#EnvHist Worth Reading: July 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 July 2023:

1. 19th-Century Map Shows That Beaver Dams Can Last Over a Century

In this piece for My Modern Met, Madeleine Muzdakis looks at the work of Lewis Henry Morgan, who published The American Beaver and His Works in 1868. The book included Morgan’s observations and drawings of beaver dams in the Ishpeming, Michigan area. Muzdakis discusses how a recent study conducted by ecologist Carol Johnston has shown, using modern aerial footage, that in the past 150 years beavers in the area have maintained many of the structures that Morgan documented, demonstrating intergenerational care that stretches centuries.

2. Masts Like a Forest

In this Aeon article, Ian M. Miller looks at the role of trees in China Qing dynasty’s history and how they shaped the dynasty’s naval success in the 15th to 18th centuries. “In this era,” Miller writes, “before widespread use of coal and oil, before uranium, lithium and cobalt, governments needed wood for nearly everything: firewood and charcoal to fuel smelters; timber for temples and palaces, shops and factories, bridges and dikes; but, most of all, they needed wood for ships.” Miller examines specific regions and the trees that were harvested in these areas, from the China fir to the nanmu, and the stories that these trees unveil about the treatment of people and the land.

3. Bison Return to Native American Lands, Revitalizing Sacred Rituals

The past several years have seen an uptick in the number of bison reintroductions being organized in both Canada and the United States. In this article for The New York Times, Mike Ives covers the reintroduction of bison to Eastern Shoshone lands in Wyoming and the cultural significance of this reintroduction. Touching upon the historical events that led to the near-extinction of bison and its connection to colonial violence, Ives looks at how the Shoshone reintroduction relates to other reintroductions in the United States, the larger political forces involved, and the ecological and cultural implications.

4. In search of lost fruit: the explorers tracking down ancient trees before they are gone forever

Emily Cataneo sheds light on the activities and motivations of “fruit explorers” or folks who are “a horticultural enthusiast[s] who roams the United States searching for the last cultivars of old, rare or important plants,” in this article for The Guardian. The goal of fruit explorers is to track down trees and other plant specimens and graft them before their genetics are lost. Cataneo writes that these individuals are driven by a love for the history behind these plants, but also a desire to replace the current monocultural trend of American agriculture with a more diverse, permacultural food system.

5. A River Runs Above Us

In this long-read Hakai Magazine article, Serena Renner revisits the November 2021 flooding in British Columbia’s Fraser River valley, looking closely at the meteorological phenomenon known as an atmospheric river that contributed to the flooding. Interviewing Indigenous peoples living in the Fraser River valley, Renner shows how “members of Semá:th First Nation have begun advocating to revive at least part of Sumas Lake for the ecosystem and Stó:lō culture, and also for flood control and natural water storage that will make the region more resilient against future disasters.” Renner uses this British Columbia example as an artful jumping off point for discussing the history of science and environmental engineering that connects BC with similar issues in California.

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: Beaver Dam Still in Use, Beaver Creek, Charlton Island (Nunavut), July 1929. Credit: Alf Erling Porsild / Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds / Library and Archives Canada / a095749-v8
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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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