#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 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 December 2022:

1. The Price of Flight

In the 1960s, Massachusetts state authorities razed Wood Island Park – designed by Frederick Law Olmsted – and surrounding homes in East Boston to expand Boston’s Logan Airport. In this GBH News article by Jeremy Siegel recounts recent research, both archival and firsthand, on the negative effects of this project on the area and its residents. Well illustrated with photographs from yesterday and today, the article looks at the neighbourhood that was lost and the health, economic, and environmental issues that have developed in the area, as well as how residents continue to fight for their home. “The death of Wood Island still haunts East Boston… GBH News found that the neighborhood didn’t only lose a park in the mid-20th century. It also lost its health and its agency,” Siegel writes.

2. How Pests, Pathogens, and Pesticides Shape Geographies: A Story from the Early DDT Years in San Francisco Tlalnepantla

Interweaving threads of environmental, as well as the history of science and medicine, Marianne Dhenin recounts the early use of DDT during World War II in this piece for Environmental History Now. “Controlling lice, fleas, and other pests was a preeminent concern in wartime, as they thrived in the cramped and squalid conditions that armed conflict fostered. The diseases they carried killed many more soldiers and civilians than fighting ever did, and soldiers classed the six-legged evils and the aches and nausea they heralded as some of the worst horrors of warfare,” Dhenin writes. The human body louse was of particular concern at the time, and Dhenin discusses how researchers experimented with DDT to control these pests. Dhenin acknowledges that though we now know the negative effects of the experiments now, it is difficult to find direct evidence of how the community experienced the experiments in the historical record.

3. Why the U.S. Is Losing the Fight to Ban Toxic Chemicals

In this ProPublica article, by Neil Bedi, Sharon Lerner and Kathleen McGrory, provides a thorough step-by-step explanation of why the US Environmental Protection Agency has a difficult time banning toxic substances like asbestos. “ProPublica spoke with environmental experts around the world and delved into a half century of legislation, lawsuits, EPA documents, oral histories, chemical databases and global regulatory records to construct a blueprint of a failed system,” they write. The authors show how the chemical industry influenced the development of the US’s current laws on chemical substances and how the EPA has failed to stand up to this industry or rebuild their regulation framework to be more effective.

4. How the rugged poinsettia became our favorite holiday flower

The colonial past of this North American holiday favourite, the poinsettia, was running the infographic circuit on social media and elsewhere on the internet this holiday season. In this article for National Geographic, Bill Newcott provides a succinct overview of this history. The plant, which is valued by the Indigenous peoples of Central America for its medicinal value, was originally co-opted for holiday use by missionaries in Mexico in the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 1820s when an American diplomat, Joel Poinsett, became fascinated with them and brought them back to the States that they earned their current name and swelled in popularity.

5. In Photos: POWs and the Swanson Lumber Co. – Clearwater, British Columbia

This post is a brilliant photo essay featured on Michael O’Hagan’s research blog, POWS in Canada. The photos illustrate the experience of thirty-nine German POWS who were transported to Clearwater, British Columbia in December 1944 to work for the Swanson Lumber Co. O’Hagan provides an overview of the circumstances surrounding the employment of POWs in the lumber industry and other industries lacking civilian labour sources during World War II. O’Hagan uses historical photographs to explore the day-to-day life of these POWs.

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: “Poinsettia-081” by VinceFL is licensed under 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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