#EnvHist Worth Reading: June 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 June 2023:

1. From Plantations to Petrochemicals

In this piece for Sierra Club, Dana Drugmand traces the history of environmental racism in Louisiana, focusing on an area known as “Cancer Alley.” Drugmand highlights the activism of local residents who are fighting the petrochemical industry in the region. Drugmand paraphrases the words of Ashley Rogers, executive director of the Whitney Plantation: “During the 20th century after the abolition of slavery, the area’s sugarcane plantations took up mechanical harvesting methods and adopted pesticides and fertilizers derived from oil. By the middle of the century, the petrochemical industry began taking over the land to repurpose it for their polluting operations.” Drugmand also highlights how the historical site, Whitney Plantation, is educating the public on this history.

2. The secret movement bringing Europe’s wildlife back from the brink

In this article for .coda, Isobel Cockerell unveils the history of rogue rewilding efforts in Europe. There are people, both formally trained conservationists and scientists and members of the general public, across Europe who have been illegally releasing endangered and rare animals – from beavers to butterflies – into the landscape for decades. Cockerell covers multiple sides of this issue, speaking with some of these maverick rewilders, their supporters, and their critics, particularly agricultural communities. Cockerell’s coverage highlights the complexity of the rewilding issue.

3. How a sacred rock found its way back to its original stewards

In this CBC article, Terri Trembath covers the return of a sacred rock to Siksika First Nation (Treaty #7 territory, Alberta, Canada). The rock was taken from the First Nation in the 1930s, when William Postill moved the rock to his family’s homestead in the 1930s. William’s son, Frank Postill, is the individual who contacted the Siksika First Nation to return the rock. The rock will now be displayed at a local park. “We wanted to tell that story and bring that history back and also the more of our people that can see history, not just read it but touch history, it brings that pride,” Ouray Crowfoot, Siksika Chief, said. 

4. Empire, Nature and Agrarian World: A History of Rhino Preservation in Kaziranga Game Reserve, India (1902–1938)

In this piece for the White Horse Press Blog, Biswajit Sarmah introduces his recent Environment and History article on rhino preservation in India. Sarmah notes how a hyper-focus on the conservation of charismatic megafauna can lead to too much focus on the animal can lead to oversimplified narratives that pit protagonists (governments, conservationists) against conservation opponents (peasants, illegal hunters) without room for nuance. In the case of India’s rhino conservation story, Sarmah argues that “situating conservation in the agro-ecological context helps recover a history that exceeds the narratives of conflicts and dispossession to reflect on alliances and accommodation.”

5. The Seagulls

This episode of RadioLab is an excellent historical example of queer ecology, focusing on a 1970s study of a colony of seagulls off the coast of California that had a high number of female couples nesting and raising chicks together. The host, Lulu Miller, recounts her personal reaction and journey with this story. It ends, however, with Miller questioning the significance of the seagull story because it appears that the colony was a “fluke.” She suggests that humans may have imbued too much of their own cultural understanding and hopes on the seagull colony. I was a bit taken aback by Miller’s conclusion, so I would love to hear what others think!

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: “The beautiful chemical plants visable from the LA state capitol” by mariogirl is licensed under CC BY-NC-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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