Monday, December 3, 2007

Corporate Wasteland

Steve High's new book, Corporate Wasteland, a collaboration with the photographer David Lewis, has arrived in bookstores and the book launch is next Monday, December 10th which I, fingers crossed, will be at with Karen, Emily, and Hope. Steve provides the text and David the images, and while the book is far more text than image, that balance is somewhat reversed in the travelling exhibition they co-curated with the same title.

For those who wonder how historians can produce a "usable past" for a more just future, get your hands on this book. It is not polemical, but it is very political. While on one level a fascinating, scholarly study of the cultures of post-Fordist political economy, Corporate Wasteland is also a book about the politics of place, community, and class, and a poetic missile fired at the idea that deindustrialization is a "natural" by-product of globalization and transnational corporations. It is the last message which the book delivers not only to politicians and corporate executives but also to academics and others who, even when they demonstrate great empathy for the suffering of workers and local communities (most famously, Youngstown, Ohio and its "Black Monday"), do not contest the metanarritive of inevitability. Of course, Corporate Wasteland says and shows this with far more style and humanity than my crude summary conveys. In lesser hands, the book might have become sentimental and its politics muddled. Neither, I assure you, is the case here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reading Nature(s)

The assembly of a reading list is always an exercise of cut-and-paste: titles appear, go away, re-appear and, often, repeat the dance. In generating a list for three smarty-pants graduate students on "Environmental History", the dance was a little more hectic than usual because I wanted to see if I could unsettle some assumptions they might have had about the field. I am not sure I have accomplished this, yet, but I think we might be on the way.

This list below, and I apologize for what seems to be odd formatting, owes much to my own experiences teaching a full-year survey course in environmental history, reading seminars with graduate students, and my own archival adventures in the last couple of years. It is also inspired by an M.A. Thesis I examined by a one-time history student, Matt Dyce, now studying in UBC's geography department. It makes no pretense to be "definitive" nor "complete" nor, I hasten to add, terribly responsible to what is a rather explosive field of scholarship. It is what it is.

1. With, Through, From, Against, and Always In, Nature
Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (Grove Press, 1991)

2. Historiographical Interventions
J.R. McNeil, “Observations on the Nature and Culture of Environmental History,”
History and Theory 42, 4 (2003), 5-43
Richard White, “From Wilderness to Hybrid Landscapes: The Cultural Turn in
Environmental History,” Historian 66, 3 (2004), 557-564
Stephen Mosley, “Common Ground: Integrating Social and Environmental History,”
Journal of Social History 39, 3 (2006), 915-933
Lynne Heasley, “Reflections on Walking Contested Land: Doing Environmental History
in West Africa and the United States,” Environmental History 10, 3 (2005), 510-531
Karen Asdal, “The Problematic Nature of Nature: The Post-Constructivist Challenge to
Environmental History,” History and Theory 52, 4 (2003), 60-74

3. Culture / Nature and Environmentalisms (2 weeks)
William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature”
Paul Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight Against Automobiles Launched the Modern
Wilderness Movement (University of Washington Press, 2002), Chapters 1-3, 6-7
Ramachandra Guha, How Much Should a Person Consume? Environmentalism in India
and the United States (University of California Press, 2006), Chapters 3, 6, 7, 9

4. Conservation, State Formation, and Citizenship (2 weeks)
Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden
History of American Conservation (University of California Press, 2001), Introduction,
Chapters 1-3, and Epilogue
Adam Rome. “ ‘Political Hermaphodites: Gender and Environmental Reform in
Progressive America,” Environmental History 11, 3 (2006), 440-463
Jennifer Read, "Let us Heed the Voice of Youth: Laundry Detergents, Phosphates, and the
Emergence of the Environmental Movement in Ontario,” Journal of the Canadian
Historical Association (1996), 227-250
Tina Loo, States of Nature: Conserving Canada’s Wildlife in the Twentieth Century
(UBC Press, 2006), Chapters 3, 4, 5, 7

5. Joy Parr’s Sensed Environmental History
Joy Parr, “Smells Like? Sources of Uncertainty in the History of the Great Lakes
Environment,” Environmental History, 11, 2 (2006), 269-299
Joy Parr, “A Working Knowledge of the Insensible? Radiation Protection in Nuclear
Power Generating Stations, 1962-1992,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 48,
4 (2006), 820-851
Joy Parr, “Notes for a More Sensuous History of Twentieth-Century Canada: The
Timely, the Tacit, and the Material Body,” Canadian Historical Review, 82, 4 (2001),

6. Christophers Sellers’ Embodied and ‘Known’ Environmental History
Christopher Sellers, “Body, Place, and State: The Makings of an ‘Environmentalist’
Imaginary in the Post-World War II U.S.,” Radical History Review 74 (1999), 31-64
Christopher Sellers, “The Dearth of the Clinic: Lead, Air, and Agency in Twentieth-
Century America,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 58, 3 (2003),
NOTE: Read the following two essays together as an imagined pair of studies on
Christopher Sellers, “The Artificial Nature of Fluoridated Water: Between Nations,
Knowledge, and Material Flows,” Osiris, 2nd series, 19 (2004), 182-200
Joy Parr, “Local Water Diversely Known: Walkerton, 2000 and After,” Environment and
Planning D: Society and Space 23 (2005)

7. Body, Health, and Nature (2 weeks)
Greg Mitman, “In Search of Health: Landscape and Disease in Environmental History,”
Environmental History 10, 2 (2005), 184-210
Courtney Bolton Valencius, The Health of the Country: How American Settlers
Understood Themselves and Their Land (Basic Books), Introduction, Chapters 2, 5, 6, 8
Linda Nash, Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge
(University of California Press, 2006), Chapters 2,3,4,5

8. Children, Childhood, and Camp (or, A Week of Alliteration)
Xiaobei Chen, “ ‘Cultivating Children as You Would Valuable Plants’: The Gardening
Governmentality of Child Saving, Toronto, Canada, 1880s-1920s.” Journal of Historical
Sociology 16, 4 (2003), 460-486
Michael Smith, “ ‘The Ego Ideal of the Good Camper and the Nature of Summer Camp,”
Environmental History 11, 1 (2006), 70-101
Sharon Wall, “Totem Poles, Teepees, and Token Traditions: ‘Playing Indian’ at Ontario
Summer Camps, 1920-1955,” Canadian Historical Review 86, 3 (2005): 513-544
Abigail A. Van Slyck, “Kitchen Technologies and Mealtime Rituals: Interpreting the
Food Axis at American Summer Camps, 1890-1950,” Technology and Culture 43, 4
(2002), 668-692
Leslie Paris, “The Adventures of Peanut and Bo: Summer Camps and Early Twentieth-
Century American Girlhood,” Journal of Women’s History 12, 4 (2001), 47-76

9. Sights / Sites of Nature
Re-read William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness”
Carolyn Merchant, “Reinventing Eden: Western Culture as Recovery Narrative,” in
William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (W.W. Norton,
1995), 132-159
Selections from Lori Pauli, “Seeing the Big Picture” in Pauli, ed., Manufactured
Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky (National Gallery of Canada / Yale
University Press, 2003)
In our meeting, we will watch and then discuss the film Manufactured Landscapes based
on the work of Edward Burtynsky

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Resurfacing from Saskatoon

April is a dark, dark period on the academic calendar: term assignments, exams, deadlines for conference papers make the professor's life almost as stressful and overwhelming as the student's. And with that excuse out of the way for not being more active here, lets get on with it.

Coming to the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association is one of the highlights for me: I get to see friends who live scattered in the scholarly winds and hear / read a wide range of papers produced / delivered by some really smart people. Who am I kidding: it is the book fair! A great collection of publishers and editors hanging out displaying, promoting, and talking books. The friends, the smart papers, the book fair all get me very inspired and it remains for me "the" conference. Since I am actually presenting this year, my inspiration is tempered only somewhat by the stress of having to pare down a paper that was already a little too long to a measly 15 minutes. Thank goodness for the question-and-answers since it is there when, inevitably, you get to work in all that "genius" (read: extraneous detail) left behind.

If I was truly courageous and brave, I would simply show the image at the top of this post and spend the 15 minutes explaining why I think it is both beautiful and important. Because, in the end, that is what the paper is all about. But if you are interested, take a look at the loooong version of the paper and decide for yourselves. (Session #20, Password: "sask-07")

Monday, April 9, 2007

Environmental History and the Paucity of Paper

One of the things I admire about environmental history is its emphasis on the embodied elements of culture, experience, and identity. Insisting that history was experienced through the body is, however, difficult to re-present on the page. Of course it can be done, and done very well, but how else might historians re-tell histories of embodiment? The always-interesting Joy Parr provides us with some possibilities right here.

What are the implications of this kind of scholarly work for the relationship between the historian and the subject? The (overly) easy answer is "nothing" but I am not so sure. Historians might be tempted to think about the use of new technologies for broadening our audiences but I hope that we also take this opportunity to cast the gaze a little more reflexively at our own individual and collective selves. Do we run a greater risk of appropriating the experiences, identities, and narratives of others as our own? How visible or audible should the historian be in such forms of representation? Blurring the lines between subject, historian, audience, and archive is an exciting possibility but also one with some daunting responsibility.

The hovering head at the top of this page might still have some useful things to say about all this.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Because the World Needed Another Blog

The title of this blog refers to two things: 1) I am trying to figure out how to "write" in the digital age, and so this blog is going to be, in part, a laboratory for some experiments in scholarly communication. This refers to content (what is "scholarly"?) but especially to form. 2) This is a site being produced by a historian who is fascinated by all things historiographical, and yet my definitions of both these things ("historian" and "historiographical") go decidedly beyond the versions. This means, for example, that I just may go on-and-on about the novels of Michael Chabon, especially since his newest is about to arrive on my doorstep.

And if you are wondering what book I am holding in the image at the top of this page, go here or here to learn a little more.