#EnvHist Worth Reading: October 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 October 2021:

1. Wanderlust and stolen land: how to mindfully explore the American outdoors

In the past several years, articles on the colonial violence inherit in the development of the US [and Canadian] national park systems have been fairly numerous. Advice on what we, as park and outdoor enthusiasts, do once we are armed with this historical knowledge is more sparse. As a park historian, I really appreciated this succinct set of suggestions by travel writer Amanda Machado. “As a travel writer,” Machado writes, “I believe deeply in our human nature to explore. But historically, the way we take advantage of our national parks has often caused harm: the genocide of Indigenous communities to make “space” for outdoor recreation, the unmanageable waste that accumulates from large crowds of tourists, the scarcity of resources for people living near parks.” Machado’s suggestions include researching the effect of the pandemic on communities near national parks, avoiding over-crowded destinations, seeking out opportunities to learn about the land from Indigenous communities, and working on abandoning the “pristine” wilderness mindset.

2. Red Apes

This article about orangutans by Justin Davis on New Socialist is a long read (~81 minutes), but I recommend taking the time to sit with it. Using the term “umbrella species” as a jumping off point, Davis aims to show that the history of orangutans cannot be separated from the history of Indigenous peoples and exploited labourers of the deforestation industry in Borneo and Sumatra. “Against the reactionary trend of blaming the looming extinction of ‘charismatic megafauna’ on the cruelty or ignorance of the human populations living closest to them, this article will trace a journey through the histories of the orangutans and their homelands, describing some of the ways in which capitalist institutions from Western Europe, the USA, and Japan have engineered their destruction,” Davis writes. Moving chronologically through the history of Western, capitalist interruptions to the orangutan’s world, Davis ends with a discussion of orangutan culture and resistance in the face of centuries of exploitation.

3. What does home look like now? The Marshes of Mesopotamia and sustainable academia

The European Society for Envioronmental History NEXTGATe group launched their blog this fall. This post by Somayyeh Amiri is part of a series on Sustainable Academia that NEXTGate is publishing with Historians for Future. Amiri’s post explores the role of academia, and environmental history more specifically, in regards to making real changes in the lives of people today. Amiri focuses on the Iraqi marshes, which have historically supported a diverse ecosystem and Marsh Arab culture. Amiri explains that over the past seventy years 90% of these marshes have been drained and the communities displaced. More recent conservation and resettlement efforts have led to the return of some Marsh Arabs to the region and the creation of The Mesopotamian Marshlands national park, however, the both the community and ecosystem are still under threat. “Academia must take responsibility for the habitats that our past has left behind, and encourage its inhabitants to find their way to a sustainable future. It is a great opportunity to collaborate in making a suitable future by opening up chances for new concepts and the multiple meanings that narratives and voices bring,” Amiri writes.

4. City of Vernon transfers copyright to legendary Ogopogo to B.C. Indigenous nations

The Ogopogo is a lake monster that is believed to inhabit Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. A widely recognizable piece of Canadian folklore, the figure is used to boost tourism and business revenue in the region. For 65 years the copyright to the Ogopogo has been held by the city of Vernon, British Columbia, but in October the city council voted to transfer these rights to the Okanagan Nation Alliance to honour and recognize the Indigenous origins of the lake monster. “The Syilx people are the only ones who can actually possess and own that name or that story since it originates from nowhere else but us,” Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis remarked in March.

5. Buried Treasure: Weeds, Seeds, and Zombies

I’m a sucker for weed (the unloved plants that you try to banish from your garden, that is) appreciation content. I also really enjoy Gastropod, which is a relatively recent addition to the long list of podcasts that I partake in. This episode of Gastropod “follow[s] a group of scientists along on a 149-year-old quest to see just how long weeds can survive—and, along the way, figure out what we can learn from weeds, what we really ought to thank them for, and what is a weed, anyhow?”

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: The Ogopogo = L’Ogopogo [philatelic record]. Credit: Library and Archives Canada; Copyright: Canada Post Corporation.
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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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