#EnvHist Worth Reading: May 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 May 2023:

1. Whales Have Attacked Plenty of Boats Before. This Time Is Different.

In May 2023, reports of [traumatized] orcas attacking and overturning boats ran rampant on the internet. People embraced these whales as a symbol of “grassroots organizing” against capitalist and other forces. In this article for Slate, Anna Guasco points out that stories of whales attacking boats in nothing new in the historical record, though our heroization and anthropomorphization of these more-than-human actions may be more recent. Guasco looks at this history and the transition that whales have made from “devil fish to friendly whale,” finally focusing on what makes this particular moment special. “This moment of celebration offers a window into what it might look like to move out of the idea that whales can be either dangerous monsters or priceless objects worthy of protection. Maybe joining the orca war can be an act of radical solidarity with both other people and other beings—if we orca-nize carefully,” Guasco concludes.

2. Perfect Mothers, Perfect Flowers: Gender and the Cut Flower Industry’s Creation of a Commercialized Mother’s Day

I don’t like getting flowers. In fact, I’ve been known to have panic attacks after receiving flowers from a partner. The waste of money on something so temporary and environmentally destructive has always made me nauseated. So, this, my first Mother’s Day with a babe, led to me, Curmudgeon DeWitt, explaining several times, “no, please don’t get me flowers.” In this article for the Agricultural History Society, Kaitlin Simpson recounts the history of the association between flowers and the celebration of motherhood. “To increase sales, retail florists and growers of the early twentieth century played on the era’s notions of “proper” motherhood, linking the day with femininity, purity, and domesticity – qualities they also saw as inherent in flowers themselves,” Simpson writes.

3. Trapping Black Bears in the Great Dismal Swamp

In this article for the Virginia Folklike Program, Perri Meldon asks “What can bear hunting traditions teach us about race, class, and changing landscapes in Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp?” Meldon explains how bears that live in the mountains and swamp have developed different behaviours, which effect the way that the animals interact with humans. She discusses the tension between subsistence hunters – made up of Indigenous, poor white, and Black residents – and wealthy, white bear hunters in the region. Interweaving oral history, Meldon also includes audio recordings of Mike Lane, who trapped and studied bears in Shenandoah National Park and the Great Dismal Swamp in the 1980s.

4. A tale of two deserts: Are Saudi cows to blame for Arizona’s water crisis?

In Arizona, there is a farm owned by Saudis that uses a great deal of water to grow alfalfa to feed camels in the Middle East. This farm is the subject of much ire on the part of Arizona residents. In this episode of the Outside/In podcast, they “dig deep into the history of Arizona’s water crisis and uncover a tale of dates, camels and dairy cows — and try to find out who’s really to blame for the West’s water crisis.”

5. Sailing to Conquest

In May, Rebecca Tyson produced a series of videos that cover her research fieldwork while she sailed around the English Channel, exploring “the landscapes and seascapes of the Norman invasion of England in 1066.” Tyson’s set of nine videos provides a peek into an unique research process, as well as an example of how valuable experiencing one’s landscape of research firsthand can be.

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: Killer whale = L’épaulard [philatelic record], Postage Stamp. Credit: Library and Archives Canada; Copyright: Canada Post Corporation
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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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