#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 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 December 2023:

1. Continent of Fire

In this Inside Story article, Tom Griffiths looks back on Australia’s 2019-2020 fire season, popularly referred to as the “Black Summer,” through a historical lens in order to suss out what was new about this recent fire season. He focuses on seven specific firestorms that occurred in southeastern Australia between 1850 and 2009, providing overviews of each event. He argues that “a long historical perspective can help us come to terms with ‘disasters’ and even ameliorate them, but most significantly it can also enable us to see beyond the idea of fire as disaster.”

2. The Story of the Indigenous Wool Dog Told Through Oral Histories and DNA

This article by Devon Bidal for Hakai Magazine outlines transdisciplinary efforts that have uncovered some ancient animal history and some of the origins behind the Coast Salish practice of canine husbandry. Bidal tells the story of how Audrey Lin, a molecular evolutionary biologist, became interested in the extinct breed of fluffy white dogs, known as Coast Salish wooly dogs, and then took it upon herself to map the genome of Mutton, a 160 year-old-dog, whose pelt is housed in the Smithsonian. With the permission of the Stó:lō Nation, Lin mapped the dog’s DNA and found that he was around 84% wooly dog. Bidal then explores the cultural significance of the dog to the Coast Salish peoples, and how the stories of the dogs have been passed down through generations.

3. What’s in a Bottle? Conquest and the Origins of California Wine

In “What’s in a Bottle?” Julia Ornelas-Higdon outlines the racial and class history of California’s wine industry. “[The] history of the genesis of California’s storied wine industry is the story of diverse groups who planted vineyards and fermented wine against the backdrop of conquest and colonization that defined the region in the 18th and 19th centuries,” Ornelas-Higdon writes. She outlines the role of Mexican-Americans in the development of the industry, as well as the Indigenous, German immigrant, Chinese immigrant labour. This history of labour and wine-making, Ornelas-Higdon, challenges the romantic imagery that characterizes the industry in the popular imagination.

4. Mei Foo Lamps: Standard Oil’s Old Technology and New Frontier

In this short article for Modernism/modernity, Yandong Li shares how the Standard Oil Company tried to move into Eastern markets, namely China, by creating a lamp that was specifically designed to appeal to Chinese consumers; this lamp was called the Mei Foo lamp. “The Mei Foo lamp and kerosene oil were innovative and technology-forward objects in China,” Li writes. Li provides some great imagery from the archives of the marketing materials for this lamp. It is a great example of how energy, technology, and consumerism bonded together to proliferate the use of fossil fuels globally.

5. The Winterkeeper: a lifetime spent protecting Yellowstone National Park

This Guardian video features Steven Fuller, who has been a winter caretaker at Yellowstone National Park for fifty years. Fuller offers some very personal commentary looking back on his long tenure in the park, particularly in regards to raising a family there. The video may be of particular interest to those thinking critically about the romanticization of national parks, as well as their whiteness. For instance, at one point in the video it is suggested that he is the person who has lived the longest on this land ever, which seems to erase the presence of Indigenous peoples in the area long before the park existed!

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: “Wildfires surround Sydney, Australia” by NASA Johnson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 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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