What I’m Reading 5

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…

SURVEY: 1970s in South Dakota

The Cultural Heritage Center museum in Pierre is soliciting input while they plan an upcoming exhibit on South Dakota in the 1970s, even if you’ve never been to the CHC.  What defined the era?  What would you want to see covered?  What would be a glaring omission?

I took the survey, will you?  Link here or this is the address: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8KY782Y

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Photograph by the author.

Digital Resources 4

This edition of Digital Resources includes three collections of the Library of Congress:

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At the Library of Congress website, I recently came across detailed plat maps of Turner, Hanson, Bon Homme, and Lincoln Counties from 1893, link here.  They were published by Rowley & Peterson, a company from Vermillion, SD.

My favorite research maps for South Dakota towns are definitely those of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.  Some libraries have digital access to map collections, but there are some of the nineteenth-century maps freely available on the Library of Congress, link here.

In 1939-1940, photographer John  Vachon came through South Dakota for the Farm Security Administration and took photographs of many different subjects, including grand houses, churches, ranch landscapes, snowy streets, and a family at dinner.  He went through Sisseton, Aberdeen, Roslyn, Pierre, Mellette County, Mission, Draper, Miller, Hyde County, Bowdle, Ipswich, Zell, Rockham, Faulk County, Doland, Clark County, Dewey County, Timber Lake, Trail City, Selby, Mobridge, Walworth County, Lemmon, White Butte, Ziebach County, Cressbard, Glenham, Orient, Rosebud, Perkins County, Northville, Corson County, Marvin, Lyman County, Murdo, Batesland, Pine Ridge reservation, and Keystone, link here.

In Memorium, City Edition: Pierre

Our capitol city has lost many significant and/or gorgeous buildings.  It’s hard to  look at some of these archival photographs and think “How did we lose that!?!”  Towards the bottom of the list, I’ll run through some of the recent losses–those that had been neglected, damaged, or vacated and cleared to make way for whatever comes next.  Then, way at the bottom are citations for frequently used sources, I’ll just put the minimal citation in the text.

For more on Pierre’s surviving historic places and city history: Pierre/Fort Pierre Travel Itinerary from the National Park Service and the Historic Pierre website of the Pierre/Fort Pierre Historic Preservation Office.

Now, here are some (actually, a quite a few) short(-ish) building biographies for a selection of Pierre places that live now only in archive and memory…

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Family Ties: Girls Trip to the Black Hills

I didn’t grow up in South Dakota, but was visiting family recently and had an unanticipated run-in with South Dakota history.  We were sitting around their kitchen table and I was listening to stories of all the old photos–every visit I see some of the same photos but there also seems to be something new.

One of my grandparents (well, a step-grandparent) shared a small album that their mother had put together after visiting South Dakota’s Black Hills with her friends in the early 1930s.  It was right at the start of the period when the highways to and within the Black Hills, as well as tourist facilities, were being improved and the ‘common folk’ could better access the area for vacation.  Needles Highway had been built in the 1920s, but Mount Rushmore would have still been in progress during their trip.  The cell phone photos I quickly grabbed of the unlabeled album aren’t great, but it made such an impact that I thought I’d share them anyway.  It’s amazing the feeling you get when you find a personal connection to interesting history.

Professionally, I think it’s fascinating that this young woman from a farm in Minnesota first, went on a vacation out to the Black Hills, but second, that she went with four female friends.  I would have guessed it to be unusual for five young women to travel that far alone in the 1930s, but maybe I need to check my preconceptions.  I wonder if they were school friends, or related?  Also: why they went, how long they were there, where they stayed, how they made travel arrangements, whether they had car trouble, what camera they had brought…

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A Quirky Place with a View: Rapid City’s Dinosaur Park

I’m working on a couple different posts that are taking a lot of research, so in the meantime, here is a bit of levity.  I recently got to visit Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, built in 1936 by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration.  It was funny how quickly I anthropomorphized the concrete sculptures.  They’re just fun, and the view over the city from Skyline Drive is fantastic.  I’m so glad the National Register of Historic Places-listed site has been preserved by the city and its residents.  Learn more about the project from the “Dinosaur Park” page on the Living New Deal website.

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Bentonite in South Dakota

The other day, there were some temporary repairs done to my workplace with Bentogrout.  Curious about what that was, I asked around and did some research.  It’s made of Bentonite, a clay-like mineral that expands with water, so the grout is typically injected into the ground along the exterior foundation wall so it will expand into and seal hairline cracks in the foundation.  It also has a South Dakota history…

Bentonite was first identified by Americans stationed at Fort Benton, Montana, a fur-trading post on the  Upper Missouri River, where traders used it for packing cracks in horse hoofs and for washing themselves.  They called the source sites “soap holes,” where rainwater hit surface deposits of bentonite [Davis and Vacher, 1].  There were reports of Hudson Bay traders using it for washing in Canada before 1873 as well [Davis and Vacher, 1].  It was officially named in the late-nineteenth century by Wyoming state geologist, Wilbur C. Knight, who had initially called in taylorite until realizing it was a duplicate [WSGS Summary Report, 1].  The first commercial shipment of the mineral was made in 1888 by Wyoming quarry owner William Taylor [WSGS Summary Report, 1; Davis and Vacher, 2].  Production continued, but there were jumps in the 1920s and the 1940s as available processing plants and market demand caused growth in the industry.

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