#EnvHist Worth Reading: April 2022

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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 2022:

1. Olmsted’s Enduring Gift

During my Masters degree I lived a couple blocks from Highland Park, which was exciting not just because of its world renowned-lilacs, but also because the park was designed by famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. As I continued my studies, I found that Olmsted touched every level of early park development in the United States from national to state to city parks. This New York Times article and photo essay by photographer Ruth Fremson and Audra D.S. Burch looks back at Olmsted’s legacy on the anniversary of his 200th birthday. “On the bicentennial of his birthday in April — aptly the season of spring blooms and rebirth — it is worth remembering Olmsted’s enduring imprint on the nation. In plots of earth and green, Olmsted saw something more: freedom, human connection, public health,” they write. Fremson’s images, they argue, demonstrate that Olmsted’s vision is still alive and well.

2. Vitamin D Architecture

In this sprawling article for E-flux Architecture, Xhulio Binjaku traces how a desire for sunlight exposure affected architectural design, artfully connecting architectural, environmental, and medical history in the process. Binjaku begins the essay discussing the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 and the reaction of John Ruskin who viewed the volcanic eruption as akin to the industrial pollution of Great Britain: a burden to the English body both physically and mentally. This growing concern about air quality coincided with increased research into ricketts and tuberculosis and the development of phototherapy and heliotherapy, and eventually the discovery of Vitamin D. Binjaku then recounts how a newfound desire for sunlight exposure affected architectural design.

3. A community of seed savers has a recipe to revive rare varieties of collard greens

This NPR piece by Daniel Wood follows Ira Wallace, a member of the Heirloom Collard Project, which is dedicated to preserving and reintroducing rare varieties of collard greens, as well as collecting the stories of older seed stewards. As industrial agriculture has taken hold over the last several decades, fewer small farms remain, and fewer people maintain home gardens, the diversity in crops such as collard greens has diminished significantly. “There was once a kaleidoscope of diversity in collards, as people diligently collected and replanted seeds, passing them from one generation to the next to preserve the qualities they found most important,” Wood writes. Wood traces efforts to save collard diversity, paying particular attention to the collard greens’ connections to African American culture and history.

4. The 1960s Women Whose Environmental Activism Saved the Bay

In this KQED article, Rae Alexandra highlights the efforts of a group of women, led by Catherine “Kay” Kerr, Esther Gulick, and Sylvia McLaughlin, to save the San Francisco Bay from development and pollution during the 1960s. The trio was spurred by a 1961 article published in The Oakland Tribune that theorized how the Bay would look in forty years if development went unchecked. “In 1961, the San Francisco Bay was not in good shape. It had been a century since the Gold Rush, and at least 80% of the Bay’s wetlands had been lost to development. The water was filthy, tainted by oil slicks, shipping pollution, trash from multiple garbage dumps at the edge of the water and, worst of all, untreated sewage,” Alexandra writes. The trio of women originally turned to established environmental groups like the Sierra Club for help intervening in the Bay’s decline, but soon found that if the Bay was going to be saved, they were going to have to rely on themselves to advocate and organize for it.

5. Moles and Diamonds

In the this blog post from The Royal Society, Claire Conklin Sabel examines a charming and little-known aspect of the history of human-mole relations spurred by her readings of the index of the Journal Book of The Royal Society’s meetings: moles as “diamond miners.” In the index, Conklin Sabel found an entry that noted “Diamonds cast up by moles in April.” Searching further, she found a 1684 letter that discusses moles digging up diamonds (likely quartz crystals). Conklin Sabel writes that as the only mammal to live entirely underground, moles “routinely unearth precious substances, from kimberlites – the minerals that do indicate the presence of true diamonds – to gold. While European moles may never discover any such riches, they can turn up fossils and antiquities, buried treasures that cannot be fabricated in a laboratory.”

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: Rochester, New York’s Highland Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. “Highland Park, Rochester, NY” by rchappo2002 is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
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is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States, editor, project manager, 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). Additionally, she is the Managing Editor for the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon and a Coordinating Team member of Showing Up for Racial Justice Saskatoon-Treaty Six. 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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