#EnvHist Worth Reading: January 2024

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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 January 2024:

1. Your New Year’s Resolution to Carry a Water Bottle Has a History

Between TikToks telling me about all the micro and nanoplastics in plastic water bottles on my For You Page and the popular hubbub around Stanley cups, I’ve been thinking about water bottles and drinking water a lot as of late, and I’ve also found myself thinking back to this Time article by Emily J.H. Contois from the beginning of the month. Using the common New Year’s resolution of drinking more water as a jumping off point, Contois looks at the environmental, medical, and cultural history of water drinking, including the decline of public water fountains.

2. People and animals: A shared history, shared cruelties

In this article, Sandra Swart looks at South Africa’s Natives Land Act of 1913, which barred Black people from buying and occupying land and was a critical step on the country’s path towards Apartheid. Swart specifically looks at this act from the viewpoint of animal history, which she argues changes the way we think about this period of history. Swart shows how livestock and access to grazing were central to the racial and class conflict that preceded and grew out of the act. She also explores how evolving understandings of “cruelty” in the 19th and early 20th centuries demonstrate interconnected histories between humans and more-than-humans.

3. Down on the Bayou: The 1930s Forest Service Photos of Robert K. Winters

This post by Eben Lehman for the Forest History Society highlights the photographs of Robert K. Winters, which have been recently digitized and added to the society’s image database. Robert K. Winters worked for the U.S. Forest Service in New Orleans during the 1930s. Lehman writes that “Winters took hundreds of photos depicting forest surveys, tree types, logging practices, forest management, and other things of interest throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and other locations in the southern U.S.” And these photographs are really cool! There’s a few in the post to peruse, and I recommend it!

4. We once killed 600,000 koalas in a year. Now they’re Australia’s ‘teddy bears’. What changed?

In this piece for The Conversation, Ruby Ekkel looks at the history of Australia’s changing attitude toward koalas. Though these cuddly marsupials are nearly universally loved today, Ekkel shows that this wasn’t always the case. In 1927, Queensland organized a mass killing of koalas that led to over 600,000 being shot, trapped, and poisoned. The government thought this open season would be a boon to morale during a hard economic time. Ekkel writes of the strong backlash against this killing that led to what could be considered the country’s first organized conservationist campaign, as well as spurring the creation of wildlife societies, national parks, and the like. Ekkel concludes that ironically, despite the koala now being a beloved species, humans have not been able to save them from the threats of wildfire, habitat loss, and disease.

5. Propaganimals: Using the Lion to Politicize Geography

In this blog post for the Library of Congress, Carissa Pastuch looks at one particular kind of historical zoomorphic map: the lion. “One popular technique employed by cartographers to politicize geography in the 16th and 17th centuries was to portray land forms—particularly those of empires and budding nations—as animals,” Pastuch writes. Leo Belgicus, a 1583 map of the Low Countries (present-day Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg or Benelux Countries and Northern France) is one of the most well-known instances of a lion map. Pastuch provides three examples of these maps, which are really detailed. One can get lost in looking at the details of these maps for quite some time!

Feature Image: “Koala” by jcoterhals 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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