid-19

In this Washington Post article, Melanie A. Kiechle reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic’s affect on the way we think about health and the ways in which we protect ourselves from disease. This pandemic has us collectively thinking about breathing and the air that we are breathing, closely mirroring 19th discussions of “vitiated air” and miasmas. Revisiting the history of miasma theory and its subsequent disappearance from our understandings of disease tells us that our routines for disease prevention have fluctuated with changing knowledge about disease causation,” Kiechle writes. Kiechle recounts miasma theory and the health practices that were developed in association with this understanding of disease and how the emergence of “germ theory” changed these practices. Kiechle argues that germ theory and its fixation on surfaces and bacteria has caused us to neglect aerial health practices, such as wearing masks.

2. Naming ‘Paradise’: The Adamic Imagination, Colonial Toponyms, and Remembering the Indigenous Caribbean

In this Environmental History Now post, Renée Landell reflects on the connection between re-naming, Black bodies, the landscape, and colonial violence. “I quite often think about the multiple ways in which our identity is informed, attached and shaped by our relationship to place, and how toponyms (place names) are crucial components of community building, cultural heritage, and even our very sense of place,” Landell writes. Though naming is often presented as an act of creation, Landell argues that naming in relation to the colonial project is an act of destruction and myth creation. This piece is an important addition to the growing conversation surrounding place and geographic names and colonialism.

3. Tyson Kills the Mulberry Fork

Nicholas Tyler Reich opens their Arcadia article by stating that Alabama’s Black Warrior River has died many cyclical deaths. This article focuses on the most recent incident: the spillage of wastewater from the Tyson Farms rendering plant in Hanceville, Alabama. The spill killed approximately 200,000 fish. “Massive stinking floats” of dead fish and other corpses collected in the river downstream. Reich describes Tyson’s irresponsible behaviour, the possible ways that Tyson could be held accountable, and the cultural conditions, fueled by colonial mindsets and anthropogenic devaluation, that let Tyson and other corporations get away with this kind of incident unscathed.

4. Nancy Turner and the Work of Preserving Plant Knowledge

This interview with ethnobotanist Nancy J. Turner is part of the Chacruna Institute’s ongoing ‘Women in the History of Psychedelic Plant Medicines’ series. During her career Turner, a recipient of the Order of British Columbia and Order of Canada, has devoted her energy to working with the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and, as Erika Dyck points out, has had an immeasurable influence on the way in which we think about plants and plant medicines. Dyck asks Turner about how she took this career route beginning with her childhood and education. Turner also recounts how she developed a relationship with the Coast Salish elders. “Blending biology and anthropology, Nancy recognized the need to work closely with linguists to respect and preserve the naming traditions, and stories that accompanied the botanical knowledge,” Dyck notes.

5. Why 99% of ocean plastic pollution is “missing”

Due to ocean currents, there are five plastic garbage patches in the world, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Scientists recently looked at the plastics in the GPGP and found that these garbage patches actually only include 1% of the 8 million tons of plastic that enters the oceans each year. Looking at sedimentation during the plastic production era (1945-2009), the weight of plastic items, and the kinds of plastic found in certain places (shore, surface, ocean bottom) they are building a model of where plastic pollution actually ends up.


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

Feature Image: “Museum of Oceanic Plastic” by A.Davey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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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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