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Grassroots Activism in the ‘Burbs

Suburbia is the Rodney Dangerfield of environmental history. It gets no respect.  Cities are fascinating metropoles where cultures blend and clash, creating stories of great historical significance, while rural areas have the great appeal of being natural spaces of pastoral or wild beauty, raising perennial questions about land use and conservation.  But suburbs? Blech. Christophers Sellers wants…

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Elusive Evidence of the Ocean’s Past

It’s fun to be a historian of the oceans these days.  Environmental scholarship has yielded some fascinating clashes of perspective in recent years, and the conversations are lively.  Scientists, historians of science, and environmental scholars are all working intensively to establish a narrative of the sea’s life forms, its physical and chemical conditions, and the impact of…

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Does Crisis in Ukraine Shatter the Nuclear Order?

Ukraine’s inability to stop Russia from seizing Crimea may sound the death knell for the global nuclear order. For years I have written about the environmental dimensions of nuclear power and nuclear weapons programs, and more recently I have been exploring the connection between environmental crisis rhetoric and the proliferation of nuclear communities all over…

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Agent Orange and the Burden of Proof

Included here is my review of Edwin Martini’s book on Agent Orange, originally published in Pacific Historical Review 83:1 (2014), 179-180. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. By Edwin A. Martini. (Boston, University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. xvi + 302 pp. $24.95 paper) In this provocative book, Edwin A. Martini provides an international history of…

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Where is Nature in the Iconic Moments of American History?

If your New Year’s resolution includes reading more environmental history, you are in luck!  A new installment of H-Environment Roundtable Reviews is available!  This one focuses on environmental interpretations of iconic events in American history. My introduction is here: Should environmental historians confine themselves to subjects that clearly have environmental links, such as stories of…

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Mark Finlay, 1960-2013

Today I learned through the scholarly grapevine, specifically from my colleague Audra Wolfe, that historian Mark Finlay was killed last week in a car accident.  My heart goes out to his family.  Details can be found here and here. I’m sure Mark was missed this weekend in Portland, Maine, at the annual meeting of the Society…

Putting the Earth on a Ration Card

Is there such a thing as “world heritage” when it comes to food?  We are outraged when an intolerant regime destroys artifacts, buildings, or other objects of cultural significance in their own countries, and we take steps to encourage them to realize their global importance.  After all, these are the common heritage of humankind.  But…

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Who are the Voices of the Mountains?

Throughout “Appalachia,” a vast mountain region stretching from northern Alabama to Quebec, it is easy to betray one’s outsider status.  In many Southern parts, one might simply pronounce the third syllable in Appalachia with a long A, as in “name,” and it will be obvious to anyone that you are not from there.  Instead, it…

The strange military origins of environmentalism

The words “environmentalism” and “military” are not typically found in the same sentence. Yet ideas about our vulnerability to environmental change are directly linked to military plans for a third world war. Scientists planned to fight an unconventional war using the potential threats of the natural environment, calling it “environmental warfare”. Envisioning major threats to…

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When Race and Environment Collide

Environmental historians: want to take discussions of race beyond questions of environmental justice?  I’ve got just the book for you. In fact, I’ve got something short and sweet that will give you a great idea of how scholars are exploring the interactions of different ethnic groups with the natural world.  Four scholars agreed to take…

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Who Would Do Such a Thing?

As American politicians discuss “red lines” about Middle East governments using weapons of mass destruction, it is easy to forget that Western nations like the US and UK initially pioneered in the development and use of them.  I wrote a brief essay called “Beyond Narcissism and Evil,” for Oxford University Press’s blog, discussing our tendency…

Want to speed up the pulse of nature?

I am fanatically enthusiastic about the organizers of this summer’s Congress on the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, in Manchester, UK.  This is how conferences should be done! They have rejected curmudgeon-hood and have fully embraced social media. They have started a blog beforehand, and they have included a list of presenting historians of science —…

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Why We’ll Never Understand Fukushima’s Impact

Same report, different headlines. The World Health Organization’s first major assessment of the impacts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster is unlikely to resolve anyone’s concerns.  That’s because media coverage will happily reinforce whatever you expected to learn.  Like all radiation reports since the first ones were created in the mid-1950s, the details are immensely vulnerable…

Roundtable: Enclosing Water

In Man and Nature, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s envoy to Italy George Perkins Marsh warned his readers against repeating the mistakes of southern Europeans.  Over centuries, he said, they had cut down too many trees and allowed their rivers to erode the best soil. The most beautiful and productive parts of the Roman Empire had…

It’s Relativity Time!

It’s that time of year again.  The week when I attempt to explain Einstein’s special theory of relativity.  It’s one of those days when, if I don’t get the correct proportion of caffeine into my system, the synapses fail and I find myself staring into my own powerpoint presentation and speaking in tongues.  If you’ve…

Roundtable: The Passage to Cosmos

What does it mean to describe a worldview as Humboldtean?  Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) traveled extensively, gathered specimens, produced drawings, formulated grand geophysical theories, and never shied from describing the earth’s processes on a global scale.  While his brother Wilhelm lent his name to “Humboldtean education,” Alexander is associated with “Humboldtean science,” expansive…