#EnvHist Worth Reading: November 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 November 2023:

1. The 20 Farming Families Who Use More Water From the Colorado River Than Some Western States

You know I love a good ProPublica investigation, and this one hones in on the (un)surprising monopoly that a relatively few farming families have on the water of the Colorado River. Using some effective digital imagery, Nat Lash of ProPublica and Janel Wilson of The Desert Sun show findings from their investigation of water use in California’s Imperial Irrigation District in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River that shows that twenty farming families used consumed the majority of the water available. Outlining the history of agriculture in the region, Lash and Wilson then provide specific water-use stats on each of the families, including what crops they are using the water to grow.

2. In the Teeth of History: Dental Decay in the Longue Durée

I don’t encounter the longue durée often now that I’m out of grad school, which is what first piqued my interest in this Springs article by Frank Zelko, who is working on a history of fluoridation that focuses on the twentieth century. This article, however, represents a departure from this timeframe, as Zelko zooms out to ask when tooth decay became a significant problem. I really appreciate Zelko’s discussion of the mouth as its on ecosystem. “The mouth,” he writes, “as well as being connected to the rest of the body, is subject to inputs and outputs that are frequently determined by economic circumstances and cultural preferences.” Different dental bacteria colonize different areas of the mouth and are more prevalent in some periods or in some geographic locations or in some foods. I really enjoyed this foray into our relationship with microbiota, and I think I’m craving more of this kind of research.

3. Radioactive Cows: What Oppenheimer Didn’t Tell You About the Atomic Bomb

In this piece for Agricultural History, Annamaria Haden takes on the 2023 film, Oppenheimer‘s portrayal of the Trinity blast that shows it as an empty desert, which it was most certainly not. One of the first populations of beings to be affected by the blast, Haden tells, is a herd of over 300 cattle that were around thirty miles away from the blast site. “These radioactive cows from the Trinity test spurred a vast effort to understand the consequences of radiation and justify the continuation of Cold War development of nuclear technology despite growing atomic anxieties in the country,” Haden writes. These cows appeared to be or were able to be presented to the public as “normal” and thus were hailed as examples of America’s “confident control of nuclear power.”

4. Climate Adaptation and Fertility Decisions

This article published on the website of the London School of Economics, highlights the research of Eoin Dignam, a PhD Student who is studying how climate affects fertility decisions through time. Using data from 19th century France and quantitative methods, Dignam “shows that higher summer temperatures are associated with higher fertility, which is caused by adaptations to higher temperatures in the agricultural sector.” I don’t dabble very often in this kind of theoretical and quantitative economic history, so I really appreciated the way that Dignam breaks down his research and methodology here.

5. The Perfect Tree – The Green Tunnel Podcast

This episode of The Green Tunnel Podcast, a podcast about the Appalachian Trail that I enjoy from time to time, is a fantastic deep-dive into the history of the American chestnut and current efforts to repopulate the Appalachian Mountains with this near-extinct tree species. The full transcript of the episode is available on their website.

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: “American Chestnut” by BobMacInnes is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
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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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