+ Note on these notes
I began this project for selfish reasons, thinking that having to post these notes would help me to be thorough in my preparation for oral exams, but hopefully you will find them useful as well. The "In Briefs", are my summary sound-bytes, condensed, without judgment, and mainly focused on the author’s argument and contribution with reference to their key evidence. Some summaries are a bit circular, which may reflect the author’s uncertainty or the fact that it was the tenth one written that day. I tried to write these summaries in my own words, which could help you understand a book you have already read even if my use of language is sometimes less specific than that of the author. The “Questions" are rather blunt and they suggest one of the primary goals of the author’s inquiry. The “Quotes,” usually 3 or 4 selected sentences, should be read with due caution. They are not intended to reveal the argument so much as indicators of the author’s style, analytical methods, and often really interesting details that will encourage you to read the book in full. Lastly, the “Conversations" are books that came before and after publication; and the connections I make are not always ones that the authors always made themselves even though the overlap can be quite substantial.
+ 1937, Donald Creighton, The Empire of the St. Lawrence
In Brief: Creighton writes about the period from 1760-1850 when Canadian merchants centered around Montreal used the St. Lawrence River as an inspiration for a commercial empire that would also necessarily be a political world. The river was a natural link between the heart of Canada and the markets across the Atlantic. Yet in the face of British imperial policy, the success of the Empire State’s Erie Canal, and the river’s own weaknesses in terms of its sheer scale and obstacles, this commercial world had crumbled by 1849.
Questions: How did Canada come to be? How was its history shaped by the St. Lawrence River?
Quotes: “Those who believed in the future of the Canadian economy never doubted, despite all the reverses of the past years, that the St. Lawrence would remain the great channel for the developing commerce of the new west.”(141) “Above all, the river remained, the river which cared not whether it was valued or neglected, the river which would outlast all the ships that sailed upon it and survive all the schemes which it could possibly inspire.” (383)
Conversations: Collier, Three Against the Wilderness; Taylor, Civil War of 1812; Zeisler-Vralsted, Rivers, Memory, and Nation Building; Greer, The People of New France
+ 1959, Eric Collier, Three Against the Wilderness
In Brief: In order to survive in the woods of British Columbia, Eric Collier and his family did not simply try and take whatever they could from the land, as many trappers and ranchers had before them, instead they understood that their path to success lay in the restoration of the land (and water). By the 1920s beavers had been extirpated from the Meldrum Creek area, along with most of the other tributaries of the Fraser River. At first the Colliers set about rebuilding dams themselves to restore streams and lakes, but with help they eventually reintroduced beavers who made even better engineers–even if they sometimes cut down trees that the Colliers used to shade their home. This is an engaging story of life in the woods and of a trapper with an eye on the long-term who tries to understand the relationship between the health of the land, beavers, and the First Nation people, ranchers, other trappers, and game wardens who called these woods home. The benefits of such engagement quickly become obvious for Collier and his readers.
Questions: How can you restore the land? What is the connection between sustainability and survival?
Quotes: “The prime function in the life cycle of a beaver is the conservation of water, and he cannot fulfill that function without leaving a sign behind him.” (64) “Our wastelands were beginning to produce.” (112) “No man can hope to survive long in a wilderness without killing.” (232)
Conversations: Sutter, Let Us Praise Famous Gullies; Cronon, Changes in the Land
+ 1982, Stephen J. Pyne, Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire
In Brief: Fire history is human history and vice versa. While Native Americans used fire extensively to manage lands for hunting or even in warfare, early European settlers assumed that the landscapes they encountered were essentially untouched rather than the millennia they had been managed through the use of fire, which had in fact laid the groundwork for European settlement. Settlers also used fire, especially through the slash and burn techniques. But with the advent of industrial forestry in the United States fire was considered an enemy rather than ally, given the sole focus of protecting marketable timber. Fire and its uses differed throughout the United States, in the South there was a particularly robust fire culture which kept back the lush vegetation, controlled pests, and helped to limit the impact of larger fires. With ideas about the control of the environment and with the political power that came from fighting fires, the National Forest Service focused on excluding fires, which scientists and the public alike later learned was at least as great an alteration of the environment as setting fires.
Questions: How has fire shaped the history of the United States? How have different cultures used fire or its exclusion to shape their environment?
Quotes: "The necessity for decomposition on a grand scale is such that if fire did not exist, nature would have to invent it.” (35) “Broadcast fire sometimes served as a means of economic extortion, and it was commonly employed for military objectives, both a tactical weapon and as a strategic scorched-earth policy.” (72) “Wildland fire protection was in a sense a vanguard of industrialism.” (151) “The real conflict was between frontier and agrarian fire practices on the one hand and industrial fire practices on the other.” (183)
Conversations: Cronon, Changes in the Land; Klubock, La Frontera; Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature
+ 1985, Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History
In Brief: Beginning in the 17th century the British began producing sugar on plantations in the West Indies, and Mintz argues that these plantations paved the way for industrial capitalism in both obvious and surprising ways. Elites gained capital and an understanding about how to organize labor. Over time the price of sugar fell, transforming it from a luxury to a staple of the working class; a change that benefited metropolitan industrialists at the expense of the plantations. As women entered the factories they could cook less and feed their families more jams and other sugar-rich foods to compensate. The working class saw sugar consumption as a new choice, one that had previously been limited to the elite, when in fact their choices were rather constrained and also isolated. While only a few people benefited from sugar, either on the plantations or in the factories of England, all of these places were linked by sugar.
Questions: What is the link between the production and consumption of sugar? How did sugar contribute to the industrial revolution?
Quotes: “These were, of course, agricultural undertakings, but because so much of the industrial processing of the cane was also carried out on the plantations, it makes good sense to view the plantations as a synthesis of field and factory.” (47-8) “Yet, at the same time, the caloric increase provided by sugar was had at the cost of alternative nutrition of a better kind.” (146) “The readiness of working people to work harder in order to be able to earn–and thus consume–more was a crucial feature of the evolution of modern patterns of eating.” (180)
Conversations: Soluri, Banana Cultures; McNeill, Mosquito Empires; Platt, Shock Cities
+ 1986, Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900
In Brief: The roots of Europeans’ successful spread around the world rested on their initial isolation once Pangea separated into multiple continents, allowing for the development of distinct plants and animals. When the winds and ships allowed for the reconnection of these continents, Europeans did the best in Neo-Europes, places that were the most similar to Europe’s climate and landscape, and it was their weeds, crops, animals, and diseases that laid the groundwork for their new settlements and conquest. In places either colder or hotter than Europe they achieved far less success. Weeds like clover took advantage of the resulting disturbances and then provided forage for European cattle even as they faced fewer endemic pests themselves. Crosby also suggests that earlier migrants to these neo-Europes had caused the extinction of the local mega-fauna, leaving a valuable niche for the pigs and cows of Europe.
Questions: What accounts for the dispersion of Europeans across certain regions of the globe and not others? How did plants and animals make colonialism possible?
Quotes: "The greatest advantage of the Norse in the Atlantic, in addition to their own amazing capabilities, was the ship they sailed.” (46) “Disease was the most important factor dictating that hot, wet America would be a land of racial mixture.” (141) “Niguas, as Fernando de Oviedo called the tropical American chigger causing barefoot Spaniards so much trouble in the sixteenth century, reached Africa in 1872 and speed across the continent as an epidemic of lost toes and fatal secondary infections of tetanus, but it has since retreated to the nuisance category and has never changed the Old World’s demographic history.” (216)
Conversations: McNeill, Mosquito Empires; Dean, With Broadax and Firebrand; Carney, Black Rice; Melville, A Plague of Sheep
+ 1989, Ramachandra Guha, The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya
In Brief: Guha focuses on the moral economy of the peasants of central Himalaya, from pre-colonialism to the present, or the 1980s anyways. This book is wide-ranging, drawing comparisons with French peasants or Genovese’s concept of paternalism, yet it is also insistently specific and Guha cautions against coopting the Chipko movement for every global environmental problem. British colonialism brought with it an increasing alienation from nature and peasants intensified their resistance, sometimes further destroying the forest to keep the scientific foresters out of their communities. Peasants bore the costs of state intervention in their lives and the forests on which they depended. The Chipko movement can trace its roots back to peasant protests directed towards the old Kings, but it was also in direct response to the devastating social and ecological effects of deforestation.
Questions: What are the origins of the Chipko process? How do different communities respond to an encroaching state and capitalism?
Quotes: "The erosion of social bonds which had regulated the customary use of the forests thus led to what can be described as an alienation of humans from nature.” (56) “But in the transition to capitalism it is peasants who have more frequently invoked custom, for it is they who stand to lose most from enclosure, state forest management, or the mechanization of agricultural work.” (92) “The overwhelming importance of agriculture obscures one crucial fact: that while farming systems in the Himalaya continue to be subsistence-oriented, cumulative social and environmental changes have undermined the hill society’s capacity to feed itself.” (144) “In the act of embracing the trees, therefore, they are acting not merely as women but as bearers of continuity with the past in a community threatened with fragmentation.” (175)
Conversations: Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism; Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll; Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature; Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness
+ 1990, Timothy Silver, A New Face on the Countryside: Indians, Colonists, and Slaves in South Atlantic Forests, 1500-1800
In Brief: Silver makes it clear that all of the people living in the southern colonies contributed to the transformation of the landscape from 1500 to 1800. Native Americans had long shaped the landscape through interventions such as fire, but they readily consumed firearms and peaches, and participated in the deerskin trade of the colonists. The colonists in turn ended up adopting Indian farming practices. They also adapted to their environment and on their rice plantations they planted and harvested rice in time to avoid the annual bobolink migration. Turpentine and tar production relied on slave labor while diminishing the longleaf forests with every year. Europeans no doubt intensified the rate of change, but Silver does not focus on this change as declension so much as he emphasizes people’s remarkable ability to make environmental adaptations.
Questions: How did people adapt to a changing environment? How did changes in the landscape reflect the effects of colonialism?
Quotes: “But although both groups participated willingly at first, biological and cultural forces combined to make the partnership unequal.” (102) “The growing importance of shingle making along the South Atlantic coast probably resulted in part from the depletion of cedar supplies farther north.” (119) “Indians and colonists hunting deer frequently left the skinned carcasses in the woods, providing a ready source of food for the scavenging carnivores.” (176)
Conversations: Cronon, Changes in the Land; Stewart, What Nature Suffers to Croe; Pyne, Fire in American History
+ 1991, Ted Steinberg, Nature Incorporated
In Brief: The Boston Associates, known for their mills in Lowell and Lawrence, carried the industrial revolution far upstream from their mills on the Merrimack as they sought to turn the river and its water into a commodity for waterpower. Along the river in New Hampshire the innovations were primarily legal rather than technological, as farmers found their lands flooded and fisheries devastated by dams. The legal system increasingly supported the corporation’s sole focus on waterpower rather than local demands for less flooding and more control over their own water supply. Boston Associates faced both legal and physical assaults on their dams, which they could not ignore, but in this process they essentially turned a public resource into private property at the same time that laws like the mill acts limited individuals’ ability to control mill pollution.
Questions: How was a river privatized? How did changes in the law limit popular protest against environmental degradation?
Quotes: “In particular, as rivers moved into the matrix of production, as they clearly did throughout much of nineteenth-century New England, a far more exacting and manipulative attitude held sway.” (75) “Clearly there could be no strict adherence to the natural-flow rule without almost completely denying people the use of this valuable resource.” (141) “The state government could now legislate in favor of economic growth, but it decided the fate of the region’s ecology in the process.” (184)
Conversations: Cumbler, Reasonable Use; Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law (Part1); Johnson, Sam Patch
+ 1992, Norris Hundley Jr., The Great Thirst: Californians and Water, 1770s-1990s
In Brief: Native Americans and Spanish both used rivers to their advantage without requiring drastic changes or exclusive use, even as the Spanish used water to claim an empire. However the real imperialists in this story are the cities of San Francisco and especially Los Angeles, which used its pueblo water right to dominate the local watershed and then those far beyond its hinterlands. Hundley reveals a massive effort that relied on the collaboration of private and government interests to takeover distant waters, but this is a collection of water seekers, rather than a single hydraulic elite that Worster describes. LA laid claim to distant valleys, buying out whole communities to quash dissent, despite the fact that LA did not need the water for its survival, rather it needed water for its growth. And Hundley notes that the voters of LA, not simply the elite, voted for these measures to support growth. The federal and state government learned from and aided the ambitious projects emanating from these urban centers. Ultimately the environmental movement, elegant legal concepts such as public trust, and the increasing degradation of the environment itself slowed down this work and forced places like LA to learn to live with less water.
Questions: Who created and supported California’s hydraulic landscape? Why did the wider urban public support distant water projects?
Quotes: “Los Angeles has been the most aggressive and successful city in advancing such a claim and has persuaded the California courts to award it exclusive rights to the Los Angeles River and the runoff of the entire 500-square-mile watershed, a victory that helped assure Los Angeles’s emergence as the preeminent city of California and the West.” (49) “Unlike the appropriation doctrine, riparianism emphasized location and mere legal possession (that is, winning a piece of land through which a stream flowed), not priority of appropriation or even actual use of the water, as the prime considerations in establishing a water right.” (83) “The city has learned that rights to water do not automatically guarantee water.” (349) “Unlike Worster, they acknowledge the reality of population pressures which, they believe, are incompatible with the survival of uncontrolled nature.” (404)
Conversations:Worster, Rivers of Empire; Pisani, To Reclaim; Fiege, Irrigated Eden
+ 1994, Elinor G. K. Melville, A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico
In Brief: Focusing on a valley in 16th century Mexico, Melville uses Crosby’s framework and turns it on its head: this part of Mexico was never a neo-European climate, but the Spanish nonetheless remade the landscape from the Otomi’s developed agricultural landscape into a degraded desert. At the same time that the indigenous population suffered, especially its most productive members, from a virgin soil epidemic, the sheep population grew rapidly, putting further strains on the local system of farming and the environment as a whole, with sheep eating crops and plants down to the soil. The Spanish did not consciously intend to bring the indigenous people down by destroying their environment. They simply did not understand this new world. The shift from thickly populated, irrigated farms to pastoralism facilitated the Spanish takeover of property, and as the environment continued to decline in productivity this encouraged the consolidation of holdings into ever-larger parcels. Land rather livestock became a source of wealth and power. By the time the process was complete the Spanish could use their short memories to naturalize the poverty and underdevelopment of the region.
Questions: How do conquest and colonization complement each other? What role does the environment play in the political economy?
Quotes: “The Valle del Mezquital is interesting because what we are studying, in effect, is the evolution of an archetypical landscape that mystifies the nature of the environment of the region, making it seem as if regional underdevelopment is caused by inherent barrenness.” (15) “The Spaniards did not simply augment processes underway; rather, they changed the relationship between humans and their physical environment.”(59) “The Otomi are identified with the alien conquest landscape, not with the fertile, productive landscape of contact.” (115) “The hacienda as an effect rather than a cause.” (151)
Conversations: Crosby, Ecological Imperialism; Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep; Anderson, Creatures of Empire; Arnold, The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze
+ 1995, Richard White, Organic Machine
In Brief: White fills in a lot of information in this tiny, playful book on the history of the Columbia River. The river is an organic machine that defies categorization as either natural or artificial; it is an energy system to which flowing water and human labor both contribute. White pays close attention to the material parallels that come from following energy flows, but he gives equal attention to culture and language. The hybrid world that he describes shaped the dreams of boosters and environmentalists alike even as people lost sight of their ongoing connection to the river.
Questions: Why do we claim to dominate rivers? How does the study of energy reveal hybridity?
Quotes: “Seen one way, energy is an abstraction; seen another it is concrete as salmon, human bodies, and the Grand Coulee Dam.” (ix) “But mostly the river made them work, sweat, and hurt.” (7) “We conflate energy and power, the natural and the cultural, in language, but they are equally mixed as social fact at the rapids and portages.” (14) “The story, told simply, is that human labor dammed the Columbia so that the river could do work other than its own, so that human beings could live and work differently.” (59) “The Columbia, an organic machine, a virtual river, is at once our creation and retains a life of its own beyond our control.” (109)
Conversations: Environmental History
+ 1995, Jack Temple Kirby, Poquosin: A Study of Rural Landscapes and Society
In Brief: While planters went about their business in the lowlands, establishing permanent plantations with ready access to global markets, Kirby looks beyond the tidewater region to what he calls a middle landscape, the Poquosin, a wet and dry region in the hills that was at first cut off from the planter’s market. He also looks at the swamps themselves that were always wet until they were drained. Kirby pays special attention to Edmund Ruffin, the farmer planter who reappears in Mockingbird Song, and who understood the need for soil improvement if his and other plantations were to survive. Yet while Ruffin condemned the backward farmers for their hogs, shifting cultivation, and haphazard burning, these farmers were simply conforming to the land as the ashes countered the acidity of the soil, just as Ruffin had his slaves spread marl on his own plantation. The Great Dismal Swamp required even more conformity to the landscape as slaveowners were forced to relax their controls on slave life in such an environment. Yet with lumbering, and after World War II with bulldozers, the emphasis shifted to forcing the land to conform to human needs, with attendant costs.
Questions:How did societies conform to the landscape? How does technology limit adaptation?
Quotes: “At work, nature was a challenge to be overcome–all those trees, troublesome water, worrisome pests.” (55) “One is more struck, indeed, by the continuity of routine practice in farming–of the ancient cycles of human intercourse with the surrounding rural landscape.” (97) “The quasi-free and free alike maintained their independence from the enveloping order by extracting natural resources from its edge.” (161) “Tragedy, whether protracted or a sudden event, seems so starkly two-dimensional, save perhaps to those effected.” (242)
Conversations: Stewart, What Nature Suffers to Croe; Silver, A New Face on the Countryside; Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside
+ 1995, Warren Dean, With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Coastal Forest
In Brief: It took five hundred years to destroy nearly every piece of the Atlantic coastal forest in Brazil. While the indigenous people at first lived off the abundant shellfish, by the time the Europeans arrived the Tupi were expanding their slash and burn system of agriculture, and when most of the Tupi died from disease this actually served as a brief period where the forest regenerated itself. The Portuguese attempted similar slash and burn techniques that they learned from the indigenous people. Destruction was accelerated by plantations at the same time that the forest offered a refuge for a number of maroon communities. Mining itself was destructive as were the beef-eating habits of the miners. Ants, always a part of the forest community turned into farm-denuding pests once deforestation allowed them to prosper and took away their former predators, leading settlers to constantly move their farms and destroy more forest. Independence did nothing to slow the destruction of the forest and destructive policies encouraged coffee plantations that only lasted for twenty years, which was both ecologically devastating and economically short-sighted. This process of destruction differed greatly from the clearing of forests in temperate lands since the destruction was irreversible. There remains a striking ignorance in Brazil that this forest even existed, and the relatively few number of listed endangered plants reflects how little is known about the forest rather than the health of a diverse ecosystem.
Questions: Why was the forest destroyed with such speed? When are changes to the land irreversible?
Quotes:“Thus the forest grows and spreads upon an organic, self-generated substrate.” (9) “Once the indigenes were removed from their habitats, all this information inevitably began to deteriorate, and the forest became strange and without human purpose.” (66) “Had the planting of coffee been done with care, it might still be growing where first it was introduced, and much of the Atlantic Forest might have been spared for some other purpose or, in peace, for none.” (189)
Conversations: Crosby, Ecological Imperialism; Lewis, The Transforming the Appalachian Countryside; Cronon, Changes in the Land
+ 1996, Mart A. Stewart, “What Nature Suffers to Croe”: Life, Labor, and Landscape on the Georgia Coast, 1680-1920
In Brief: Stewart uses the term landscape to unify the agency of humans and nature. The reality of the natural world stood in stark contrast to an imposed vision of Georgia that constricted the lives of early settlers, but with the beginning of slavery in 1751, the landscape of the coast country quickly became one of agricultural production. Plantations fostered a disease environment and despite the efforts at control, required increasing amounts of labor for Sea Island cotton or rice, as the soil lost its fertility or impoundments caved in. In contrast to short staple cotton’s ever-expanding frontier, these plantations stayed in place. Slaves’ understanding of this environment granted leverage in negotiations with planters and in moving through the creeks and rivers that broke up the ordered space of the field. The environmental knowledge and informal economy of formerly enslaved people was put to work in the postwar years, at the same time that the plantations crumbled with insufficient labor to maintain them against the onslaught of natural forces. Stewart notes how the arrival of the timber capitalists in the pinelands further inland destroyed the possibility of living off the land for many residents, but the wages from the industry also provided freedmen with wages that help to explain their higher rates of landholding in the lowcountry.
Questions: How do you historicize a landscape? What does the fragility of a landscape tell us about the social and political world?
Quotes: “A concentration on ‘landscape’ as an organizing concept in studying this relationship between culture and nature is attractive not only because it facilitates cross-pollination between disciplines but also because it does not require imposing a term or a concept on the past that is alien to it.” (11) “Neither soil nor climate was as the Trustees had represented it, and both presented overwhelming challenges to settlers hemmed in by the Georgia Plan.” (61) “Labor on the land was the nexus, and labor and land were intertwined in the task as time and as space.” (129) “On the eve of the twentieth century, and as the rice planters’ hydraulic landscape of power and profitability disintegrated, the landscape of the African Americans whom the planters had dominated became the dominant one of the Georgia coast.” (242)
Conversations: Kirby, Poquosin; Carney, Black Rice; Linder and Zacharias, Of Cabbages and Kings County
+ 1998, James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed
In Brief: States are constantly trying to make societies and landscapes legible in order to control and rationalize them. By the 20th century this process was taken to its logical conclusion in the ideology of high modernism in which planners believed they knew best and instituted grand projects with devastating consequences. Scott shows the value in diversity within societies and ecosystems, and how scientific foresters were mislead by the profit potential of industrial forests which in fact depended on the nutrients from older less-managed forests. While gridded landscapes were a boon to both markets and taxation, long-term value often originates from a more complex reality, one in which local knowledge is key. Democracy can serve as an impediment to the most extreme projects, which place an unscientific faith in the ideology of high modernism at the expense of even obvious local evidence. When ideas about power and improvement become intertwined they can lead to tragedy for the people whose knowledge and lives are ultimately ignored.
Questions: Why have projects which such good-intentions done so much harm? How can you quantify the value of diversity?
Quotes: “Today, global capitalism is perhaps the most powerful force for homogenization, whereas the state may in some instances be the defender of local difference and variety.” (8) “What I want to emphasize here, however, is how this knowledge is gained at the expense of a rather static and myopic view of land tenure.” (46) “And yet there is no denying that much of the massive, state-enforced social engineering of the twentieth century has been the work of progressive, often revolutionary elites.” (89) “What conservatives like Oakeshott miss, I think, is that high modernism has a natural appeal for an intelligentsia and a people who may have ample reason to hold the past in contempt.” (341)
Conversations: Josephson, Industrialized Nature; Showers, Imperial Gullies; Woodward, Origins of the New South
+ 1998, Anne Whiston Spirn, The Language of Landscape
In Brief: Landscapes are the original language of humanity, you can grasp this concept by considering the preponderance of landscape metaphors. An inclusive concept, landscapes are shaped by all of the animals and forces within them, and it can be the mountain and the city: in other words landscape unites nature and culture. Failure to properly read the landscape can lead to disasters large and small, but given our innate understanding of the grammar of landscape there are many examples of successful design too. The parables presented in the book mirror those found in the landscapes themselves, not always clear-cut but certainly open to interpretation.
Questions: How do you read the landscape? Why are landscape metaphors so present in our language?
Quotes: "The words environment and place, commonly used to replace landscape in twentieth-century English, are inadequate substitutes, for they refer to locale or surroundings and omit people.” (17) “Inherent qualities of landscape features and phenomena account for similar meanings across time and space: flowing rivers and growing trees, wet water and solid earth, round circles and angular squares, solid walls and open gates.” (32) “Runners of rapids, stalkers of fish, and river watchers know what rivers signify.” (142)
Conversations:Klingle, Emerald City; Cusack, Riverscapes; Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis
+ 1999, Mark Fiege, Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West
In Brief: The creation of an irrigation system in the late 19th century in the Snake River valley was advertised as the successful domination of nature, but this was not the case. The canals followed the lay of the land, quickly filling with muskrats and plant life that interfered with farmers' needs, and new sources of water bubbled up as a result of seepage, sometimes creating opportunities for more irrigation and at other times turning arable land into salty mudholes. These changes created social problems and solutions, the rabbit drives helped to build community, and the legal precedent of prior appropriation had to be altered so that farmers could survive the dry years, because the system itself was still at the mercy of that year’s rainfall. Nonetheless the myth of domination persisted, as seen in the branding of the Idaho potato whose homogeneity obscured a complex world that required constant adaptation.
Questions: Why do people pretend they can dominate nature? How have the unintended consequences of environmental management shaped societies?
Quotes: “Perhaps it was the other way around, I came to think; perhaps the river had naturalized the dams.” (7) “But, as Idaho irrigators would learn, the garden myth could not explain the realities of the Snake River valley as they experienced it.” (43) “Thus family and industrial labor can be described in isolation, as distinct categories, but at certain places and moments they exhibited important–and sometimes surprising–symbiotic connections.” (119) “The greater the ecological and economic instability, the greater the need for factory-like fields and machine-perfect spuds.” (169)
Conversations: Worster, Rivers of Empire; McPhee, Control of Nature; White, The Organic Machine; Muscolino, The Ecology of War
+ 1999, Marc Linder and Lawrence Zacharias, Of Cabbages and Kings County: Agriculture and the Formation of Modern Brooklyn
In Brief: This book chronicles the rapid rise and fall of an agricultural Brooklyn, which depended on Manhattan as both a market and source of fertilizer in the form of excrement and dead horses. By 1880 Kings County had become the 2nd largest vegetable producer (Queens County was first), as its farmers shifted away from grain and livestock production that had to compete with the fresh lands made accessible by the Erie Canal. Increasingly farmers invested in more intensive forms of farming that took advantage of the cheap immigrant labor and endless manure. Initial improvements in transportation infrastructure did not make the conversion of farmland into brownstones inevitable, as this gave farmers better access to Manhattan markets and the farmers that remained continued to profit–even after Brooklyn was annexed to New York City in 1898. Despite the continued profitability of farming in Brooklyn, it steadily declined from the 1880s until farms effectively disappeared by the 1920s. Flat farmland proved especially attractive to developers and while Linder and Zacharias argue against the idea that this transformation was market driven, farmers could make substantial gains by selling their land. Other factors include the dramatic drop in horse-use in the city which reduced the manure available to farmers and increased competition from southern truck farmers.
Questions:Why was farming eliminated so rapidly in Brooklyn when it remained highly profitable? How was a closed-loop system created and then dismantled?
Quotes: "The agricultural absorption of horse manure from city streets and stalls, for instance, was entwined with the emergence of municipal sanitation measures, which in turn contributed to the rise of professional urban planning.” (44) “Olmsted’s disregard for farming was a part of a particular strand of urban design in America, though one that would become increasingly dominant as new forms of transportation rendered the separation of work and home ever more attractive.” (137) “Faced with a choice between financing their tenants/workers without any long-term assurances about the continued viability of market gardening and cashing out for amounts that would at least afford them a solid annuity, Dutch farm families, unsurprisingly, sold the land out from under the active tenant farmers.” (219) “Van Sicklen’s most endearing characteristic was that after having arrived in Coney Island at four months of age, he ‘spent all his life there’ – not just in the usual sense, but by virtue of never having remained away overnight and never having crossed the Brooklyn Bridge.” (244)
Conversations: Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis; McGruder, Race and Real Estate; Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost
+ 1999, James McCann, Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa, 1800-1990
In Brief: It is ironic that McCann wrote a book about the entire continent of Africa, but in doing so McCann breaks down the myth of a environmental degradation and replaces this simplistic framework with an emphasis on analysis that privileges history and local knowledge. Imperial assumptions of degradation, were not only cultural, but based on a misreading of the landscape and understanding of the history of climate change or human relationships with nature. West African empires adjusted to changing climate patterns, New World plants like cassava, corn, and rubber became important agricultural products, shifting rainfall boundaries could protect farmers from horse-raiding societies who feared the diseases their horse would contract in the wetter lands, and often reforestation was a direct result of the human presence, rather than deforestation as the rule. Certainly the landscapes were changing whether as a result of climate, global trade, or growing populations, but local people understood best that brown land does not take long to turn green in the rainy season. This is a story of adaptation to gains and losses in the environment.
Questions: How do you read the landscape? Why are some environmental adaptations privileged over others in imperial discourse?
Quotes:“Forty percent of Africa’s land has a slope of more than 8 degrees, resulting in the movement and redeposition of soils by rain and river systems–erosion–not so much a recent crisis as a consistent and inexorable historical process.” (12) “The physical environment of the great empire states was not a fixed canvas, but a shape-shifting stage that demanded a continuing set of adaptations of economic base and political structure.” (31) “Across Africa, the period of the 1930s appears to have been crucial in setting a story of degradation and prescribing the world public’s image of what African landscapes ought to look like.” (75) “Stories of desertification and the degradation of forests, soils, and biodiversity had their origins in European conceptions of an African Eden and the initial environmental effects of population expansion and commercial extraction of agricultural and forest products.” (177)
Conversations: Fagan, Little Ice Age; Showers, Imperial Gullies; Cronon, “A Place for Stories”
+ 2000, Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
In Brief: Despite the hand-wringing over determinism, this is a history about how changes in climate, the Little Ice Age, shaped human history with a focus on northern Europe. The changes wrought were often quite substantial shifts in production and social organization, brought on not by small changes in temperature, but by sudden movements that rapidly led to crises like famine that had to be dealt with. Growing glaciers destroyed communities in the alps, the Norse lost their foothold in Greenland, while the Basques made their way to the cod fishing grounds off Nova Scotia, and vineyards no longer grew in Wales. Changing climate encouraged more intensive farming, and in England it contributed to the process of enclosure as a necessary means of ensuring sufficient and efficient production. If you follow this line of logic far enough, then you could argue that climate change and the land-hunger set-off by enclosure and property titles contributed to the massive land clearance that took place from 1850-1890, which in turn released lots of CO2 into the atmosphere and was the first human-induced warming of the planet. The shifts in climate during this time were unpredictable and dramatic, knowing now that the year without summer was caused by volcanic eruption or changing ocean currents would not have changed their dramatic impact on human societies.
Questions:How did climate change affect human history? How did societies react to colder weather?
Quotes: “Medieval bridges, like the one in Palermo, still span them but are far longer than now necessary, simply because the rivers were wider nine hundred years ago.” (18) “‘The great dying of beast’ continued into the early 1320s, bringing severe shortages not only of livestock but of manure for the fields.” (40) “But the inexorable forces of economic progress, increasingly colder climate, and history were against the small landowner with little capital and farmers with ill-defined rights to their land.” (110) “While the federal government did little to ameliorate the crisis, the New York legislature recognized the need for improved transportation systems for moving food to and from rural areas, at the time accessible only by the crudest of cart tracks.” (177)
Conversations:Crosby, Ecological Imperialism; McNeill, Mosquito Empires
+ 2000, John McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World
In Brief: McNeill plays with differing scales of the local, regional, global, and immediate and long-term perspectives to understand the incredible changes wrought on the planet in the 20th century. The intensity and use of resources is entirely unprecedented, has unleashed all sorts of consequences, and perhaps most importantly it has changed people’s assumptions about the environment and abundance: it has created a shifting baseline of sorts, where people come to believe that such growth is both natural and sustainable. There are the nightmare landscapes of the Aral Sea in here, but mainly a mixed story of better health and more food that rests on ever more fragile foundation of eroding soils and crowded cities. The ideology of growth dictates much of this change, but McNeill also draws out political patterns such as the effect of a collapsing fishery on Peru’s politics or the political motives behind the TVA or the Three Gorges Dam. If we are really anxious about our security than McNeill suggests we study ourselves in a historical context beyond the 20th century because even if the poor will continue to suffer the most, everyone should expect the status quo of growth to invite catastrophe.
Questions: Why do we assume that economic growth is not limited by the environment? How have innovations and higher crop yields altered patterns of sustainability and security?
Quotes:“Seen from an intermediate time scale, however, soil degradation and erosion may indeed carry important human consequences.” (49) “Contaminated water killed tens of millions of people in the twentieth century, easily humanity’s most costly pollution problem.” (147) “The long history of deforestation, from the dawn of agriculture to the present, accounts for a reduction in global forest area of somewhere between 15 and 45 percent; estimates vary maddeningly.” (229) “One reason the environment in the twentieth century changed so much is because prevailing ideas and politics –from an ecological perspective–changed so little.” (325)
Conversations:Hobsbawm, An Age of Extremes; Mitchell, Carbon Democracy; Crosby, Ecological Imperialism; Samanta and Gopa, Dancing with the River
+ 2001, Adam Rome, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism
In Brief: The postwar suburbs played a key role in the environmental movement, both as a source of environmentalists and in degradation to decry. Rome reveals the forces behind sprawl and in homes that were inefficient, energy-intensive beasts, as developers found it cheaper to ignore regional variations in designs that cooled and heated homes, while incentives from electricity companies encouraged the installations of appliances. As families moved into suburbs and then bemoaned the loss of open space as development continued, they failed to recognize the ways their presence had in fact created the conditions for the sprawl. Rome decries the heedless use of septic tanks and uses this example to show how federal subsidies and regulation were key to installing more environmentally appropriate sewer systems. In general the same incentives for suburban sprawl continue even as the same people, whose habits support sprawl, want environmental protection.
Questions: What are the limitations of the American environmental movement? How have environmentalists sown their own seeds of defeat?
Quotes: “That means that the homebuyers most likely to care about the potential savings on utility bills–the people on the tightest budges–did not have the choice of buying a solar home.” (63) “With backyard systems for waste disposal, houses did not need to be near municipal sewer lines, so the area available for suburban development expanded tremendously.” (87) “From the start, the task of environmental reformers was made more difficult by the fragmented nature of political authority in the United States.” (266)
Conversations: Hays, Beauty Health and Permanence; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier; Klingle, Emerald City
+ 2001, Judith A. Carney, Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas
In Brief: Though not the first scholar to point out African slaves' central and driving role in the cultivation of rice in the New World, Carney systematically puts enslaved people, their knowledge, and their environment into Crosby’s Columbian Exchange. Despite the irony that these systems made rice’s emergence as cash crop possible, and a thoroughly oppressive system, Carney argues that such knowledge also allowed slaves to gain power and autonomy. She suggests that the task system was a result of deliberate negotiations. Planters meanwhile attempted to claim mastery over both slaves and the environment, indeed Europeans even tried to take credit for the extensive rice culture in West Africa, yet given the complexity of rice culture and the disease environment which planters generally fled, these claims were tempered by reality. This book has spawned an entire black rice debate, but as Carney shows, at first glance few written sources reveal, and in fact purposefully obscure, the real origins of rice cultivation. While the debate continues, both sides generally agree that environmental knowledge, whether learned or remembered, shapes and mediates this history.
Questions: Why did rice culture succeed in the low country? How did African slaves obtain power? How is environmental knowledge transferred to a new environment?
Quotes: “The knowledge and expertise to adapt cultivation of a preferred dietary staple to New World conditions proved among the scant ‘possessions’ remaining to slaves pressed into slavery from rice-growing regions.” (97) “Slaves with knowledge of growing rice had to submit to the ultimate irony of seeing their traditional agriculture emerge as the first food commodity traded across oceans on a large scale by capitalists who then took complete credit for discovering such an ‘ingenious’ crop for the Carolina and Georgia floodplains.” (141)
Conversations: Crosby, Ecological Imperialism; Wood, Black Majority; Stewart, What Nature Suffers to Croe; Nash, “The Agency of Nature"
+ 2001, John T. Cumbler, Reasonable Use: The People, the Environment, and the State, New England, 1790-1930
In Brief: Beginning in the late 18th century the Connecticut River Valley underwent a profound transformation as New England confronted its declining agricultural lands and industrialization began to take hold. The region’s farmers and fishers especially resisted these changes as shad disappeared and water became polluted; they sought help from the courts but even when the courts decided against the mills their gains were limited and ultimately overcome by the sheer rate of development. While industrialists used the courts and the state to their advantage, reformers in the second half of the nineteenth century also used the state to mediate and limit the costs of industry. Some reformers chose a non-confrontrational approach, simply relying on state-supported scientific pisciculture to replace the decimated fish stocks, and others tried to use the state more directly to limit the pollution and its damaging effects on public health. The business elite (though sometimes these were the same as the reformers) prevented the state from enacting more intense reforms at the same time that they compromised and allowed the state to play a mediating role. The result was an improvement in public health while a continuing faith in science and technology meant that the problem of pollution persisted.
Questions:What were the limits of reform and state intervention in the environment? How were public/private partnerships formed to fight pollution?
Quotes: “With manufacturing activity, old gristmill and sawmill sites were converted to new mills with water-driven machinery, and rivers and streams were dammed to ever greater heights.” (31) “But the world they challenged and the incidents they wanted redressed were changing faster than individual and reactive strategies could accommodate.” (69) “Yet for public health to move forward without opposition, technology and science had to continue to provide means of avoiding conflict between public and private interests.” (146)
Conversations: Steinberg, Nature Incorporated; Judd, Common Lands; Watson, “The Common Rights of Mankind"
+ 2002, Steven Stoll, Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America
In Brief: In the first half of the 19th century there were a small, but vocal and important number of farmers who sought to improve their land by building up their soil, this was in contrast to the people whom Thoreau complained of, who wore out the land, sold out, and moved west. To improve a farm and maintain it with heaps of well-placed manure took a lot of labor, so it was not open to everyone. In the South, the plans of so-called improvers like Edmund Ruffin changed the soil’s ph but did not build soil, and of course most planters did not even follow Ruffin’s advice, preferring to keep their slaves picking cotton on fresh lands rather than hauling manure around the plantation. With the rise of guano and other fertilizers in 1850s, calls for managing farms as a sustainable system were quickly forgotten even as the thinking of a few of these original conservationists provided a bridge to the emergence of a more developed conservation movement.
Questions: How can agriculture become sustainable? How did 19th century farmers react to declining soil fertility?
Quotes: “Those who incorporated restorative methods almost always lived close enough to market towns to turn surplus into cash.” (28) “The great divide in all these requirements, the one that drove a wedge between those who did and did not practice the new husbandry, came down to labor.” (53) “The Gold Rush reached across class lines and appealed to respectable middle-class merchants and rising farmers just as it appealed to the indigent laborers who could not readily afford the price of passage.” (164) “The machine had arrived, and quite regardless of those who equivocated, it mowed a new path to rural progress.” (193)
Conversations: Foster, Thoreau’s Country; Stewart, What Nature Suffers to Croe; Kirby, Mockingbird Song
+ 2002, Paul Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight Against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement
In Brief: This book shows how the wilderness movement did not simply originate as a wholesale revolt against modernity and environmental destruction, rather Sutter reveals how the ideas of Aldo Leopold, Robert Sterling Yard, Benton MacKaye, and Bob Marshall, the founders of the Wilderness Society, converged in their hatred of roads. This was especially true during the New Deal when the federal government was busy trying to make nearly every corner of the national parks accessible by automobile. For these men wilderness was a rejection, or at least an escape, from the ever-expanding consumerism of America, and each of them wrestled separately with the problematics of ‘wilderness.’ One such tension was the issue of democracy and access, since roads did make parks accessible to more people, but they argued that roadless preserves were necessary and accessible to anyone willing to take the time to travel there without a car. These contests helped to inform and shape the movement that ultimately led to the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Questions: What were the specific catalysts and motivations for wilderness preservation? How did wilderness advocates call for wilderness presentation without appearing as anti-democratic?
Quotes: “If Leopold was after a pristine quality in wilderness, it was more historical than ecological.” (79) “Although his critics saw him as elitist and blind to political realities–and to a great extent he was both–Yard was able to focus more clearly than most on the ways Americans were revaluing nature in the midst of an emerging consumer culture.” (101) “For MacKaye, the crucial distinction between ‘outdoor culture’ and modern outdoor recreation was that the former was constructive and consciousness-raising while the latter was escapist and consciousness-numbing.” (169) “Marshall’s guiding purpose in returning to Alaska was to see if simpler living surround by wilderness made Alaskans happier than modern Americans.” (219)
Conversations: Kheraj, Inventing Stanley Park; Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind
+ 2002, Robert E. Kohler, Landscapes and Labscapes: Exploring the Lab-Field Border in Biology
In Brief: Kohler explores the “lab-field” border between the field sciences and the laboratory sciences, revealing the tortured origins of the science of ecology. While the natural sciences had once reigned supreme, by the dawn of the 20th century a utilitarian job market and new laboratory technology intervened to make natural history an increasingly marginalized field. Though field scientists held a love for place and nature, they did not simply deny the laboratory scientists and their technology. Field scientists saw the gains in knowledge and authority made by those in the laboratory, and they attempted to coopt these tools for their own use. Many laboratory tools were ill-suited to handle the rigors of the natural world, and technology such as photographs served to devalue the subjective observations of natural scientists. During the first decades of the twentieth century, field biologists often felt this tension as frustration; the necessity of incorporating lab instruments into their work only seemed to distract them from their love of nature. As ecologists encountered an increasingly altered natural world they found in it a lesson for their own work. While ecologists rarely focused on habitats that had been severely disturbed by humans, they saw evidence of succession and change in more natural habitats such as sand dunes. Technology alone could not be used to understand such a complex system, which is always a unique place rather than a placeless laboratory.
Questions: How could ecology overcome faith in the laboratory and technology? How did a rapidly changing environment shape the emergence of ecology?
Quotes: “There seemed to be no way to do physiology in the field, not because it was impossible to devise physiological practices appropriate to field conditions, but because for laboratory physiologists–and thus the world–only lab-style work was admissible science.”(92) “Prevented by his professional ideals from doing fieldwork as ecology, Ganong did it as recreation and amateur natural history and geography.” (182) “But their discovery that change was the essential meaning of nature’s work, though a little shocking to a generation trained mostly in labs, was an important achievement, because it was the starting point for the invention of more effective–and unlablike–ways of grasping the orderly disorder of nature’s restless mazes.” (251)
Conversations: Leach, Butterfly People; Sutter, Driven Wild
+ 2002, Paul R. Josephson, Industrialized Nature: Brute Force Technology and the Transformation of the Natural World
In Brief: Massive engineering projects of the natural world, ‘brute force technologies’ have caused great harm, giving the illusion of endless resources while degrading the environment and the lives of less powerful people. Such projects can be found in both capitalist and communist societies who use the scale of such projects to symbolize their power and superiority. Massive dams displaced many towns but helped to power war industries and expand agricultural production, even as they failed to realize the rosier and bolder projections that prompted their construction. Meanwhile, scientists and engineers are forced to ignore evidence in these projects, which are ultimately ideological rather than scientific. There is an unscientific faith in science without taking an evidence-based approach. Josephson advocates a return to smaller-scale projects and local knowledge that also forces citizens to reckon with the limits to resource use and counteracts the reinforcing loop between gigantism, technology, and politics.
Questions: What do massive engineering projects have in common across national borders and ideologies? How has bureaucratic inertia led to environmental devastation?
Quotes: "This was to be expected, for nature transformed served the cities, their proletariat, and especially Moscow, where the majority of high party officials lived.” (23) “In altering the river on such a scale, the engineers altered human culture and history and flora and fauna, underestimating or ignoring their value, for history and culture cannot be quantified.” (53) “This short-term efficiency explains why brute force technology has pervaded many different political ideologies, all of which, no matter the political and economic system, hold similar views: that nature is something that can, even must, be exploited, and that we will find solutions for the unanticipated costs of that exploitation.” (256)
Conversations: Scott, Seeing Like a State; White, Organic Machine; Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain
+ 2002, Mark Cioc, The Rhine: An Eco-Biography, 1815-2000
In Brief: The Rhine has been a German River, a Nazis River, and an international River, and Cioc argues that the modern Rhine began as the latter when various states along the river created the 1815 Rhine commission. This cooperation among states was key for reengineering. Local people also frequently cooperated in return for economic gains, and when farmers or fishers resisted, they were ignored or suppressed. The losses were substantial: sturgeon, shad, salmon, sinking water tables, toxins from Germany’s chemical industry, and not only the loss of floodplain but a substantial reduction in the length of the river itself. Cioc divides the river into distinct sections, each of which were mobilized for industry or pastoral images, and changes in the upper river also increased the burden of flooding in the lower river. The benefits from sacrificing the river were substantial for industry, at least in the short term, while longer term changes in the environment are still being discovered. Since the 1970s work has been done to restore the river, not into a premodern river, but into something that at least allows the river to reflect its own resilience: more fish are returning at the same time that its warmer waters are now needed to ensure that river operates as a vital transportation corridor and does not freeze over like it once did.
Questions: How did the river degrade so rapidly? What would a rehabilitated Rhine look like?
Quotes: “Cooperation, coal, and concrete: together they started a riparian revolution that has determined Rhine affairs ever since.” (3) “‘Flood’ is a highly anthropocentric term, rooted in the human proclivity to think of a river as having a fixed length but no prescribed breadth, with the result that the floodplain is often used for farms and settlements as if it were not a part of the river system.” (33) “Water pollution imposes a different kind of homogeneity on a river: it reduces or eliminates all organisms that cannot tolerate the contaminants and favors only the few that can.” (168)
Conversations: Fiege, Irrigated Eden, Blackbourn, Conquest of Nature; White, Organic Machine
+ 2002, James L. A. Webb, Tropical Pioneers: Human Agency and Ecological Change in the Highlands of Sri Lanka, 1800-1900
In Brief: The highland forests of Sri Lanka had long been protected, and for good reason, until the British arrived in the 19th century. Yet the extensive deforestation that took place was performed as much by the Kandyans for their own uses as for British plantations of coffee, cinchona, and tea. New World plants like potato and cassava arrived, workers from the mainland migrated to work on the plantations, and after the British Empire abolished slavery, capital came from the West Indies to fund the plantations. When the British built a road through the highlands to increase their political control this in turn set off a George Taylor style boom. Furthermore as the British undermined the Kandyan state this encouraged many Kandyans to move from the paddy fields where they were heavily regulated to the highlands where they could engage in chena, slash and burn agriculture, that not only gave them more freedom but also the possibility of gaining title to land whose value was rising. This put them in direct competition with the British plantations, which although covering less area, were perhaps more ecologically destructive given their vast monocultured landscapes. Having the option of partaking in chena, few Kandyans would work on these plantations, leading the British to South India where they hired Tamil men. The results were weeds, soil loss, dried out streams, and deforestation that facilitated the spread of fungus on the coffee plantations. When the British began shifting to tea plantations they needed a permanent workforce and the Tamils no longer migrated but developed their own unique culture in Sri Lanka. Also the British were obsessed with having British gardens or distinguishing themselves by eating red meat, and they could be absurdly bloodthirsty, one man reportedly killed 1,500 elephants!
Questions: Who was responsible for the deforestation of the highlands of Sri Lanka? How did changes in land tenure affect the environment?
Quotes: “The chena and paddy fields, cut and burned from the surrounding forests, were edge habitats par excellence and duly attracted a wide range of fauna interested in eating paddy and dry grain before the villagers could get to it.” (45) “At this time, the forested highlands began to take on greater monetary values as a result of the luminous prospects of the new coffee-dominated export economy, and Kandyan farmers emerged as competitors with the British colonial elite.” (71) “In this manner, the new agronomic demands of the tea estate gave birth to the new ethnicity of the ‘estate Tamils.’” (137)
Conversations: Crosby, Ecological Imperialism; Showers, Imperial Gullies; Melville, A Plague of Sheep
+ 2004, Christopher A. Conte, Highland Sanctuary: Environmental History of Tanzania’s Usambara Mountains
In Brief: When colonial officials came to the Usambara mountains of Tanzania, they misread the landscape and the people who lived there, unable to see the long history of fire management or farmers’ adaptability. Markets grew, land was appropriated for colonists who found the climate inviting, and plants were obsessively imported, though coffee proved to be a decisive failure, local farmers put many of the imported crops to work. Colonial officials feared soil erosion and were quick to blame African farmers, missing their adaptability and the importance of mixed use rather than the uniform scientific forestry they attempted to impose. Yet scientists were not mere cogs of empire, sometimes recognizing the relative strengths of indigenous adaption, only to be ignored by state officials and settlers who both focused on making quick money. With a rail link the West Usambaras suffered far more degradation than the steeper slopes of the East Usambaras where conflicts over forests reserves, uses of the land , and science continued.
Questions: What limits environmental degradation? How has environmental ignorance worsened colonial rule?
Quotes: “During the relatively brief moment of colonial and postcolonial rule, imported Western ideas regarding land health and degradation have become a powerful currency in East Africa’s highlands, often as part of coercive state-sanctioned attempts to reshape indigenous horticultural and animal husbandry practice.” (18) “The Wambugu, who once valued the shared groves that dotted their pastureland, abandoned forest conservation as the alienation of their range forced them to shift almost exclusively into agriculture for their subsistence.” (95) “Project leaders now readily admit that unless forest management includes a dialogue with local communities, forest protection cannot succeed.” (157)
Conversations:Klubock, La Frontera; Arnold, The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze; McCann, Green Land Brown Land; Showers, Imperial Gullies
+ 2004, John Soluri, Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States
In Brief: Soluri historicizes and reveals the links between the production and consumption of bananas in Honduras and the United States, a foreign concept to most consumers. The meanings that producers and consumers have attributed to bananas are vastly different, with far more ambivalence expressed about the banana on the North Coast of Honduras then in suburban America. Fruit companies made banana cultivation into a capital-intensive process, holding monopolies over land and railroads, but were by no means entirely dominant over either their workforce or the landscape. As bananas were sold year-round in the United States in increasing numbers, this lead to even greater efforts to simplify and homogenize the banana for mass consumption. Widespread monoculture, with the help of improved transportation facilitated the spread of pathogens that attacked banana production and required further capital inputs, more land, and pesticides that harmed women’s reproductive health. Attempts at control by the big fruit companies were ongoing, but could never completely dominate the people and the place.
Questions: What does it mean to eat bananas? Is it possible to provide for workers, the environment, and the mass market?
Quotes: “Ultimately, the fruit companies had an easier time manipulating politicians than they did controlling the people, plants, and pathogens whose daily interactions largely shaped landscapes and livelihoods on the North Coast.” (13) “The dynamics of mass production and mass consumption, then, exerted pressures that drastically restricted the varietal diversity of cash crops.” (239-40)
Conversations: Colby, The Business of Empire; Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis; Mintz, Sweetness and Power
+ 2004, Thomas C. Buchanan, Black Life on the Mississippi: Slaves, Free Blacks, and the Western Steamboat World
In Brief: Buchanan writes about the tensions inherent in African American life and work, whether free or enslaved, on the Mississippi River. The tensions within the river helped to draw out the broader contradictions within the system of slavery and the economy. A boat might hit a snag in the river and sink, but that could also provide an opportunity to escape. The steamboats on the Mississippi played a major role in transporting slave-produced goods, and tore families apart in its use for the slave trade. At the same time the river proved a useful conduit for thousands of escapes, and for connecting African American communities among plantations and cities, or in the case of Dred Scott as the basis for a legal challenge to slavery. Slaveowners felt great unease about the relative freedom provided by hiring slaves on the steamboats and the laws they passed restricting mobility proved difficult to enforce. Work on the steamboats was anything but ideal, chambermaids suffered some of the worst abuse. But even as African Americans were purposefully segregated, they also built their own informal economy and communication networks that were resilient and useful for fostering community and freedom.
Questions: How did the river simultaneously undermine and strengthen the system of slavery? In what ways did the river offer possibilities for freedom?
Quotes:“The steamboats that moved up and down the Mississippi River carried the tentacles of slavery and racism, but they also carried liberating ideas and pathways to freedom.” (5) “On steamboats, where passengers came and went as quickly as the landscape passed, people could never be sure of other people’s identities.” (110) “These men sought to live outside the formal economy in a black river world where talents were rewarded and material gain was possible.” (146) “As oral networks expanded beyond the river, as newspapers gained readership among African Americans, and as formal Republican politics emerged, the political significance of the river to the African American community gradually eroded.” (177)
Conversations: Johnson, River of Dark Dreams; Kelman, A River and Its City; Howe, What Hath God Wrought
+ 2005, Harold L. Platt, Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago
In Brief: Platt studies Chicago and Manchester’s transformation during their respective periods of tremendous growth in the late 19th century–a time when these cities experienced the paradox of progress–new technology and vast wealth came up alongside unprecedented slums and sickness. The costs were borne by those people tied to neighborhoods with poor sanitation and air and water pollution from sewers and adjacent factories; these problems, especially that of disease became impossible for the city leaders to ignore. Though the elites continued to justify the injustices of industrial cities, reformers (i.e. Progressives) worked to build healthier and safer cities that resulted in real, if incomplete improvements. Local officials often benefited from inefficiencies and problems that sustained the patronage on which they depended. Industrial beer production took advantage of new hygienic methods for mass production and relied on the transportation and energy systems while simultaneously polluting the city. Chicago was linked to the plains and Manchester to the plantations, but the sources of such commodities were pristine compared with these two strikingly similar industrial cities.
Questions:Why do Chicago and Manchester have so much in common during the late 19th century? How did contemporaries justify rising inequality in the urban landscape?
Quotes:“The ways in which society made use of technology go a long way in accounting for the close resemblance among industrial cities.” (9) “They learned that a waterworks with an underground distribution network that chronically leaked was good for City Hall.” (180) “The fundamental reason for the quarter-century delay in undertaking environmental reform in earnest was not lack of knowledge but a political culture of rigid hierarchy and privileged authority.” (229) “Chicago’s breweries also enjoyed tremendous success while contributing increasing amounts of pollution to the city’s air, water, and land.” (272)
Conversations:Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis; Klingle, Emerald City; Jones, Routes of Power
+ 2005, Kate B. Showers, Imperial Gullies: Soil Erosion and Conservation in Lesotho
In Brief: At first glance the history of erosion and the deep gullies of Lesotho, called dongas, is familiar. The Basotho were pushed onto less fertile and more unstable lands, with fewer cattle a valuable fuel source, dung, was lost and deforestation increased, while the diamond booms increased the demand on the land for crops. Roads created the earliest signs of erosion, and missionaries traveling through the landscape stuck to these roads, giving them a mistaken impression of a deeply eroded landscape. But in fact it was the scientific missionaries that caused the real problems, they believed that they could apply soil conservation techniques learned in the United States on a wholesale scale in Lesotho, refusing to consider the unique qualities of the land and the soil. It was these efforts that channelized water and set off the process of a devastating level of erosion. Meanwhile, many Basotho understood the folly of these efforts, as made evident in the extensive interviews presented in the book, and actively resisted such conservation efforts even if it meant being labeled as ignorant criminals. Such imperial imposition did an injustice to the land, to people, and it was a blind ideology lacking any scientific inquiry. Ignore local knowledge at great cost to all.
Questions: What actually caused the gullies of Lesotho? How did perceptions of degradation affect the imposition of state power?
Quotes: “The resulting earth-centric analysis identifies previously unknown processes, reveals belief masquerading as science and emerging in the form of ideology, and confirms that economic and political decisions have clear–and often highly destructive–environmental consequences.” (1) “The intricacies of Lesotho’s social reality were often ignored; in many instances the recommendations for development would have been detrimental to the quality of life of women, children, and the elderly.” (65) “When soil conservation engineering technology was taken from the United States to Lesotho, its scientific context was replaced by an ideological one.” (235)
Conversations: Sutter, Let us Praise; McCann, Green Land Brown Land; Scott, Seeing Like a State
+ 2005, Brett L. Walker, The Lost Wolves of Japan
In Brief: With the modernization of the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century, the wolf's fate was largely sealed, leading to its extinction by the beginning of the 20th century, but it was also part of a longer history of wolves declining from revered and useful animals to a dangerous enemy. The appearance of rabid wolves in the 18th century encouraged humans to hunt the wolf more aggressively and for the wolf itself to act in self-destructive ways. However it was the attempt to impose a new agricultural system, with a shift to livestock that made the wolf and humans, Walker insists, not simply economic, but ecologic competitors. Walker at once uplifts the emotional lives of wolves and brings humans into a simpler ecological relationship with the wolves. The American “experts” came with a hatred and extensive experience with eradicating wolf populations. The loss of the wolf has not only affected Japan’s ecology, but it has also affected people like Walker who miss the connection that comes from hearing the wolf’s howl.
Questions: Why did we lose our connection with wolves? How did modernization lead to ecological competition between humans and wolves?
Quotes: “As I see them, the implications of Darwin’s work are that advanced social animals such as wolves also experience historical lives, and so, as feeling beings with limited culture and vast experience of their oen, they too deserve actual histories, because they represent part of the greater cultural and ecological milieu that defines not just human histories but our shared natural histories.” (13) “They stood in the way of Japanese modernity.” (145) “The result of this competition, however, at least as it is documented in historical sources, takes the form of economic losses rather than ecological ones, because that is how Meiji Japanese, as industrial people in a colonial context, perceived their interaction with and exploitation of nonhuman beings.” (181)
Conversations:Coleman, Wolves; Knight, Waiting for Wolves
+ 2006, Jack Temple Kirby, Mockingbird Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South
In Brief: A wide-ranging yet focused look at the environmental history of the South with an emphasis on disruption and how the hardships faced by the enslaved and poor were reflected in the degradation of the environment. Kirby pays attention to the metaphors used to describe 'white trash' as weeds or the ways that usurious interest rates forced poor farmers to take as much as they could from the land. The Civil War revealed the fragility of plantation landscapes while devastating livestock herds. Hogs that once ran in the commons and supported the yeoman became a symbol of injustice in the twentieth century with the rise of the hog farming industry. Many southerners fought back against the New South timber frenzy and pine plantations with fire, simultaneously experiencing its the costs through increased flooding and further enclosure. The suburban South happened with great speed, and while the disconnect from farming or gardening no longer meant pellagra, the development of cancer alleys has been no less deadly. Kirby uses characters from Edmund Ruffin to Eugene Odom to drive the narrative, including all sorts of unexpected asides such as the connection between shooting parakeets and drunk settlers.
Questions: How are the lives of southerners reflected in the land? How did subsistence-orientations change with the landscape?
Quotes: "Agriculture is surely the most savage and elemental disturbance of nature, and savagery is compounded elementally by technological power.” (59) “One begins to appreciate the discontinuity, the disruption-as-norm, and the chaos, perhaps, that is the history of the South.” (95) “Ruffin and his ilk took no pleasure in the knowledge that many landless, shabbily dressed men actually possessed modest wealth in animals-sustained on other men’s property.” (121) “Historians have written much of such peoples’ very masculine public economy but little of their private, feminine, and sustaining one.” (214)
Conversations: Genovese, Political Economy of Slavery; Sutter, Let us Praise Famous Gullies; Stewart, What Nature Suffers to Croe
+ 2006, David Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscapes and the Making of Modern Germany
In Brief: From Fredrick the Great to the present, water-engineering has delivered political power and reclaimed farmland, along with a host of other consequences that have shaped the history of modern Germany. Here water is controlled with intensity and sometimes great hubris, imbued with a belief in the domination of nature, but water engineers also showed sensitivity and interest in adapting their projects to the land. Thus this is not decline of the rivers story, so much as a mixed story where floods were tamed in one area and pushed with greater intensity downstream, where economies and pollution grew, and where control over the land gave the state increasing powers put to good and bad uses. Water projects provided material gains, but could also be used to justify broader imperial and ideological goals. Blackbourn also touches on the forwards and backwards looking nature of many of the water-projects, of hopes and concern, and he in turn directs the reader to the middle ground of an altered nature that is neither pristine nor hopelessly degraded.
Questions: How did water-engineering help to create modern Germany? How did reclamation increase state power?
Quotes: "Read the series of confident prescriptions for the Oderbruch, and you find that each set of proposed new measures promises to turn the trick and finally overcome the ignorance, or engineering mistakes, or political constraints of earlier generations.” (68) “Liberals and progressives saw themselves fighting a war on two fronts: against a nature that constrained humanity, and the ‘backward-looking’ humans who did the same.” (175) “The eastern landscapes they depicted carried more conviction too, because these were not timeless tableaux in which Germans interacted with nature and other peoples were excluded, but landscapes that did justice to a complex ethnic and linguistic reality.” (316)
Conversations:Worster, Rivers of Empire; Cioc, The Rhine; White, The Organic Machine
+ 2006, Karen M. O’Neill, Rivers by Design: State Power and the Origins of U.S. Flood Control
In Brief: O’Neill explores the rise of federal flood control programs from the 19th century through the New Deal, by focusing on the two river systems that pioneered such work, the Sacramento River and the Lower Mississippi River. What O’Neill suggests is that “federal” might be a misleading term to describe these projects considering the competing local, state, regional, and national interests, and that above all it was local elites that pushed these projects and made the Army Corps of Engineers into a government tool for engineering rivers in the name of local economic development. The pre-Civil War Swampland legislation created a vociferous group of flood-prone landholders, and the people who pushed the government for support were rich and powerful elites, people like Alexander Percy’s father who relayed personal requests to Teddy Roosevelt. Levee districts did not simply have experience with financing and controlling rivers, they were political machines too. Elites made claims of flooding as a national problem, and boosters from the two river systems worked together at the federal level to gain support and make their work appear slightly less provincial. The Corps provided significant flood control work on the river which had to be justified as aiding navigation, but really it was an open secret, and following the 1927 flood especially, it became easier to make flooding a national problem. The 1936 Flood Control Act expanded and institutionalized this process. While there were many unintended consequences, one of the most severe problems was the deliberate development of the floodplain.
Questions: Why did the federal government support flood control? How did local elites leverage federal power to their advantage?
Quotes:“Capitalist farmers in both valleys allied with downstream merchants and shippers in port cities to demand similar environmental controls.” (29) “By organizing a national coalition to support aid to two valleys, river advocates reduced the appearance of self-seeking.” (126) “Environmental goals fit poorly into this system for distributing projects.” (184)
Conversations: Morris, The Big Muddy; Fiege, Irrigated Eden; Rothman, Slave Country; Hundley, The Great Thirst
+ 2006, David Arnold, The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800-1856
In Brief: The tropics were invented in India by the British who used their experiences with “deathscapes” and the natural world to justify labeling India’s diverse landscape as simply the tropics. Arnold focuses on a number of botanists who studied plant life in India in the first half of the 19th century. These botanists were closely entwined with the project of empire on a number of levels that went beyond their dependence on funding from London. They contributed to a new understanding of India, a cultural process, that shifted the focus to the landscapes. Yet colonial officials found themselves frustrated by the continent’s inability to conform to their expectations of tropical abundance. Botanists appropriated via the traveling gaze, and brought with them a variety of assumptions, especially of Romanticism and the idea of improvement that could be applied to the natural world and to other humans. They used local knowledge to their advantage at times while denigrating it at other times and drawing attention to the economic potential of the land.
Questions: How did India come to be labeled as the Tropics? What is the relationship between science and colonialism?
Quotes: “It was also the Indian countryside–with its highly visible deathscapes–seemed, to Europeans, to epitomize the negatively tropical attributes of the Indian environment and, further, to reflect many of the religious abominations and moral deficiencies of Indian society.” (42) “For scientific travelers like Buchanan the zealous pursuit of botany and the aesthetic enjoyment of scenery were seldom far apart.” (87) “Even a relatively remote region like Sikkim might be appropriated by science, annexed by aesthetics as much as ensnared through economics.” (220)
Conversations:Kohler, Landscapes and Labscapes; Crosby, Ecological Imperialism; McCann, Green Land Brown Land
+ 2006, Frank Uekötter, The Green and the Brown: A History of Conservation in Nazi Germany
In Brief: Conservationists were complicit in Nazis Germany, they actively cooperated and generally supported rather than opposed Nazis racism. They thought that working closely with the Nazis state, that believed in ‘blood and soil’ and that passed the 1935 Reich Nature Protection Law, the first comprehensive law for the protection of nature, would support their goals for conservation. Uekötter shows that the conservation law and much of the conservationists own ideas about nature came from earlier and separate strands than Nazism, in other words conservation ideology was part of a much longer history that did not significantly intersect with Nazism. While conservationists cooperated, their ideology was fundamentally different from the Nazis, and they often found themselves opposing the Nazis state whose goals for the cultivation of all land, and more broadly the mobilization and industrialization for a world war proved uniquely destructive to the German environment. When Nazis like Herman Göring did work to preserve places like the Schorfhiede forest it was out of his attachment to that particular place rather than an overarching interest in conservation. In the aftermath of World War II, conservationists ignored their recent past and many Nazis conservationists kept at their work, but Uekötter cautions against condemning the wider rise of environmentalism given its many strands, and that just because Nazis claimed to love nature does not justify killing it. Still, Uekötter sees issues in evironmentalism that extend beyond Germany where a blind pursuit of environmental goals leads to troubling moral stances.
Questions: "What would I have said?" (209)
Quotes:“The history of the conservation movement in Nazi Germany provides a sobering reminder of the extent to which intellectuals can be seduced.” (4) “With command over significant resources and closely aligned to the state, hydrological engineers wielded a considerable degree of power, and they were not usually adverse to using it.” (111) “As far as we know, there was no contribution, however minimal, from the conservation movement to the German resistance.” (166)
Conversations: Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature; Judt, Postwar; Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature
+ 2006, Alfred W. Crosby, Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity’s Unappeasable Appetite for Energy
In Brief: This book provides an overview of our relationship to energy obtained from the sun and fire to fusion and fission. Crosby shows how society changed with each discovery, drawing our attention to the role of fire and the expansion of humans. Crosby also notes that the warming that took place about 12,000 years ago both covered up the land bridges and created the conditions for agriculture, setting the stage for the Columbian Exchange. Many energy sources depended not so much on their existence as the inventions that harnessed them, whether it was the steam engine or internal combustion. What is striking for Crosby is the dramatic growth in energy use in the 20th century, which dwarfs all past consumption combined and borrows old energy gained from the sun.
Questions: Why do we consume so much energy today? How have new energy sources transformed society?
Quotes: “If I were to attempt anything so simple-minded as to pick a birthday for the industrial revolution, it would be the first day that Newcomen’s engine began operating in 1712.” (74) “A good first step toward making informed decisions in the long run might be to decide what normal means to us vis-a-vis our energy situation because that is the baseline from which we launch our inquiries.” (161)
Conversations: McNeill, Something New Under the Sun; Black, Petrolia; Jones, Routes of Power
+ 2007, Matthew Klingle, Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle
In Brief: Over the last two-hundred years Seattle’s landscape not only filled with warehouses and homes, but massive hills were flattened and dumped into the wetlands of the Puget Sound. In these processes Native inhabitants and other less-powerful residents were not simply evicted from the former wetlands–they were pushed into a world where the resulting ecological degradation made their lives even more difficult, especially compared with the city’s emerging middle class. The city’s reputation as a natural city resulted in part through the development of its urban parks and parkways, but also from this new middle class that sought outdoor recreation and which fought to clean Lake Washington while shifting more pollution onto the waterways and neighborhoods of the poor. Similarly, the postwar efforts to protect the salmon, constrained Native Americans’ rights to fish for salmon. Klingle calls for a return to an ethic of place which acknowledges the full relationship between nature and culture in Seattle. The false image of harmony serves to distract residents from the reality of Seattle’s built environment and especially to distract from environmental injustice, in which people fail to recognize the way that interacting and shaping the environment is done to people as much as place.
Questions:How did such an unnatural place develop a reputation as a natural city? How have images of a natural city undermined environmental justice?
Quotes: “The city was not so much a place as a line in his ledger, so when his financing failed, Villard closed the books on Seattle.” (52) “Erasing hills would make new property, remove unwanted residents, and cleanse neighborhoods of filth and blight, while delivering endless water that would also eradicate illness and pollution.” (95) “In these conflicts was an ethic of place, nascent but incomplete, that connected the exercise of human power to an unpredictable nature.” (202)
Conversations: Kheraj, Inventing Stanley Park; Price, Flight Maps; Stroud, Nature Next Door
+ 2008, Warwick Anderson, The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen
In Brief: Warwick breaks down the boundaries between science and culture by examining the history of kuru and the people who studied it in New Guinea, playing close attention both to the Fore people and to the scientist Carl Gajdusek. We should all be very, very afraid of prions, and Warwick shows how the discovery of this mechanism through, at first glance, modern scientific methods from the 1950s to the 1980s, was actually dependent on what many categorized as a primitive world. In the process of studying kuru, which was killing many Fore people, Gajdusek became intertwined in their culture. Sending kuru brains to scientists in Australia or the even more imperialist NIH in Washington DC was not simply an act of colonial appropriation, and these exchanges shaped the identities and ideas of these scientists, who were indebted in turn to the Fore. Even as cannibalism was discovered as a source of kuru, researchers engaged in their own form of medical cannibalism. Furthermore the discovery of the cause was predicted not on laboratory work but on anthropological observation of the Fore people in their world. A book full of surprises.
Questions: How were prions discovered? If there is no firm line between nature and culture, is there no line between the primitive and modern either?
Quotes: “Making a diagnosis, going on medical patrol, establishing a bush laboratory–all were means of staking a territorial claim.” (88) “From this perspective, we can view Gajdusek and the Fore operating in a contact zone, which is at the same time, and perhaps more revealingly, a trading zone.” (113) “Equally important, tissue offerings to pathologists and others in the Northern Hemisphere enabled him to forge useful relationships, gather information, and expand the kuru research network.” (154) “The slow virus roamed the field, while the prion paraded around its laboratory niche.” (198)
Conversations:Kohler, Landscapes and Labscapes; Anderson, The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze
+ 2008, Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country
In Brief: Spoiler alert: E.J. Watson gets gunned down by his neighbors. He’s a violent man in a violent world full of racism, greed, and loss, ranging from the Civil War to the Depression. Shadow Country captures the conquest of the Everglades in the particulars of the slaughter of plume birds and the draining of wetlands for sugar cane and real estate, and in the rough yet hopeful mentalities that underlay this allegorical transformation of the landscape.
Questions: How did Florida become ‘tamed’ in a single generation? Is there a connection between violence against people and violence against the land?
Quotes: “They are going to come in to tend their young no matter what, and a man using one of them Floret rifles that don’t snap no louder than a twig can stand there under the trees in big rookery and pick them birds off fast as he can reload.” (29) “Too much rain or not enough for shell mound soil, which has no minerals to speak of: that soil got tuckered out in a few years, same as the women.” (119) “Ed Watson was a very able man–I knew it, all our business people knew it–yet all his fate permitted him to contribute to his times was an adaptive strain of sugarcane and a few good ideas that other men would profit by such as Deep Lake’s citrus railway.” (746)
Conversations: Douglass, River of Grass; Kirby, Mockingbird Song
+ 2009, Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City
In Brief: Fordlandia focuses on Ford’s massive failure to build its own rubber plantation in the Amazon rainforest. Though initiated in 1927 by a quest for a reliable and affordable rubber supply, Ford designed the project in a utopian image with the idea of a well-organized town and workforces built out of the rainforest. Part of this impetus came from Henry Ford’s attempts to build similarly utopian communities in the Midwest and his uneasiness with the disintegration of small-town life that his own cars had unleashed. Ford’s engineers attempted to replicate the order of the River Rouge plant and found themselves at odds with a natural world that would have perhaps been better understood by an agronomist or the local people that Ford attempted to control. Faced with pathogens and a workforce that resisted much of this control, Fordlandia was slowly taken back by the rainforest even as later corporations succeeded in profiting from the conversion of the rainforest into soybean farms.
Questions: Why did Ford attempt to impose so much order onto the rainforest? How did nature impede industrialization?
Quotes: “In the other direction ran nostalgia for the world he helped end, one rooted in his rural background.” (40) “So despite the concerns of Brazilian nationalists who thought the concession granted too much autonomy to Ford, the plantation found itself caught in a relationship with the rest of the Amazon similar to the one Third World countries often have with the First: extreme dependency.” (176) “Back in the Amazon, Johnston was having no better luck with rubber than he had holding off the union.” (341)
Conversations: Soluri, Banana Cultures; Dean, With Broadax and Firebrand; Showers, Imperial Gullies
+ 2009, James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia
In Brief: Scott looks at the hill people of Southeast Asia who created regions of refuge, where the state is purposefully kept at a distance. Slash and burn agriculture is not so much a response to the region’s ecology as it is a political choice that offers its own form of freedom compared with the intensive monoculture and wealth gained from controlling grain and the people who grew it. The hills themselves were an obstacle to state projects of control, production, and transportation, while the dispersed population suffered from fewer epidemics that came with crowding. In many cases the hill people came from the lowlands in response to excessive taxation and other demands on their lives. As much as the hill society was created in response to the state, the same was true for the state as it responded to these regions of refuge, and the concepts of civilized and barbarian were useful for both societies. However since World War II it has been increasingly difficult for stateless people to persist.
Questions: What came first, the state or statelessness? How does geography create regions of refuge vs. areas of state control?
Quotes:“The distance-demolishing properties of navigable water routes and the existence of nodes of power represented by choke points and strategic commodities can compensate for deficiencies in grain and manpower close at hand, but only to a point.” (50) “For many hill peoples, dissimilation, the staking out of the difference and distance between one society and another, meant putting a literal distance between themselves and lowland states.” (174) “Those expecting a new utopia, far from being passive, often prepare themselves ritually, announce their withdrawal of allegiance, refuse to hand over taxes, and launch attacks.” (307)
Conversations: Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism; Samanta and Gopa, Dancing with the River
+ 2010, Nancy Langston, Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES
In Brief: This is the history of diethylstilbestrol (DES) a synthetic chemical created in 1938 and approved by the FDA in 1941 as an artificial estrogen despite early evidence suggesting its carcinogenic potential. Industry claimed that DES merely mimicked natural estrogens. Doctors gave women DES for problems related to pregnancy and menopause while the rest of the population of the United States was exposed to DES through its use in the poultry and cattle industry to increase meat production. Industry used scientific uncertainty and their political influence to limit the regulation of DES along with many other synthetic chemicals: economic power trumped the precautionary principle and consumers’ interests. It took too long for the FDA to admit the chemical’s toxic potential, which occurs at frighteningly-minute doses. Even as DES was removed from doctor’s offices and feedlots, many other synthetic chemicals with parallel histories remain unregulated despite the lessons that the history of DES clearly reveals.
Questions: Why did the FDA approve a toxic chemical for medical use? What does history tell us about the value of the precautionary principle?
Quotes: "Only precaution could protect the public from harm; waiting to see whether a particular chemical contaminant in food might be harmful was unethical, for it would turn America into a nation of guinea pigs.” (20) “The decision to treat menopausal symptoms with a potentially carcinogenic drug involved risk calculations that made implicit assumptions about gender.” (45) “The conflicts over DES mark a critical moment in the shift from technocratic expertise to political and consumer advocacy over chemicals.” (110)
Conversations: Maysilles, Ducktown Smoke; Newman, Love Canal
+ 2010, John McNeill, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914
In Brief: There were political consequences to disease in the Greater Caribbean, as mosquitoes that carried malaria and yellow fever helped to change the course of empire. Yellow fever and malaria did not simply spread all at once but depended on changing the landscape of the New World. Yellow fever outbreaks were directly linked to slavery as the slave trade, plantations, and ports all played their role; and yellow fever was especially dependent on dense urban environments. Young people who were exposed to yellow fever acquired immunity while adults who were exposed to it frequently died; many people from West Africa had acquired such an immunity, sparing them from YF but making them more valuable as slaves. The Spanish benefited from the differential immunity of their colonies, which made it easy to fight the more powerful French or British since the invading forces simply died, however this differential immunity worked against empire in time of revolution. McNeill suggests the role that disease played at Yorktown and also in the decision to enact the 1763 Proclamation. In Haiti it was a decisive force and McNeill shows how Toussaint exploited the disease environment to his advantage. However when the United States engaged in its own imperialism in Panama and Cuba, the military had learned how to combat the disease environment and prevent either malaria or yellow fever from interfering with conquest.
Questions: How did societies exploit disease environments to their advantage? How did the plantation landscape create a deadlier environment?
Quotes: “Ecological change resulting from the establishment of a plantation economy improved breeding and feeding conditions for both mosquito species, helping them become key actors in the geopolitical struggles of the early modern Atlantic world, if not, strictly speaking, dramatis personae.” (3) “As he wrote to Clinton, Cornwallis thought he did not have enough healthy men to do what every experienced soldier knew had to be done to prolong, and thus withstand, the siege.” (225) “Toussaint and Dessalines would have been poor commanders indeed had they not exploited the power of differential resistance to yellow fever.” (261)
Conversations:Crosby, Ecological Imperialism; Stewart, What Nature Suffers to Croe
+ 2010, Tricia Cusack, Riverscapes and National Identities
In Brief: Cusack shows how the riverscapes of the Hudson, Thames, Seine, Volga, and the Shannon rivers were mobilized for an emergent nationalism. Such riverscapes were ideological and specific to each river and nation. The materiality of rivers allowed for trade, connections to empire, or the possibility of trade at the same time that they each functioned on a more sublime level. The rivers as visual metaphors, were always historical, connected to the past and future, and thus riverscapes were uniquely suited to crafting a national identity, which excluded Native Americans or Tatars. Given the nation’s progress alongside modernization, it made sense that these rivers would also be altered in the process, not only through engineering projects but by building government buildings along the river. Though each river held many different meanings, it was their very simplicity that allowed their cooption as national riverscapes.
Questions: How were rivers mobilized in nation building? Why have natural features of the landscape served as powerful metaphors?
Quotes: “Rivers have long been central to cultures; one reason is their necessity for human survival, but another has to do with the nature of flowing water and its appropriateness as a metaphor for time passing, for life, and for death.” (2) “Hudson River School art imbued the riverscape with Christian symbolism and confirmed the wilderness as the special domain of white Americans, whether for future development or aesthetic contemplation.” (21) “One of the motives for embankment, then, was to improve the appearance of London’s riverscape to befit a national and imperial capital.” (89) “The familiarity of an imagined riverscape enabled it to be subverted for critical purposes.” (191)
Conversations: Spirn, Language of Landscape; Schama, Landscape and Memory; Zeisler-Vralsted, Rivers, Memory, and Nation
+ 2011, Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
In Brief: This is a story about oil and democracy; the two words frequently repeated in tandem for emphasis. Mitchell is interested in both production and consumption. The borrowed sunshine of fossil fuels made it possible for economists to build their work around an idea of limitless growth that supported consumption while constraining choices. Mitchell’s emphasis on oil’s caustic effect on democracy results from what he sees as a fundamental difference between coal and oil production. Coal distribution went through a few main channels, the railroads for example, and could be disrupted at various points. As industry and consumers came to rely on coal, then stopping the flow of coal gave workers real power. Given the dependence on fossil fuels, the powerful listened, ushering in a new era of mass democracy. In contrast to coal, oil built hierarchies and the fact that it was much easier to move oil around made it harder for a labor union to shut down its distribution or production. Even in the shift to the less democratic oil, Mitchell sees fossil fuels at the heart of present-day politics. It was governments, not unions, that created oil scarcity.
Questions: How does oil weaken democracy? How did coal strengthen democracy?
Quotes: “Rather than a study of democracy and oil, it became a book about democracy as oil–as a form of politics whose mechanisms on multiple levels involve the processes of producing and using carbon energy.” (5) “The ability to weaken the labour force by dividing it into separate racial groups, with managers, skilled workers and unskilled workers houses and treated separately, reflected the different distribution of oil production across the world.” (35) “Since the oil industry was never strong enough to create a political order on its own, it was obliged to collaborate with other political forces, social energies, forms of violence and powers of attachment.” (230)
Conversations: Sabin, Crude Politics; Priest, The Offshore Imperative; Andrews, Killing for Coal; Vitalis, America’s Kingdom
+ 2011, Sara B. Pritchard, Confluence: The Nature of Tech and Remaking of the Rhône
In Brief: Pritchard focuses on the postwar transformation of the Rhône when the French government attempted to both modernize and rebuild its shattered pride from the Vichy regime. While the river had also been extensively managed prior to World War II, a new language of technology was used for both material and political ends. The French were at war with their own history, at once trying to claim the Rhône as an historic and natural river and to tame the river to redefine France as a technically savvy and powerful nation. Vast energy from dams and nuclear power plants came from the river while agriculture became increasingly industrial and yet residents increasingly recognized the limits of progress. River residents were the first to experience a changing hydrology that the technocrats first attempted to deny or otherwise further engineer in an endless cycle of unexpected consequences. The big projects that defined the Rhône in the early postwar decades were increasingly challenged and exported to third world countries instead.
Questions: What is the nature of technology? How did the French government use the Rhône to reclaim a national glory?
Quotes: “Nature and cultural meanings of nature are utterly and problematically entwined, but they are not synonymous.” (16) “Advocates justified the river’s transformation by creating a smooth lineage between the nation’s past and the CNR’s projects, while at the same time claiming that these projects marked a rupture with that very past.” (76) “The idea of uniting technology and nature, whether or not it actually was new, assumed their initial separation.” (241)
Conversations: Judt, Postwar; Josephson, Brute Force; White, Organic Machine
+ 2012, Christopher Morris, The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and its Peoples, from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina
In Brief: Morris sees a long conflict between a mostly wet river and a mostly dry civilization; though Native Americans and escaped slaves, among others, learned to live in the wetter portions of the landscape. After years of tinkering with the landscape under the French or the Spanish, American control and the rapid expansion of cotton and slavery led to an ever more relentless attempt to claim dry land: work done by enslaved people and later in the 19th century, by the federal government. Policies like the swampland legislation of 1849 and 1850 encouraged development and the levees spread. Of course the river made its own natural levees, but these man-made levees proved to be uniquely destructive, and even after the 1927 flood, politicians refused to seriously revise the levees-first thrust of flood control. Though begun with the French, by the 20th century people understood floods as entirely unnatural disturbances, and much like the parallel history of fire, attempts to keep floods at bay have harmed both the environment and the people who live along the valley. Ideas about the river also depended on power and wealth, and a more democratic process would be beneficial for everyone, since not everyone thought hemming in the river was ever a great idea.
Questions: Why did people keep building levees when they did more harm than good? How have different political systems interacted with the river?
Quotes: “The two valleys exist in uneasy tension, the wet valley always ready to burst into the dry valley that holds it down.” (1) “The French did not come to Louisiana to place themselves at the mercy of the natural environment, or its native population.” (45) “It took capital to transform wetland into dry land.” (116) “Levees propped up Jim Crow as surely as they segregated land and water.” (168)
Conversations:Lahiri and Samanta, Dancing with the River; O’Neill, Rivers by Design; Kelman, A River and its City; Pyne, Fire in American History
+ 2012, Lisa M. Brady, War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes During the American Civil War
In Brief: The Union Army wrecked many parts of the southern landscape. This was a deliberate strategy not only to destroy the agricultural wealth that formed the economic foundation of the Confederacy, but also to strike a symbolic blow: that all of southerners’ efforts to improve the landscape could be returned into any number of metaphors that symbolized nature without humans: as in a desert or wilderness. Attacks against nature were focused on plantations, which were vital and easy targets given their tenuous control over both slaves and the land. Army engineers also sought strategic control of nature, such as an attempt to reroute the Mississippi River, in which soldiers could not overcome disease and topography, whereas in other instances they used nature to their decisive advantage, contributing to a new conceit about their ability to control nature. At the same time the Civil War created a new and powerful nation state, and Brady suggests that the destruction of the war, with its widely spread images of charred trees, helped to motivate people to create new parks and preserves.
Questions:Why did the Union Army target the landscape of the South? How did the destruction of the southern landscape inform later conservation and preservation movements?
Quotes:“He learned that all elements of a landscape could be used to military advantage, a lesson that he did not soon forget, and one that would revisit the southern populace time and again during the remainder of the war.” (42) “Grant’s contest with the landscape of the Lower Mississippi Valley initiated the Union’s battle against the Confederacy’s agroecological foundations and demonstrated that a fertile landscape could be as much a liability as a benefit in war.” (71) “The battle was not against armed men but against a productive landscape created out of a specific set of interactions with nature.” (109)
Conversations: Stewart, What Nature Suffers to Croe; Nelson, Ruin Nation; Sutter, Let Us Praise Famous Gullies
+ 2013, Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt; Gopa Samanta, Dancing with the River: People and Life on the Chars of South Asia
In Brief: This contemporary study of the chars, temporary islands, of the Bengal delta will provide the theoretical backbone to a future suite of historical studies of rivers. The chars do not represent a boundary between water and land because there is no boundary; with this breakdown comes challenges to other concepts such as that of security and vulnerability. Though the chars are transitory and unstable, they offer a surprising amount of security to the people who have learned to live with them, especially given the wider political threats that exist beyond the chars. The isolation, sustainability, and freedom from violent persecution provided motivation to deal with the challenges, mainly floods that these communities faced. While property titles were imposed on the wider landscape, the short term leases the river offers on the chars have made them into refuges. Upstream alterations have changed the river, in some cases making the chars less transitory, and the char people have adapted their agricultural practices to the seasons while benefiting from the chars’s fertility.
Questions: Why would people choose to live in a flood-prone environment? Where do you draw the line between water and land?
Quotes: “This book pushes the frontier of this strand of thought further to show that the commonly understood boundary between land and water is as artificial as that between nature and culture.” (x) “To live in the unpredictable and uncertain environments of chars, people are obliged to take risks and have to develop their livelihoods in such ways so as to be able to cope with the river’s moods, which we call ‘dancing with the rivers.’” (18) “Based on both what the local environment has to offer and their cultural and acquired skills, char dwellers establish livelihood strategies that, just like the uncertain, vulnerable environment they inhabit, vary according to the season and situation, and are characterized by high levels of diversification of production and income baskets.” (151)
Conversations: Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed; Morris, The Big Muddy
+ 2013, Sean Kheraj, Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History
In Brief: Kheraj explores the many ironies of viewing Vancouver’s Stanley Park as an artifact apart from human society, mainly from the 19th century to the present. The middens of the Coast Salish were used to create natural-looking roads, and even as the creation of the park closed off its use as a home and a source of people’s livelihoods, transformation of the landscape only intensified, such as the building of a seawall to prevent the process of erosion. This irony is only compounded by the fact that park was probably first preserved as a future source of coal for a booming region. Over time most park users came to understand this intensively managed place as natural, viewing fires or destructive storms as shocking aberrations. The environment pushed back at park plans to make it more natural, but ultimately the park left people with a static view of the park’s nature. In effect Kheraj shows how the park created a sort of reverse shifting baseline syndrome among the residents of Vancouver that has led them to oppose any intervention in the park.
Questions: How did this park come to be viewed as a piece of pristine nature? To what ends have people chosen to divide nature and culture?
Quotes: “It is likely, then, that the peninsula became a government reserve in 1859 to protect its potential coal deposits.” (37) “Rather than embodying the heterogenous uses of nature, the invention of the park enforced a single idea of non-consumptive recreation under state ownership and authority.” (57) “Powerful natural forces have always moulded the landscape and ecology of Stanley Park, but over the course of these decades, the public’s ideal image became increasingly grounded in the idea of an undisturbed wilderness.” (170)
Conversations: Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature; Klingle, Emerald City; Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness; Stroud, Nature Next Door
+ 2013, Peter Coates, A Story of Six Rivers: History, Culture and Ecology
In Brief: The Danube, Spree, Po, Mersey, Yukon, and Los Angeles River are the six rivers that Coates describes. On one level he shows what is common and unique to each river, but the book is not so much a list as a reflection on the duality of rivers and their influence on human history. Some of the rivers are international, local, or national, clean or dirty, industrial and recreational, wild or tamed. Rivers are a part of our language, but many people have tried to resolve our relationship with rivers by simplifying them or claiming that darn this river is dead and gone, when in fact even a river as questionable as the LA river continues to have a hold on people. Another common thread is the extent to which our connections with rivers are personal and that they help to define each place, such that few people take the time to think beyond their river and realize that no matter the ‘health’ of their river, that it has and will continue to be a central part of their history.
Questions: How do rivers influence human history? How do people view their own rivers in a historical context?
Quotes: “Rivers can also be infused with spirit and character without lapsing into incorrigible personification.” (27) “The river regulates the social, economic, gastronomic and cultural conditions of human life in its basin– and this protagonist and authenticity of spirit is not eroded by the arrival of modernity or its impact on the river.” (141) “Moreover, given the watercourse’s current condition, many who do know of its existence doubt its qualifications as a bona fide river.” (229)
Conversations: White, Organic Machine; Worster, Rivers of Empire; Orsi, Hazardous Metropolis
+ 2014, Dorothy Zeisler-Vralsted, Rivers, Memory, and Nation-Building: A History of the Volga and Mississippi Rivers
In Brief: This is a comparative history of two big rivers, the Mississippi and the Volga, in two big countries, the United States and Russia, that inspired big projects and big myths. Both rivers shaped the material development of their respective nations and a broader national narrative that was both nostalgic and forward-looking. Despite the ecological differences between the two rivers, or between communism and a capitalist democracy, Zeisler-Vralsted finds striking similarities between the type of large-scale development that took place on these rivers. The process of modernization did not differ dramatically, and as people became physically divorced from these rivers they gained affection for their river through the rise of images and narratives like Mark Twain’s account of life of the Mississippi. Nations in a sense coopted these rivers to fuel both economic development and national pride, leading to a sort of confusion about rivers as simultaneously wild and controlled, premodern and modern.
Questions: Why was river development so similar on the Mississippi and Volga Rivers? How have the histories of rivers been coopted for nationalism?
Quotes: “From the perspective of the rivers, political ideology mattered little.” (12) “When undertaking large-scale projects in the race toward hydro-modernization, the state appropriated the cultural symbolism of the rivers.” (71) “By looking at the rivers, a history unfolds that allows movement across time, incorporating a number of disciplines in this rich retelling of the past from a riverine perspective.” (157)
Conversations: Brown, Plutopia; Pritchard, Confluence; Cusack, Riverscapes
+ 2014, Thomas Miller Klubock, La Frontera: Forests and Ecological Conflict in Chile’s Frontier Territory
In Brief: This is a study of the forests of Chile’s frontier region and the conflicts generated by its settlement and especially by state-directed scientific forestry from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Instead of crediting the free-market reforms of the Pinochet years with the forestry boom, Klubock traces a longer lineage, which has long had high costs for the Mapuche people along with other small holders in the region. Initially the state promoted settlement of the region and encouraged people to make improvements in order to claim the land, however the resulting deforestation threatened to undermine the value of the region, so the state turned to German, scientific forestry methods. The smallholders suffered, especially as the state worked in tandem with the large landowners to develop pine plantations. As such plantations spread, the people stuck in the middle were unable to persist in their multiple uses of the land when they were surrounded by pine monoculture. Other state policies like short-term concessions did not help either as this encouraged degradation, meanwhile the small holders were cast as the enemy who could not rationally exploit the forests and who in turn were also viewed as a threat to the remaining reserves of native forests that the plantations had not claimed. It was the state who decided what constituted appropriate or criminal use of the forests. Only in the past few decades have the Mapuche been able to have their claims heard, showing how the foreign Monterey pines acidify the soil and require pesticides, and that they would better manage the land’s riches.
Questions:Why did pine plantations come to dominate the forest? How did small-holders eventually succeed in protesting state-imposed forestry?
Quotes: “Raising livestock permitted Mapuches to take advantage of the southern forests’ biodiversity, pasturing their herds in different ecological zones in the mountains.” (12) “Clearing forests, fencing land, and planting crops represented the most important means of demonstrating material occupation and obtaining land titles for settler colonos, large landowners, and Mapuche communities.” (56) “Yet combining social and environmental history allows us to see moments of possibility that provide some relief from Chile’s increasingly intense integration into the global forestry economy.” (305)
Conversations: Guha, The Unquiet Woods; Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature; Melville, A Plague of Sheep
+ 2015, David Gilmartin, Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History
In Brief: From Britain’s colonial projects in the 19th century to the present day, the Indus River Basin has become an extensive irrigation network. In the process of transforming the environment the political and social communities were also changed and redefined. Ideas about nature pervaded colonial ideas about communities as well, giving the state power to institute such a large project at the same time that it also gained power by validating and supporting communities rooted in blood. Expanding irrigation also allowed for large-scale settlement and increased state-control over its residents. The nature of water and the nature of communities intertwine in ways that allow for the development of new nations and interventions in daily life.
Questions: How did environmental transformation create new imagined communities? How did irrigation projects contribute to nationalism?
Quotes: “Indeed, to analyze the historical saga of Indus basin irrigation, it is necessary, I would argue, to begin with the concept of ‘community’ itself–and the ways that its meanings were fundamentally intertwined both with the history of the state and with changing ideas about nature.” (7) “Water control, too, was intimately tied to an emerging colonial statecraft built on ‘state simplifications,’ drawing on the parallel distinctions between ‘waste’ and revenue-generating land, between natural community (‘blood’) and production.” (103) “This was also a vision of national community in which irrigation engineering was thrust to the front lines of the new nation’s imagining and defense.” (211)
Conversations: White, Organic Machine; Worster, Rivers of Empire, Cusack, Riverscapes; Scott, Seeing Like a State
+ 2015, Paul Sutter, Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies: Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South
In Brief: Sutter studies Georgia’s Providence Canyon State Park, whose picturesque canyons are the result of rapid erosion from farming, in order to collapse the boundary between the natural and whatever people assume its antonym might be. The system of agriculture imposed in the beginning of the 19th century resembled that of much of the South, with row crop agriculture channeling rainfall or abandoned land from plantations whose dependence on slavery pushed the cotton frontier into East Texas, and seasonally heavy rains. Yet it was the unique geology of the region, with its erodible Providence sands that allowed for such massive gullies to appear. Sutter explores the formerly tight link between geology and agricultural science, and how it took a while for the wider world to notice these unique gullies. Providence Canyon came into the public view during the Great Depression when tourism and road-building was spreading at the same time that Americans came face to face with large-scale environmental catastrophes. Boosters at times simply made up claims about the naturalness of the canyons, but it was the soil conservationists who prevailed in this battle, portraying the gullies as symbols of waste and human ineptness. Sutter takes the story even further by following the dirt through the hydraulic/soil cycle into the floodplains and the new wetlands it created, cautioning readers from attempting to label such places as merely unnatural.
Questions: Why did people draw a line between the natural and unnatural? What causes explain the rapid formation of these massive gullies?
Quotes: “The Soil Survey initially confronted and conceptualized soil erosion as a problem of scientific classification, not as a problem of land use.” (46) “Along with their insistence that Providence Canyon was a work of nature, another major theme of the park campaign was the desire to ‘swell the tourist crop.’” (70) “Spectacular gullying was one of the signature results of sincere but less-than adequate attempts by farmers and planters to channel runoff, terrace and drain their fields, and protect their soils.” (128) “Providence Canyon’s history warns us against the interpretive simplification that comes with regional generalization, and it urges us to pay greater attention to the diverse and highly localized environmental histories within the larger region.” (184)
Conversations: Showers, Imperial Gullies; Worster, Dust Bowl; Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness; Gopa and Samanta, Dancing with the River
+ 2015, Christopher J. Manganiello, Southern Water, Southern Power: How the Politics of Cheap Energy and Water Scarcity Shaped a Region
In Brief: Contrary to popular belief, Manganiello argues that drought as much as water abundance has shaped the history of the South in the past 150 years. The connection between water and power, industrialization, and the urbanization of the South runs deep. As industry grew, businessmen relied increasingly on "white coal” i.e. river power rather than regular coal to fuel their enterprises; however even as they returned to primarily using regular coal they continued to depend on water sources to fuel these water-hungry plants. A 1920s drought was especially harmful to southern industry and helped to shape the policies of water management. Manganiello tries to direct readers’ attention away from focusing too closely on the TVA itself since so much water development actually took place under private control and capital. Energy producers like James Duke actively sought out industrial users of energy–he was the New South booster and businessman in one person. The Corps meanwhile responded to a variety of interests rather than its own bureaucratic logic, and Manganiello traces the role of recreation in the postwar decades whether through the Jim Crowing of lakes or the class war of middle-class city folks interfering with local uses of the river from Deliverance. Finally, Manganiello uses the term "countryside conservationists" to describe much of the opposition to large-scale projects rather than group much of this local opposition under the category of environmentalists.
Questions: How has drought shaped the development of the South? What role have rivers played in the development of the Sunbelt South?
Quotes: "From the sky, the South reveals a distinct similarity to parts of the arid West in the presence of artificial waterworks such as dams, ponds, and reservoirs.” (10) “Coal supplies, deliveries, and costs were unpredictable when workers went on strikes.” (50) “Corporate power and technology wove energy production and water supply into a structure largely invisible to laborers and consumers who lost sight of the energy and water connection after the 1930s.” (68) “The countryside conservationists and environmentalists repeatedly used water quality to justify a range of positions.” (145)
Conversations: Stewart, What Nature Suffers to Croe; Worster, Rivers of Empire; Schulman, From Cottonbelt to Sunbelt; Steinberg, An Act of God
+ 2015, Stuart B. Schwartz, Sea of Storms: A History of Hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean from Columbus to Katrina
In Brief: In the 16th century the Spanish in the caribbean viewed hurricanes as the wrath of God, over time this shifted to an understanding of hurricanes as natural, and in recent decades new emphasis has been placed on the human role in hurricanes through climate change and in the often poor planning that led to disasters like Katrina. Schwartz sees hurricanes as part of the definition of the greater Caribbean as a region, where all of its residents must prepare for the possibility of a hurricane even as their preparations and reactions vary. In the short-term hurricanes could provide opportunities for slaves and the poor, but in the longer term Schwartz argues that the storms benefited the planters and other powerful elites. The plantations were better positioned to recover from the storms, including its potentially restorative effect on the land, and in turn could use the storms to receive further aid and tax breaks from the metropole. While losses from hurricanes may have helped to end slavery they also served to direct compensation and aid only to the planters. An export economy concentrated people in vulnerable lowlands at the same time that planters grew more sugar cane, since unlike many crops it could survive most hurricanes. Even as storm prediction has greatly improved, differing ideas about the best way to defend against hurricanes and their ultimate cause remain.
Questions: How have responses to hurricanes changed over time? How have different social classes leveraged state aid after hurricanes?
Quotes: “Over time, colonist observations and mariner experience were joined with clues learned from the indigenous peoples and developed into a kind of local wisdom on each island of the signs to look for.” (24) “Hunger and necessity forced defiance of imperial restrictions on trade with foreigners and field the continual tendency toward contraband trade in the region, especially when food prices soared following a storm.” (48) “Like contraband, the shared environmental risks created certain sympathy and bond that undercut cultural, religious, and political differences.” (122) “Rationing of food had begun in Cuba even before the devastation caused by Flora, but the storm and the U.S. embargo were subsequently used to justify the practice.” (292)
Conversations: McNeill, Mosquito Empires; Fagan, Little Ice Age; Mintz, Sweetness and Power
+ 2015, Micah S. Muscolino, The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938-1950
In Brief: Muscolino uses the term social metabolism to closely explore the connection between the environment and society in China’s war against the invading Japanese, with a focus on the energy of the river, its residents, and the military Long before World War II the Yellow River was extensively managed, and the riverbed had risen substantially above its surrounding countryside as residents diked the river. In order to stop the advance of the Japanese army, the Chinese military breached dikes on the Yellow River successfully flooding and slowing down the Japanese who had to expend more energy to control the environment. Yet the chaos unleashed by altering this delicate hydraulic system made it difficult for either side to control the river or the energy of the people who lived there. There was simply not enough human labor (in part because so many people were killed by the floods the breech unleashed) to contain the river until the war ended; in the meantime the river continued to flood, to destroy farmland, and to wander and shift channels.
Questions: “How did war’s ecological consequences shape the military and political context?” (3)
Quotes: “Unlike the biological notion, this socio-ecological concept links energy and material flows to social organization.” (5) “In the 1930s and 1940s, diversion of energy flows due to military conflict led to environmental degradation and disorder.” (18) “Once they had been unleashed, these same energies cause enormous destruction regardless of who hard people tried to rein them in.” (56) “Harnessing the river for military purposes demanded power-the ability to gain advantage by commanding energy and benefiting from the work of others.” (120)
Conversations: Russell, War and Nature; White, Organic Machine; Brady, War Upon the Land