#EnvHist Worth Reading: September 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 September 2021:

1. On the Downfalls of Progress and the Utopian Promise of Fueled Abundance

This long-read on Literary Hub by Alice Bell is an excerpt from her book Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis. Bell focuses on the connection between energy consumption, consumerism, and the utopian myth of progress. She opens the piece with a discussion of Disney’s “Progressland” and Magic Skyway at the New York City World’s Fair of 1964, which presented a future in which energy was limitless, as was human progress. Bell presents a non-linear narrative of energy history, going back and forth in time, weaving the early 1900s with the Cold War and the present. She also connects energy history to the history of plastics and packaging, a part of oil history that further illustrates the interconnectivity of the development of fossil fuels and consumerism.

2. Teaching Global Environmental History

In this Not Even Past interview, which you can also watch on YouTube, Adam Clulow speaks with Dr. Megan Raby about her Global Environmental History course. They discuss the models that Raby used when developing the course and the way in which she introduces the course to people not yet familiar with global or environmental history. What sets Raby’s course apart is that it starts with deep time, then moves to the past 200 years, and finishes with imagined futures. In the imagined futures part of the course, Raby encourages students to grapple with emotions. “What I think is important is that we talk directly about the fact that a topic like climate change, while the science isn’t controversial anymore, involves emotions. Their feelings get raised, whether they discuss the politics of how to deal with climate change, or about how we imagine our own life in the future, and the course of humanity,” Raby states. Clulow and Raby also talk about how the course breaks down the divide between science and the humanities.

3. Birds in Life and in Ink: An Errant Tracing

September marked the third anniversary week for Environmental History Now. One of the featured posts for their anniversary week was this piece by Genie Yoo, in which Yoo uses the eating habits of her parrot, Oscar, as a jumping off point to look at the history of human-bird relations in Maluku and the history of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Yoo writes that the VOC’s monopolization of spice cultivation had one major thwarter: the birds of the islands that ate the cloves and nutmegs as part of their diet. Yoo shows that when we look closely at the sources from the spice trade of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, birds are everywhere and were discussed across cultures. “Once we look and listen, birds are suddenly everywhere, in life and in ink. Circling a narrative around them forces one to trace a beginning that looks like an end. They allow us to see ecological connections in time and space, languages and traditions,” Yoo writes.

4. The History of Dog Training with Justyna Włodarczyk

This episode of Knowing Animals podcast features an interview with Justyna Włodarczyk about her book, Genealogy of Obedience: Reading North American Dog Training Literature, 1850s-2000s. Włodarczyk uses dog training not just as a way to trace the evolution of dog and human relations, but also uses it as a jumping off point for looking at other cultural factors, such as trends in childrearing. She also tries to disrupt the simplified narrative that the history of dog training is broken into two eras: the era before positive reinforcement and the era after.

5. How America’s hottest city is trying to cool down

“It almost seems like this entire city was designed to capture heat…”

In July, Kara Murphy Schlichting wrote about the history of New York City’s urban heat island for us. This video from Vox discusses the history of Phoenix’s urban heat island and its connection to environmental racism, poverty, and climate change. After reviewing the city’s planning history, the video looks at the ways to decrease the negative effects of heat in the city, which primarily revolves around increasing green spaces and tree cover.

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: Inuit boy training husky puppies, Hudson Strait Expedition, Port Burwell, Quebec [Nunavut], November 1927. Credit: Library and Archives Canada / PA-055449.
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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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