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 August 2022:
In this Grist long-read, Mark Olaide and Maya Miller trace the history of uranium mining pollution and contamination in the United States, focusing on New Mexico. They open with a discussion of the “death map,” which was created by local resident Candace Head-Dylla, to show the long-term, fatal effects of 22.2 million tons of uranium waste on the communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres, New Mexico. This waste is the product of a uranium mill that was opened in 1958 and closed in 1990. This example, Olaide and Miller write, is symbolic of the toxic legacy of uranium mining throughout the United States. “Uranium mining and milling left a trail of contamination and suffering, from miners who died of lung cancer while the federal government kept the risks secret to the largest radioactive spill in the country’s history,” they write.
This piece by Tom Almeroth-Williams provides an excellent example of how science and history can inform one another. Almeroth-Williams looks at a recent study by Joel Alves, et.al. that uses genetic analysis to inquire where Australia’s infamous, invasive rabbit population originated, whether they came out of a single event or multiple, how they spread, and whether there is a genetic explanation for their success. The conclusion of this study is that it was the genetic makeup of a small number of rabbits that arrived in 1859 enabled them to adapt to the Australian climate with more success than other groups of rabbits that were introduced to the country in early decades.
Drama occurred in the [online] historian community when the American Historical Association published a column by its president, James Sweet, called “Is History History?” In this piece, Sweet criticized the historical profession for leaning too heavily on presentism, citing several projects like The 1619 Project as examples of how historians are letting the present colour the way in which they do history. Sweet’s piece elicited many reactions, including think pieces and Twitter threads. In the environmental history realm, Historians for Future, a group organized around using history to support the global climate movement, issued their own response. H4F refutes Sweet’s arguments, and strongly argue that historical thinking is critical to understanding contemporary situations. To close-off history from the present is to risk damaging this key sense, limiting our ability to perceive and communicate the delicate sequences of events and struggles that have made the world around us. This would rob history of its power,” they argue.
In this Arcadia piece, Darya Tsymbalyuk asks “What does it mean to be an environmental researcher of Ukraine at the time of Russia’s imperial war on Ukraine?” Tsymbalyuk recounts how the war has affected both her personal life and her research, and argues that one can only understand the effects of the war on Ukraine’s environment by using postcolonial and decolonial lenses. Tsymbalyuk demonstrates how the war is connected to Russia’s deep colonial legacy in the region, as well as global petrocapitalism.
In this piece for Environmental History Now, Ysabel Muñoz Martínez examines a recent event in Cuba, which is one of the worst environmental events in the island’s history. On August 5th, lightning hit a storage tank at an oil depot, which caused three explosions and days of active burning. Toxic fumes and water contamination from the event threaten the health of the Cuban population. Martínez reflects on how this disaster and other forms of pollution have received much less attention by scholars than the island’s deforestation. This recent event also connects to a longer history of industrial degradation in Cuba and is indicative of what Martínez refers to as ‘chemical kinship.’ “Thinking about chemical kinship in Cuba prompts me to think how toxicity has been present in communities left adrift by a government that is unable to meet the required demands, and how it has silently become encoded in the national genetic makeup,” Martínez writes.
Feature Image: “RUN, RABBIT RUN.” by RubyGoes is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
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