#EnvHist Worth Reading: February 2023

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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 February 2023:

1. How the seeds of environmental racism were planted in the Progressive Era

This Grist article is adapted from Nick Tabor’s new book, Africatown: America’s Last Slave Ship and the Community It Created. Africatown is a community on the outskirts of Mobile, Alabama that was established by West Africans who survived the Middle Passage from Africa on the last slave ship brought to the United States in 1860. In the article, Tabor discusses how the community has acted as an industrial dumping ground throughout its history. Tabor argues that “Africatown’s history reveals just how far into the past American environmental racism stretches, even though the term itself didn’t enter the lexicon until just a few decades ago.” Tabor’s overarching argument is that policies adopted during the Progressive Era set in motion many of the environmental racism issues the community faces today.

2. The Equestrian Suburb of Latine Los Angeles

In this Arcadia article, Fernando Amador examines the case of California’s Avocado Heights, a community of 13,000 residents that was declared an equestrian district in 1991. This means that pedestrians and motorists share the roadways with horses and their riders. Amador argues that it is the Mexican heritage of the immigrants that reside in the community and their resistance to being subsumed by larger Los Angeles-area communities that shaped the particular equine nature of it. Amador describes the unique suburban, equine culture that thrives in the community.

3. Swamp Feelings

In this article for Edge Effects, Nino McQuown takes a detailed look at American novelist Annie Proulx’s new book, Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis. “The book is a love letter to the excessiveness and otherness of wetlands, but it is also a book of mourning,” they write. Proulx examines the book in relation to Proulx’ fiction writing, particularly her repeated examination of whiteness. McQuown is critical of the ‘bad feelings’ that dominate the book. “Telling the history of wetlands as only a record of white feelings acted out on the peat means telling a history of unceasing dominance and subjugation, of nature passive and unresisting,” they contend.

4. Defending Water Against a Mine: Hydrous Sociality, Environmental Struggles, and Popular Consultations in Columbia

In this piece for Environmental History Now, Ángela Castillo Ardila looks at the Columbian town of Piedras, where in 2012, due to its geographic characteristics, the Anglo Gold Company attempted to establish a mining processing plant and tailings dam. Ardila explains the local referendum process used in Colombia to challenge projects and how the citizens of Piedras organized against the mining industry project proposal. “Piedras’ consultation was the first time in the country’s history that a group of citizens used a constitutionally mandated form of direct democracy to intrude into the established protocol used to initiate mining development,” she writes.

5. Sands, Lupines and the Ecology of the Uncultivable

Using a quote from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac about sand and lupines as a starting point, Dotan Halavy looks at the history of farmers, sand, and lupines in Palestine’s Gaza in this blog post for White Horse Press, which originally appeared in Environment and History. Halavy notes that they found many appeals in the archive of local farmers testifying to British authorities that they were sowing lupines in the sand dunes outside the city. Sharing several finds from the archive, Halavy weaves a tale about British perceptions of cultivable and uncultivable landscapes. “The cultivation of lupines didn’t only challenge the British enclosing of the sands, but also the theorem behind it – the distinction between cultivable and uncultivable lands,” Halavy concludes.

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: “File:Welcome to Africatown (cropped).jpg” by Graveyardwalker (Amy Walker) is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
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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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