#ASEH2018Tweets

March 8 and 9th, 1-5pm CST (2-6pm EST)

The ASEH Graduate Student Caucus, the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), and the NiCHE New Scholars Committee present an environmental history Twitter conference, which will be held one week before the meeting of the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) meeting in Riverside, California.

This conference is designed to increase general public engagement with environmental history. Historians and other members of the public are encouraged to digitally attend and participate in the conference.

What will happen on the day of the conference?

On the day of the conference the ASEH Graduate Student Caucus Twitter Account (@ASEHGradCaucus) will introduce each presenter. Each presentation is allotted 30 minutes. The presenter will then present their presentation thread over the span of the first 15 minutes. The second 15 minutes will be for questions and comments from the audience. These conversations can continue after this time, but there is only 15 minutes dedicated to responding to each specific presentation.

#ASEH2018Tweets Schedule

THURSDAY

1:00: Alan MacEachern (@alanmaceachern), Western University, “Phenology Then & Now”

In 2014, I was successful in rescuing a massive climate history archive. All of Environment Canada (EC’s) extant meteorological observations between 1870 and 1960 – the original forms on which volunteers at ultimately thousands of stations across Canada had handwritten quantitative and qualitative information about the day’s weather – were saved from the threat of discard and transferred to my university’s archives. (See https://goo.gl/ce7eVx). Since then, students and I have been transcribing and building a database of the observers’ qualitative remarks. Of special interest – to observers and to us – has been phenological evidence of the changing of the seasons, such as the blooming of a flower, the freezing of a pond, or the spring appearance of a migratory bird. Our project has worked through almost half the collection so far, transcribing and tagging 60,000 phenological remarks. In late 2017, I learned that although EC had never in its history found a way to utilize, analyse, compile, or even standardize qualitative remarks, and although today volunteers enter weather data directly online, EC *still* empowers observers to submit such remarks. EC subsequently provided me with the 1.1 million qualitative remarks submitted between 2004 and 2017 – all born-digital and geolocated, and therefore readily available for analysis and visualization. This allows comparative study of how a broad cross-section of Canadians, past and present, understood and expressed knowledge of nature. (For example, if observers reference the blooming of more, fewer, or different wildflower species than did those in 1880, it would suggest a changing Canadian environment or changing knowledge of that environment.) My thread will (briefly!) introduce how public understanding of nature, climate, and phenology has changed over the past almost 150 years, as exemplified in the observations of thousands of Canadian citizen scientists of the past and today.

1:30: Alison Laurence (@alisonglaurence), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Deep Time Domesticated: Nostalgia, Oil Culture, and Sinclair’s Dinoland”

In 1966, Sinclair Refining Company took a herd of fiberglass dinosaurs collectively called Dinoland on tour across the eastern half of the United States. The models, sculpted by Louis Paul Jonas (who also did extensive taxidermy work for natural history museums), were so beloved by visitors to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair that Sinclair took their marketing scheme, packaged as educational exhibit for children, on the road. The dinosaur caravan traveled across the nation from 1966 through 1969, setting up at suburban shopping centers, licensed Sinclair gas stations, and Midwestern state fairs. The press initially characterized the models as “perfectly beastly” and played up the savage spectacle of dinosaurs in so obviously unnatural habitats. However, subsequent news coverage of the public’s reactions, along with photographs snapped on family outings and recollections of the traveling exhibit compiled decades later, tell a different story of deep time domesticated. 
Since 1932, when Sinclair trademarked a Brontosaurus called “Dino,” the company has trained generations of children (and future customers) to love oil through their love for dinosaurs. This paper combines the approaches of cultural and environmental history to analyze Sinclair’s Dinoland tour and allied marketing tactics. I examine the environmental and affective implications of an exhibit that appointed charismatic megafauna as spokes-creatures for oil culture. I reconstruct how Jonas and his collaborators reconstructed these extinct and thus elusive animals. I consider who in the suburban landscape had access to deep time. Ultimately, I reflect on nostalgic recollections of Dinoland and its afterlife in the public imagination. Nostalgia could be nature’s salvation, as Donald Worster observed in The Wealth of Nature, remarking that Americans’ pervasive longing for a lost Eden might motivate conservation efforts. Yet, in the context of Sinclair’s Dinoland, this nostalgia seeks a return to cheap, endless energy and carefree car culture.

2:00: Erin Spinney (@ErinSpinney), University of Saskatchewan, “Fear and Loathing in Jamaica: Climate, Yellow Fever, and Thanatophobia among 18th-Century British Military and Naval Personnel”

On 19 June 1797, the Sick and Hurt Board wrote to the Admiralty to inform them that two unnamed surgeons on board la Concorde had refused to sail to the West Indies. The Admiralty’s response on 21st June was terse, stating “that their Lordships feel [the surgeons’] Services so essentially necessary in the West Indies, that they should not be removed from the Concorde, that Ship being ordered to sail in a few days” (NMM, ADM/E/46). Medical officers and servicemen were justified in their fears of the West Indian climate and its deadly diseases. Hospitalization and preventative medical techniques did little to abate the effect of the climate. As naval lieutenant Bartholomew James wrote: “The dreadful sickness that prevailed in the West Indies is beyond the power of the tongue or pen to describe … the constant affecting scenes of sudden death was in fact dreadful to behold, and nothing was scarcely to be met but funeral processions in this town” (James, 241-242). This paper considers British perceptions of the West Indian climate and the fear of death on military and naval operations.

2:30: John Baeten (@Baetron), Michigan Tech, “Active Flows from Inactive Mines: the Heritage of Contamination at Swan Lake”

Roundtable Abstract: There are more than a half-million abandoned mines in the western United States, an astounding number that reflects the landscape-scale impact wrought from the extraction of metals and minerals. Although these mines have ceased producing profits, they remain very active, evident in the environmental, political and cultural flows that continue to materialize from them. Abandoned mines are never truly orphaned, as local communities, governmental agencies, heritage organizations, and media outlets adopt their environmental legacies and cultural memory. 
This roundtable aims to address flows within historic mining landscapes, and call into question the “abandonedness” of abandoned mines. These mining flows include natural and biological flows, such as water, animals, and humans, economic and mineral flows – or the lack thereof, technological and knowledge flows, flows of waste and contamination, and memory and heritage flows. A mine is much more than a hole in the ground, and the flows that they produce transcend both space and time. 
Presenters on this roundtable will draw on case studies that explore the flows that have, and continue to, materialize from historic and abandoned mine sites in North America. Panelists will discuss the ebb and flow of resource conflicts between Timbisha Shoshone communities and miners in Death Valley; the historic negotiations over mine waste flows in Minnesota’s Mesabi Range, and how these mine waste legacies fail to flow through current heritage channels; how pop culture produces memory flows of abandoned mines, through their portrayal as places that harbor monsters, the insane, and other dark forces; how abandoned mine land remediation has perpetuated differentiated economic and toxic flows within post-mining communities in Montana; and the challenges that legacy waste flows from historic copper mining present to indigenous communities in Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Bay.

3:00: Katrin Boniface (@KatBoniface), UC Riverside, “Distributive Preservation & Heritage Livestock”

This talk examines livestock as living artifacts, in particular ongoing efforts at “saving” heritage breeds by importing them. Iran’s Caspian pony is a particularly good example, which it’s complicated history with the Iranian government and various wars since it was “rediscovered” in 1965 by an American breeder. The locals were, of course, already aware of the horses, but efforts were made to buy “unappreciated” stock for export. When export become illegal, ponies continued to be smuggled out of the country. It is, in effect, a form of distributive preservation, with all of the moral and legal quandaries that practice raises; however, being living creatures, there is the added complication that many imported populations remain isolated and fail to thrive.

3:30: Charlotte Leib (@charswim), Harvard University, “Surveying Sites Unseen: Trees, Representation and Power”

This paper examines how trees and terrain were represented by surveyors, artists, photographers in the years immediately before, during, and after the American Civil War, and the powerful role that these representations played in the development of state and national movements for preservation and conservation. Carleton Watkins’ photographs of Yosemite are well-known in this regard. Presented in Congress in 1864 to support the establishment of the first federally-protected parkland, these photographs created an American wilderness vision that has shaped environmental politics ever since. Yet the sublime landscape depicted in Watkins’ photographs, which were presented in Congress as unmediated facts, depended on the forced removal and forgetting of indigenous life. Taking Watkins’ Yosemite photographs as a starting point, this paper argues that the landscape representations prepared for subsequent surveys of the Adirondacks and the American West continued to construct scopic regimes that relied on “faction” – or the blending of fact and fiction for a political purpose. While these landscape representations were prepared to allow the public to “witness” the scientific process, they also often depicted “marked trees” as “witnesses” to property claims. By focusing on such “double-witnessing,” this paper begins to unpack the ways in which nature’s authority was called upon to both stabilize and subvert human norms in the years following the Civil War. Before the War trees were generally seen as obstructions to the progress of civilization, while after the War trees became powerful national emblems of nostalgia. The loss of trees to industry and of population to war, I argue, contributed to a sylvan melancholia that coincided with a search for the nation’s origins in the forest. By examining how and why this happened through graphic and historiographic investigation, this paper seeks to contribute to the ongoing “wilderness debate” and to strengthen discourse between landscape and environmental history.

4:00: Robert Hoberman  (@rhoberman), Rutgers University, “The End of These Woods: Working-Class Environmentalism in the New Jersey Pine Barrens”

My presentation is an adaptation of my master’s thesis and will be adapted as a poster at the ASEH Conference in Riverside. It examines the history and implications of local resistance to the planned construction of a supersonic jetport in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey in the 1960s. Today, the fight is usually invoked as an example of growing political power of organized environmentalist organizations, and fondly remembered as the catalyst for the formal protection of the region by state and federal authorities in 1979. However, a detailed exploration of the conflict yields a more productive way of thinking about how environmental protection regimes are established. The Pine Barrens of the 1960s was not a place we might assume would produce environmentalists. The local culture of the region was rural, working-class, deeply conservative, and often resentful of outside authority. The same is true today. Yet the jetport and the economic development plans associated with it were wildly unpopular. Understanding the motivations of those opposed to the project allows us to expand our conception of what environmentalism looks like. The activism of Pine Barrens residents reflected their political, cultural, and economic values, but were crucial to achieving ends that appear explicitly environmentalist. Concerns about wilderness protection, biodiversity, pollution, and habitat loss were all secondary. It was political representation, economic opportunity, and legal rights which animated most critics of the jetport. This disconnect between locals and environmentalists has made the continued protection this unique and threatened ecosystem fraught, and has made appreciating the possibility of a broad base of support for environmentalism more important than ever.

4:30: Nicole Seymour (@nseymourPHD), Cal State Fullerton, “Lesbian Rangers, Ecosexuals, and a Brief Modern History of Queer Outdoor Sex”

My presentation explores the intersection of North American queer history and environmental history, as seen through two sets of artists that employ outdoor sex. First are Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan of Canada, who, as “Lesbian National Parks and Services” have published a Field Guide to North America: Flora, Fauna, and Survival Skills (2002). Second are Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens of the U.S., so-called “ecosexuals” and creators of the coal documentary Goodbye Gauley Mountain.
I begin with the LNPS’s Field Guide, which lovingly parodies 1970s-1990s traditions of lesbian-feminism. For example, an entry on the red-tailed hawk plays on Helen Reddy’s 1971 feminist anthem, “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar”: “As independent as she is fierce, this hawk … is proud, she is invincible, she is Red-Tailed.” The LNPS also sexualize the typically-staid genre of the field guide, offering double entendre-laden instructions such as, “Dig several holes and keep them all wet.” They thereby revise family-friendly, heteronormative visions of nature. I conclude with Goodbye Gauley Mountain, which traces a history of Appalachian coal mining disasters, from the 1931 Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster to contemporary mountaintop removal. But it also features scenes in which Sprinkle and Stephens – who claim to be sexually attracted to nonhuman nature – writhe naked in local woods and streams. Sprinkle and Stephens thus bear witness to a long record of environmental injustice in the region while also imagining new varieties of sexual orientation. I conclude that outdoor sex serves multiple functions for these artists: as a means of critiquing sexual and scientific norms; as an opportunity to bring sorely-needed levity to environmentalism; and as an opportunity to critically reflect on past traditions of activism, from Second Wave feminism to naked protests to union organizing – traditions that these artists both break with and build on.

 

FRIDAY

1:00: Finn Arne Jørgensen (@finnarne), University of Stavanger, “Hunters, Screens, and Dogs with Antennas”

This twitter talk explores the historical relationship between hunters, technology, and the landscapes they use, through a study of the impact of GPS tracking on the practices and discussions on hunting in Scandinavia. The act of navigating a landscape, of being able to place yourself, your quarry, your fellow hunters, and your dogs in a mental representation of the surrounding world has long been a critical skill for hunters. In the last decade, digital and geolocative technologies have become far more common in hunting, enabling hunters to see their exact location, as well as their dogs, on a handheld GPS unit.
The presentation deepens the study of technology in hunting through analyzing the circulating relationship between one particular set of digital technologies and the knowledge and practice of hunting. In general, histories of hunting tend to pay much attention to weapons and their development from the dawn of time until present, but spends far less time on exploring the role of the other technologies. This presentation takes a different approach and seeks to place the GPS in a larger sociocultural and environmental perspective.
Also, it has great visuals of dogs with antennas and hunters staring at screens.

1:30: Nikki Moore (@nikkimoore), Rice University, *Title TBD

Speaking to issues as pressing as climate change and the politics of transnational aid, this project reveals the extent of Rockefeller influence in the art, genetic science and architecture of the Cold War period in Mexico and the broader Caribbean. By adding an element of formal visual analysis to political and scientific histories of the Green Revolution, this work contributes to an emerging body of scholarship on the essential role of the countryside in the history of modern architecture. More specifically, drawing on archival research, it examines the transnational art exhibitions that laid the groundwork for the Green Revolution’s first collaborations in Mexico and the broader Caribbean–orchestrated by the Rockefeller family’s Museum of Modern Art and Nelson Rockefeller’s Office for the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. Further, through formal architectural analysis and site visits to the genetics laboratories that fueled the Green Revolution, this work targets three primary agents–the Mexican Agriculture Project, the Costa Rican Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences, and the Colombian International Center for Tropical Agriculture. Linking the Rockefeller cultural agenda to the science behind the Green Revolution, I argue that the same aesthetic lens shaped both the architecture and landscape transformations of this Cold War development strategy, and its signature Nobel Peace Prize-winning genetic experiments. While the spotlight of architectural history is often ceded to urban icons, this work illustrates how scientists utilized the so-called raw materials of the countryside, from plant genes to animal germplasm in Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia to create genetic and aesthetic blueprints for the global transformation of agriculture.

2:00: Jon Robins (@robinshistory), Michigan Tech, “’Suited to Malaya’: Oil Palms, Forest Land, and Colonial Capitalism in Malaysia, 1910-1960”

This paper examines the first half-century (c. 1910-1960) of large-scale oil palm cultivation in Malaysia, challenging two related claims made by contemporary promoters of the industry: that the natural advantages of the tree make its dominance in global fat markets inevitable, and that southeast Asian environments are uniquely suited to cultivating the tree. The early experience of the industry shows that these advantages were not at all obvious to early planters. Foreign planters in Malaya tried to convince skeptical officials that the oil palm was “suited to Malaya,” but they also insisted plantation methods were necessary. This was despite arguments by colonial officials that competition with the West African smallholder system was impossible. Records show that the needs and limitations of foreign capital, rather than the natural properties of the oil palm or Malaysian land, were what necessitated plantation methods. Early plantations relied on direct and indirect subsidies from the colonial state, and planters hedged their bets on oil palm by interplanting with rubber. It was not until the 1950s that the key to the industry’s current success appeared: new tree varieties and planting methods that increased productivity, and which solved important challenges with the use of land and labor. The result was a planting boom from the 1960s onward, and a significant change in what constituted “appropriate” land for oil palm planting, notably including a shift toward deeper peat soils.

2:30: Dolly Jørgensen (@DollyJorgenson), University of Stavanger, “Monumentalising Extinction”

We are living through the sixth mass extinction of the Earth’s species. While the mass extinction of species has happened five times before, this time around, the extinction is being recorded when it happens; it is being remembered in human narrative. As humans have become aware of the extinction or imminent end of non-human animal species over the last two hundred years, there have been active attempts to understand, confront, or memorialise the loss of species. This Twitter talk examines monuments to animal extinction in public settings, covering several different types of public art including statuary, murals, and funerary forms. Some of the monuments honour particular species that has become extinct (like the passenger pigeon), whereas others mark extinction as an general event. Studying these monuments shows that modern society is struggling with the entanglement of remembering and acting on that remembrance. At the same time, extinction monuments reveal a weakening of human exceptionalism and move toward a post-human perspective over the last 70 years.

3:00: Kaitlyn Stack Whitney (@KStackWhitney), Rochester Institute of Technology, “Life on the Edge: The Creation of and Conservation in the Verge”

The US interstate highway system was created by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. It did not just result in creating the highway system though. Inadvertently, an entirely new place was created: the highway right-of-way, also known as the verge. Originally just the linear boundary between road and other land uses, the verge has markedly changed over time, becoming a physically distinct space to manage and eventually an ecosystem onto itself. That shift is most evident by recent selection of the I-39 right-of-way area as the sole location for a national monarch butterfly conservation plan.
I will trace the creation of the highway right-of-way as a separate space, a site of safety for drivers and risk for managers, and eventually as an ecosystem over the past 60 years in the United States. I will use the monarch butterfly life history and conservation plan as a case study of how the verge’s highest purpose is now envisioned, despite that the efficacy of roadside right-of-ways as successful sites of conservation has not yet been established. The highway system thus created a new place and word within the frame of ‘environment’ – and in turn new possibilities for conservation that were previously unimaginable.

3:30: Katrin Kleemann (@katrinkleemann), Rachel Carson Center, LMU Munich, “Living in the Time of a Subsurface Revolution: The 1783 Calabrian Earthquake Sequence”

In February and March 1783, a seismic sequence of five strong earthquakes shook Calabria, Kingdom of Naples, in today’s southern Italy. It is estimated that 35,000 people perished as a result of the earthquakes. As well as a loss of life, the earthquakes triggered tsunamis and caused the destruction of buildings and infrastructure. The earthquakes reached an intensity of up to XI on the Mercalli scale (which goes up to XII). The seismic sequence was followed by hundreds of aftershocks throughout the year. This was only the beginning of a year that was later described as an “annus mirabilis,” a year of awe, which saw many extraordinary phenomena. In June 1783, the Laki fissure in Iceland started to erupt and blanketed parts of the northern hemisphere with a dry, sulfuric-smelling dry fog. The dry fog was also visible in Italy. This, in combination with news from other parts of the world—such as a newly emerging burning island off the coast of Iceland, tremors in France, the Netherlands, and the western parts of the German Territories, and stories about two volcanic eruptions in the German Territories—led contemporaries to believe they lived in the time of a subsurface revolution.

4:00: Brian Leech, Augustana College (@brianleechphd), “Zombies from Zombie Mines: the Popular Culture of Abandoned Mines”

Roundtable Abstract: There are more than a half-million abandoned mines in the western United States, an astounding number that reflects the landscape-scale impact wrought from the extraction of metals and minerals. Although these mines have ceased producing profits, they remain very active, evident in the environmental, political and cultural flows that continue to materialize from them. Abandoned mines are never truly orphaned, as local communities, governmental agencies, heritage organizations, and media outlets adopt their environmental legacies and cultural memory. 
This roundtable aims to address flows within historic mining landscapes, and call into question the “abandonedness” of abandoned mines. These mining flows include natural and biological flows, such as water, animals, and humans, economic and mineral flows – or the lack thereof, technological and knowledge flows, flows of waste and contamination, and memory and heritage flows. A mine is much more than a hole in the ground, and the flows that they produce transcend both space and time. 
Presenters on this roundtable will draw on case studies that explore the flows that have, and continue to, materialize from historic and abandoned mine sites in North America. Panelists will discuss the ebb and flow of resource conflicts between Timbisha Shoshone communities and miners in Death Valley; the historic negotiations over mine waste flows in Minnesota’s Mesabi Range, and how these mine waste legacies fail to flow through current heritage channels; how pop culture produces memory flows of abandoned mines, through their portrayal as places that harbor monsters, the insane, and other dark forces; how abandoned mine land remediation has perpetuated differentiated economic and toxic flows within post-mining communities in Montana; and the challenges that legacy waste flows from historic copper mining present to indigenous communities in Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Bay.

4:30: Sean Kheraj (@seankheraj), York University, “Contesting Environmental Impact: The Norman Wells Oil Pipeline Proposal, 1980-81”

In 1980, Interprovincial Pipe Line Company applied for regulatory approval from the National Energy board to construct a small diameter oil pipeline from Norman Wells, NWT to Zama, AB. This was part of a development project that would expand production at the Norman Wells oilfields and deliver crude oil to refineries in Alberta. It was also the first pipeline development proposal for the NWT following the contentious national debate over the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline in the late 1970s. Once again, a pipeline corporation sought to build a new pipeline in Denendeh, the traditional territory of the Dene Nation. This paper will examine the assessment of the potential environmental impacts of the pipeline in 1980. Using exhibits and evidence from the initial NEB hearings on the proposal, this paper will explore the competing meanings of environmental protection and impact as IPL presented its environmental assessment report and local Dene leaders sought to challenge those findings.

Feature Photo: Hooded Oriole catching a bee in Riverside, California by Mike’s Birds. Source: Flickr

Published by Jessica M. DeWitt

Dr. Jessica M. DeWitt is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States. She is passionate about the use of digital technologies to bridge the gap between the public and researchers. In addition to her community and professional work, she offers various editing and social media consultancy services.

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