#EnvHist Worth Reading: August 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 August 2023:

1. Unmasking Petro-Utopias in Iran: Searching for Acts of Refusal and Solidarity in the British Petroleum Archives

This article from Ajam Media Collective highlights the doctoral research of Sanaz Sohrabi, “which is an ethnography of the visual history of the Iranian oil industry through the prism of the archives of British Petroleum (BP).” Sohrabi shares many of her archival finds, which makes the article visually fascinating. Not only that, Sohrabi’s discussion of her own memories of her uncles and relatives telling stories of working for the National Iranian Oil Company. Sohrabi describes her research experience and the ways that BP’s narrative of nostalgia surrounding this history is in contention with her findings. “Our task now is to approach the archive as a battleground wherein we have to construct through the absences and retrieve the voices of its workers from the shadow of extraction,” she writes.

2. Difficult Terrain: How the Complex History of Canada’s National Parks and Historic Sites Can Help Us Find a Better Way Forward

I initially came across this CBC article by Leisha Grebinski and Candice Lipski because it links to our “Getting into Hot Water: Racism and Exclusion at Banff National Park” article by Meg Stanley and Tina Loo. Based on the traffic to our site, this article was popular with the public, and I appreciate that a major news site published on the complicated history of Canada’s national parks. Grebinski and Lipski cover several topics in the article, including land transfers at Batoche, the history of forced labour in the parks, and issues of gender, sexuality, and race in the parks.

3. America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow

This New York Times long-read by Mira Rojanasakul, Christopher Flavelle, Blacki Migliozzi and Eli Murray highlights the groundwater crisis in the United States, focusing on over 80,000 wells that have been monitored since the 1920s. Since the 1980s, the water levels in nearly half of these wells has diminished considerably. The authors note that with climate change we often think of the land and sky, which has us failing to take notice of this groundwater depletion. The article is illustrated really effectively with data visualization and photography. The authors discuss the role of agriculture historically and today, as well as state policy, in contributing to this problem, and look at the geographical changes that are occurring due to the absence of groundwater.

4. How 19th-century pineapple plantations turned Maui into a tinderbox

The devastating fires in Maui in August has many discussing the Lahaina fire’s connection to climate change, but this Guardian article by Claire Wang reminds us that climate change does not act separately from other natural forces and historical and contemporary human contexts. Wang writes that “more than a century and a half of plantation agriculture, driven by American and European colonists, have depleted Lahaina’s streams and turned biodiverse food forests into tinderboxes.” Wang provides an overview of the ecological changes that colonial plantations brought to the island, and discusses recent efforts by native Hawaiians to reclaim their water rights.

5. Of Lab Mice and Men

In this episode of Outside/In Radio, they look at the origins of lab mice, the lineage of whom can be nearly all be traced back to a laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. The episode looks at this history, including its connections to eugenics, and talks to current scientists that experiment on lab mice to frankly discuss the moral implications of our dependence on animal experimentation. This episode particularly stuck out to me after editing “A Model Organism Triptych: A Vacanti Mouse, a Ticklish Rat, and A Pain-Free Mouse” for our Emotional Ecologies series last month, which provides three short vignettes that explore the inner emotional worlds’ of lab mice and rats.

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: Red Rock Canyon, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. [Red Rock Canyon, parc national des Lacs-Waterton, Alberta.] 1949. Credit: Office National du Film du Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada
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is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States, editor, project manager, 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). Additionally, she is the Managing Editor for the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon and a Coordinating Team member of Showing Up for Racial Justice Saskatoon-Treaty Six. 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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