#EnvHist Worth Reading: April 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 April 2023:

1. On Vinyl: A Brief History of East Palestine’s Toxic Train Disaster

In February 2023, a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio released vinyl chloride and other chemicals used to make plastics into the local environment. In this piece for Orion Magazine, Rebecca Altman traces the history of the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and the way that this material became ubiquitous in our society. Tracing PVC across the Pacific to Minamata, Japan, Altman underlines the toxic legacy of global plastic production. “The East Palestine disaster makes plain just how many communities are enveloped by plastics and have experienced both routine releases and environmental disasters linked to its production,” Altman writes.

2. Pennyroyal, Mifepristone, and the Long History of Medication Abortions

Kathleen Crowther reminds us, in this piece for Nursing Clio, that the history of medicine is deeply intertwined with our relationship to plants and the environment. Specifically, Crowther looks at the over two thousand year-old use of pennyroyal as an abortifacient, and reminds us that surgical abortions are a relatively new procedure. Before the 20th century, all abortions were medical abortions using pennyroyal and other plant medicines. Crowther connects this long-history to current efforts in the United States to ban the use of mifepristone and misoprostol for medical abortions.

3. For Uganda’s vanishing glaciers, time is running out

In this Grist / Yale 360 piece, John Wendle shifts our climate focus from the northern global climes to Africa and Uganda’s vanishing glaciers in the Rwenzori Mountains. “Glaciers in the far less studied Rwenzoris covered an estimated 2.5 square miles in 1906; in 2003, they covered less than 1 square mile. Today, they are even smaller,” Wendle writes. Providing on-the-ground descriptions of the region, Wendle provides descriptions of the impact of climate change on the human and more-than-human populations. Wendle provides images and descriptions of the change in glaciers in Uganda from the early 1900s to today and discusses how, since the Rwenzoris are rarely visited, photographs of the mountains are especially valuable for studying glacier recession.

4. From Drought to Deluge: The Story of the Biggest, Wettest Winter in Western History

In this LAist piece, Erin Stone looks back at late 1861/early 1862, when a long drought in southern California was broken by twenty-eight days of rain. Historian, Will Cowan, comments that this winter, which came to be known as “The Big Winter,” is one of the wettest and coldest winters in recorded Western US history. Flooding of the region’s rivers was severe, causing human and animal deaths and devastating the region’s economy. The 1862 floods were caused by an atmospheric rivers, weather events that threaten to increase into the future due to climate change. Stone explores the engineering efforts that came after the Winter of 1862 and how the impacts of this engineering are now affecting the current population.

5. “City In Siege”- 1950 Winnipeg Manitoba Flood Documentary (1950)

The 1950 Red River flood was a mass-scale event that occurred between April 15 and June 12, 1950, resulting in the evacuation of ~100,000 residents. In April, Canada 150 Archive published this documentary from the time, which looks at the damage and the disaster response in the region.

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: “Мята болотная (Мята блошница) / Mentha pulegium / Pennyroyal (Squaw mint, Mosquito plant, Pudding grass) / Блатна мента / Polei-Minze” by katunchik is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
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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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