Appel à communication. “Ruling Climate: The theory and practice of environmental governmentality (1500-1800)”. Université de Warwick. Date-limite 10 décembre 2014

‘Ruling Climate’ aims to explore the relationship between cultural perceptions of the environment and practical attempts at environmental regulation and change between 1500 and 1800.

Consulter l’appel à communication dans son intégralité

We welcome abstracts for 20-minute papers from PhD students and scholars at any stage in their career. Papers from all disciplinary backgrounds are welcome, including environmental history, colonial history, intellectual history, historical geography, history of philosophy, history of medicine, history of science, history of political thought, history of technology. Please send a 200-word abstract (including your name, institutional affiliation and a provisional title) and a one-page CV to by 10 December 2014. Successful speakers will be notified in January 2015.


Avis de soutenance. Pablo Corral Broto “Une société environnementaliste? Histoire des conflits environnementaux sous la dictature franquiste en Aragon (1939-1979)”. 29 novembre 2014


Call for Proposals: “Ruling Climate”

<adapted from H-Env>   Call for Papers: Deadline 10 December 2014 RULING CLIMATE: THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNMENTALITY, 1500-1800 University of Warwick, 16 May 2015 ‘Ruling Climate’ aims to explore the relationship between cultural perceptions of the environment and practical attempts at environmental regulation and change between 1500 and 1800.  It will […]

— Climate History Network

Indigenous Knowledge and Environmental History: A Global View

Environmental historians are showing increasing interest in Indigenous knowledge. I learned about much useful work being done on this topic when I wrote a review of Indigenous Knowledge, a volume of articles from a decade of Environment and History (my review appeared recently in the same journal).
Historians are following scholars of other disciplines in this study, especially anthropologists, who have worked with Indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems for decades. But even so, they are forming some distinctive approaches to understanding Indigenous knowledge.  Several lessons from this volume are, I think, of particular interest:
·      Indigenous knowledge is central to understanding the relations between people with ties to particular places, and the larger forces of imperialism, globalization, or (more recently) nature conservation.
·      Indigenous knowledge also has tremendous political significance, as a foundation for asserting identities, rights, and interests, in part by asserting that places have long been occupied by a particular community or people.
·      Contrary to some stereotypes, Indigenous knowledge is not a timeless, ahistorical phenomenon, but an evolving body of understanding and ethical values – something better understood as a process than a fixed entity.
·      There is a substantial history of appropriation of Indigenous knowledge, particularly in colonial contexts.  Nevertheless, the relation between western science and Indigenous knowledge is too complicated to be described as one of domination.
·      And finally, the study of Indigenous knowledge requires careful attention to method: flexibility, thoughtfulness, and collaboration are prerequisites.  Real understanding of Indigenous knowledge — to the extent that this is possible for an outsider — just about always requires genuine collaboration.
I’ve looked myselfat the relations between science and Indigenous knowledge, mainly in northern Canada.  But while any nation-focused study can be useful (and some, such as work by Julie Cruikshank, is brilliant), a valuable feature of this book is that it’s a global collection, with chapters drawn from more than a dozen countries.  The effect gained when reading them all is a sense of the diversity not only of Indigenous communities, but of the scholarly communities that work with them.

— Stephen Bocking - Environment, History, Science

Parution. Georges Pichard et Emeline Roucaute, “Sept siècles d’histoire hydroclimatique du Rhône d’Orange à la mer (1300-2000)”.


Offre de stage. “Aperçu du paysage végétal du territoire marseillais de la fin du XIXe siècle au début du XXe siècle”. Janvier-juillet 2015


New issue of Environment and Nature in New Zealand now out!

Just released: Environment and Nature in New Zealand Vol 9 No 2 Includes the following articles and book reviews: Alistair McMechan, “Timber Town: A History of Port Craig” Simon Canaval, “The Story of the Fallow Deer: An Exotic Aspect of British Globalisation” Paul Star, “Island Reserves and Mainland Islands, including a Review of Ecosanctuaries” Joanne Whittle, “Review: […]

— envirohistory NZ

Beavers in Berlin

I like to believe that when we write environmental histories they are always smaller than we think–in that they are situated in a very specific place and time–but they are also always bigger than we think–in that they are connected to other places and times. Since I’m in Berlin this week visiting with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, I thought I’d think about the connections between my beavers in Scandinavia and Berlin.

Way back in September 1910, the director of the Skansen zoological garden Alarik Behm got a letter from the Berlin zoological garden offering an exchange (the correspondence is in the Nordiska museet archive in Stockholm). Berlin had a young beaver from the Rhône area that they were willing to trade for one great grey owl  and a pair of northern hawk-owls. The deal was accepted. The three owls made it to Berlin on September 28th and the beaver was sent to Skansen at that time. Unfortunately the little fellow died in 1911. Side note: This didn’t make Skansen beaver-less. Skansen got two Canadian beavers in 1909/10 and they lived until 1924. Read this post for more details.

This was not the last time Berlin connected with my history. In 1934, Sverre Holmboe of Oslo exported a pair of beavers from Norway to the Berlin zoo. While I’ve mentioned P.M. Jensen Tveit many times because he provides all of the beavers reintroduced into Sweden, he was not the only person in the business. I found correspondence from Holmboe about beavers in the Norwegian national archives back to 1933 when he was requesting permits to send live beavers to the Edinburgh zoo and Antwerp zoo. His letterhead states his business as: “Export av levende ville norske dyr” (“Export of living wild Norwegian animals”). According to one of his letters from 1940, he had previously been a German consulate in Kirkenes, Norway.

Apparently the Berlin zoo did get European beavers in the 1940s, as shown on this postcard from Heimatbelege.

On 26 March 1934, Holmboe had received a letter from the Berlin zoo offering 400 Norwegian kroner for each. This time the zoo wanted to get beavers instead of send them. On 8 May, Holmboe received word that the pair had arrived safely in Berlin. Only a few days afterward, however, both beavers died. Holmboe offered to request permission from the Landbruksdepartment to send a replacement pair for a discount. The answer via telegram was brief: “Purchase of the beavers is impossible. Zoo. Berlin”. Holmboe apparently did not end up sending replacements.

Holmboe continued correspondence with Germans and in 1940, he asked permission to catch and export three pairs of beavers to Carl Hagenbeck of Hamburg. The permitting process carried on into the German occupation of Norway. Holmboe changed his request to 5 pairs and was finally given permission to do so in June 1942. Holmboe appears to have not objected to the occupation–in his correspondence in the occupation time file he closes letters with “Heil og sæl” (note that others like Jensen Tveit don’t) and works a fair amount with German buyers.

What these little stories into beavers being moved to and fom Germany shows is that Scandinavian beavers are connected to places outside of Scandinavia. My story is connected to many other stories.

— Dolly Jørgensen, The Return of Native Nordic Fauna

Vacating Science and Forgetting History at the Central Experimental Farm

Pete at Farm with Civic in Background.jpg” with Caption: “Pete Anderson posing near the threatened experimental plots with the Civic Hospital in the background. Photo credit: Laura Cameron.

Pete Anderson posing near the threatened experimental plots with the Civic Hospital in the background. Photo credit: Laura Cameron.

By Peter Anderson

On November 3rd, John Baird announced that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada transferred approximately 24 hectares (60 acres) of the Central Experimental Farm, in Ottawa, to the National Capital Commission. The NCC in turn offered to lease the land to the Ottawa Hospital to build a new Civic Campus. The Hospital then mused about the using this new land as a parking lot.

Established in 1886, the Farm played an important role in Sir John A Macdonald’s plans for the colonization of the Canadian prairies after the completion of the Canada Pacific Railway and the military defeat of Métis and First Nation communities in the West in 1885. Located well outside of the city when it was founded, today the Farm is completely surrounded by Ottawa. In 1998 it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. The Farm remains an important federal agricultural science research station and a popular park for the people of Ottawa.

While I have argued elsewhere against the current threat faced by the Farm [1], in this post I explore the discourses that arose immediately after the announcement. Particularly, I am interested in the ways history and science are discursively vacated by the text and maps in news stories about the Farm.

With some notable exceptions [2], published commentary on the grant look at the value offered by a new hospital with a nod to the nearly hundred year history of the Civic Hospital. These arguments applaud Baird for his generous act and some even suggest further division of the Farm to create a ‘central park’ for the city. Many online commenters agree with the journalists and columnists, with a few pushing for the complete subdivision and sale of the Farm.

Discursively emptied of ongoing scientific research activities and of its own rich history, the Farm is construed as under- and even mis-utilized land waiting for urban development. Politicians like Baird and columnists like Randall Denley exercise what Jennifer Bonnell terms ‘imaginative control’ where people in positions of power see what they want to see, and thereby create certain possible futures for a site while closing off others. Rather than the imperial gaze in Bonnell’s account, Baird, Denley, and online commenters look over the Farm with a developer’s gaze, seeing scientifically productive land as “untapped, wasted” just waiting for condos, single-family homes, hospitals, and parking lots [3].

As David Reevely of the Ottawa Citizen put it: “What John Baird wants, Ottawa gets”. In an interview with CBC Ottawa Morning, Ottawa Hospital CEO Jack Kitts mentions his plans to engage with the community before developing the land. However, the decision to open part of the Farm to hospital development came without public consultation and interest groups such as the Friends of the Farm and, according to Friends’ President Eric Jones [note: pdf], the Farm’s heritage advisory council, which is responsible for long term planning, were not approached before the news was released.

Groups who may have advised against the division of the Farm were excluded from and effectively silenced in official discourse. In addition, the chilly climate imposed by the government on communication by civil servants makes it difficult to know what the scientists working at the Farm or heritage officials at Parks Canada think about the move.

Maps used in news stories convey senses of place and scale to those unfamiliar with where an event takes place. As necessarily imperfect representations of portions of the world, maps convey stories both through what they include and what they leave out. In this case, none of the maps used in news reports accurately represent the Farm, demonstrating and reinforcing a wider lack of public understanding about the physical size and scale of scientific work performed at the Farm.

Map from Ottawa Citizen’s coverage (

Map from Ottawa Citizen’s coverage (

Map from MetroNews’ coverage (

Map from MetroNews’ coverage (

Central Experimental Farm (red), the Civic Hospital (green), and the proposed 60 acre grant (yellow) prepared by Pete Anderson using GoogleMaps.

Central Experimental Farm (red), the Civic Hospital (green), and the proposed 60 acre grant (yellow) prepared by Pete Anderson using GoogleMaps.

Comparing the maps from the Ottawa Citizen and MetroNews with one I created shows a few interesting points of contrast. For example, the Dominion Arboretum and the Fletcher Wildlife Garden are frequently left off maps of the Farm. The reason may lie in the visual disjunction between these treed landscapes and the experimental plots that cover much of the Farm’s grounds.

Whereas today the fields of the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre dominate the landscape, the Arboretum and Wildlife Garden are park-like spaces. In the spirit of the Victorian era desire to coax the working classes into carefully tended nature, early Farm scientists made their science beautiful, of which the Arboretum is the best surviving example [4]. The Wildlife Garden, on the other hand, represents a late-twentieth century urge to rewild urban spaces and resembles a tiny conservation area. In a way, the federal and citizen science undertaken in these locations is obscured by their aesthetic appearance.

These maps show seemingly empty fields and Kelsey Jones, writing for iPolitics, states that the Farm itself doesn’t have solid plans for the parcel being leased to the Ottawa Hospital. This too ignores the longer scientific history of the site. As Julie Harris notes, these “‘empty fields’ are, in fact, open-air laboratories where important agricultural research continues to be conducted” and finding land on which detailed scientific data has been recorded for over a century anywhere in Eastern Ontario, let alone the rest of Canada, is next to impossible. The visually vacated fields are deep archives of Canadian agricultural science.

The discourses that render the Farm empty, misused land ripe for development are a threat to both federal science capacity and the value of national heritage designations. Read outside the context of the Farm’s past and present uses, it’s easy to accept these accounts and agree that the open fields are an excellent location for a new hospital campus. However, read alongside attacks on Library and Archives Canada, the Experimental Lakes Area, the Department of Justice Canada research division, and libraries at Environment Canada the story plays out very differently.

The discursive context is important and is something that we, as active historians, can bring to the table in our public writing. At a time when the federal government is renaming parkways in Ottawa after Sir John A Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier we can point out the ways and places where their legacies are being chipped away through the general decline of federal research institutions and the specific paving over of one corner of the Central Experimental Farm.

Peter Anderson is a PhD Candidate in Geography at Queen’s University, Kingston, where he studies the historical and cultural geographies of the Central Experimental Farm. He can be found online at Twitter @dairpo and at his website, History Applied.


[1] In addition to my op-ed, I have captured my initial tweetstorms using Storify.

[2] In addition to my op-ed, the heritage and science use of the Farm have been taken seriously by Julie Harris (5 November 2014) “Central Experimental Farm’s Management Plan Should be Respected” Heritage Ottawa; Kelsey Jones (3 November 2014) “Feds Pledge Experimental Farm Land for new Ottawa hospital” (note: paywall, though students who register using their university email account receive a free annual subscription); David Reevely’s discussion with Heritage Ottawa’s Lesley Maitland (4 November 2014) “Experimental Farm’s historic status can’t stop hospital plans” Ottawa Citizen; and, in Friends of the Farm President Eric Jones’s November 4th interview on CBC Ottawa Morning (note: autoplay audio).

[3] Jennifer Bonnell (2014). Reclaiming Toronto’s Don River: An Environmental History of an Urban River. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, see pages xx-xxi and 6-10.

[4] For a discussion of this see Julie Harris and Jennifer Mueller [1997] “Making Science Beautiful: The Central Experimental Farm, 1886-1939” Ontario History 89(2): 103-123.


Alumni Fellow Thomas Zeller Edits Special Issue of Transport History

— Rachel Carson Centre LMU - News and Events