The blog for the Organization of American Historians, Process History, was themed on environmental history this month, yay!! Here are a few of their blog articles that I’ve enjoyed recently.
The first article on today’s list is by Joseph Giacomelli, from the work he’s doing for his dissertation at Cornell, on understandings of climate in the Gilded Age. This article looks at one particular speech from 1886 about reasons for increased climate volatility, such as an increase in floods and tornadoes, and puts the speech in context for the scientific discourse of the era. One of the suspected reasons cited in that speech was deforestation in the industrializing country and Giacomelli connects it to the western histories of tree-planting on the Plains through the 1930s.
The second article frames the involvement of unions with the early environmental movement in the 70s and their disconnect subsequent 80s deregulation/union-busting, against today’s trend toward additional cuts to environmental regulation: “If workers’ survival depends on jobs, it also frequently depends on EPA and OSHA protections.” The author, Josiah Rector, a recent PhD grad and teacher at Wayne State University, has researched a moment in environmental history in Detroit for African-American auto workers facing job-related health issues, but he also bookends the post with references to current fights for good water in Flint and here at Standing Rock. He encourages historians not to discount the impact of unions on histories of “environmental justice and environmental racism.”
Then, I looked back and caught a third article from January that I had missed about the “colonial gaze” on native foodways, which connects to the native experience in South Dakota. The author, Michael Wise, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas, argues that there is a troubling disconnect between foodie culture, where the “rediscovery” of heirloom or ‘ancient’ foods are trending for various reasons, and scholarship about native food history, because the former treats native foods and therefore native people as static in a “timeless, natural” pre-contact world–the “colonial gaze.” He writes that scholars need to be conscious of the continuum of history of native foods and food production, the impact of colonial and expansion eras, and native responses to those influences. The author mentions the Tanka bars produced on our own Pine Ridge reservation as a case of the trendiness of native foods, but it’d be interesting to further explore whether the trend, and maybe the “rediscovery” myth to an extent, is part of current native producers’ economic strategy…