#EnvHist Worth Reading: November 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 November 2021:

1. The Elephant Who Could Be a Person

In 2022, what Jill Lepore refers to in her The Atlantic article as “the most important animal-rights case of the 21st century” will take place. This case revolves around Happy, an elephant at the Bronx Zoo who was born in Thailand during the Vietnam War, taken from her family, and eventually sent to New York City in 1977. “The New York Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments regarding a petition of habeas corpus that alleges that Happy’s detention is unlawful because, under U.S. law, she is a person,” Lepore writes. Lepore goes over the history of personhood in American law and dives deeply into Happy’s history and the history of elephants and zoos in the United States. This is a gorgeous and heartfelt long-read that will leave you feeling deeply for Happy and the other animals that we have treated inhumanely for far too long.

2. The Lessons ‘Moby-Dick’ Has For a Warming World of Rising Waters

In this piece for The Conversation, Aaron Sachs names Moby Dick as the most helpful climate manual ever-written. “What makes “Moby-Dick” especially relevant right now is that it offers a spur to solidarity and perseverance. Those are qualities societies may need to stock up on as we face the overwhelming threat of climate change. The novel has no straightforward moral, but it does remind readers that we can at least buoy each other up, even as the water swirls around us,” Sachs writes. Sachs delves further into Moby Dick as an existentialist text and a text that highlights the important of interconnectedness. I had never thought about Moby Dick from these angles, and perhaps other readers will also enjoy this change in perception.

3. Environmental Dimensions of the RMS Leinster Sinking

In this Arcadia article, Claire Connelly, Rita Singer, and James L. Smith explore the environmental and coastal history that defined the story of the sinking of the British mail steamer RMS Leinster off the coast of Ireland in 1918. The authors recount the sinking of the ship that left 569 people dead – the largest loss of life in the Irish Sea to-date. They focus on the environmental dimensions of the sinking: the weather that day, the effect of the sea “giving up its dead,” and the negative impact on sea creatures. Providing a 3-D survey of the Leinster‘s shipwreck, the authors also discuss the environmental and cultural impact of the wreckage in the century after the event. “The material and cultural traces of the wreck have become part of the intangible and underwater cultural heritage of the Irish Sea,” they write. They conclude by stating that while events like the sinking of the Leinster may be presented as singular events, they are actually part of deeper and continuous narratives.

4. What Whale Barnacles Know

This piece on whale barnacles by Mara Grunbaum for Hakai Magazine challenges us to look to the more-than-human archive for knowledge, both scientific and historical. Grunbaum goes into detail about barnacles, their symbiotic relationship with whales, and how barnacles record whale migration. ‘Instead of spending their lives stuck in one spot like many of their relatives, whale barnacles hitchhike on the heads and flippers of migrating baleen whales and feed on the plankton that their mobile homes swim through,” Grunbaum writes. Grunbaum discusses how fossilized barnacles contain records of ancient whale migration and how human activity, such as whaling, that threatens whales, also threatens the species of barnacles that rely on whales for survival.

5. How Canadian Biruté Galdikas Uncovered the Secret Life of Orangutans

This episode of CBC’s The Current features an interview with Canadian anthropologist Biruté Galdikas who traveled to the Tanjung Puting Reserve in Borneo in 1971 to study orangutans. Over decades of research, Galdikas successfully expanded human understanding and scientific knowledge of the species. Galdikas reflects on getting to know the orangutans and getting them familiar and comfortable with her presence and on the extremely negative impact that deforestation is having on orangutan culture and species viability.

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: “Blue Whale Art Practice Free Downloadable” by Lynne Marie Studios is marked with CC PDM 1.0.
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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-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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