A search for beginnings

People like to think about the beginnings of things. Understanding the beginning gives a sense of sureness, of identity, because you can know where the things after that came from. After all, the celebration of Christmas, which is all around us at the moment, is all about telling the beginning of a story. You certainly see the tendency in environmental history to search for roots, beginnings, and origins with titles like “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” (White 1974) and Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism (Miller 2001), and Before Earth Day: The Origins of American Environmental Law, 1945-1970 (Brooks 2009), to name a few. But searching for the beginning can be as treacherous a historical exercise as searching for the last of a species that I previously discussed. How do you know that you have really found the first?

This was one of my dilemmas in my article tracing the various uses of ‘rewilding’ as a term which appeared in Geoforum earlier this month. I specifically avoided trying to trace back all the roots of ‘rewilding’ because I knew that such an exercise was futile for two reasons: (1) I would never know if something had been missed and (2) identifying the inspirations for people’s thoughts is notoriously difficult (even if you interview them). Instead, I decided to focus on the myriad uses of ‘rewilding’ that have agglomerated to form the current popular science use of the term without searching for all possible origins. I limited the scientific analysis to papers cataloged in Web of Science, which I recognise is a database with a restrictive scope, but this made it possible to claim “firstness” in a tangible sense.

The reason I’m thinking about beginnings this week is that I came across some materials this week that made me realise that the story of beaver reintroduction told by those who brought the beaver to Jämtland (specifically Erik Festin) fails to acknowledge all the predecessors. In Festin’s work, he claimed that inspiration to bring beavers back to Sweden came from himself and Alarik Behm, director of Skansen’s zoo and keynote speaker at an event in Jämtland the year before the reintroduction funding appeal. In an article in 1922, Festin admitted that others had talked about possible reintroduction, including Sigfrid Ericson’s suggestion to reintroduce beaver in Stora Sjöfallets nationalpark in an article from 1921 and Eric Modin’s recommendation in a 1911 article to bring them to the national parks in the north, but these were not direct inspirations. So the fact that he stops there makes sense. For him, the history of the reintroduction begins with himself.

In reality, others had proposed beaver reintroduction long before. All the way back in 1873, F. Unander wrote that the desire for Sweden to have beavers again “can only be achieved through import from abroad and introduction (implantation) of beaver, which also seems to be questioned by Skogsstyrelsen (the Forest agency)”. The suggestion to reintroduce the animal was being made at the same time that the beaver was finally being considered extinct in Sweden (see my earlier post with Unander’s claims about their extinction). In 1884, an article about the beaver’s prior spread in Sweden in Svenska Jägarförbundets Nya Tidskrift closed with:

It would be a loss if such a species would be wiped out, and on the other hand it is a gain for the country’s fauna to possess it as soon as is possible. That Northern Sweden with its immense forest and marshland stretches has many suitable beaver habitats is beyond doubt, and colonisation of the Canadian beaver would not be impossible, but only under the condition that careful protection could be counted on. The previously existing beaver population is now in all likelihood extinct, even if he still exists in the swedish hunting laws. Will the saga ever come true?

One of the first reintroduced beaver pair overwintering at Skansen before their reintroduction to Jämtland in 1922. Photo from A. Behm, Nordiska Däggdjur (1922)

One of the beavers overwintering at Skansen before its reintroduction to Jämtland in 1922, which was the first actualised beaver reintroduction project in Sweden. Photo from A. Behm, Nordiska Däggdjur (1922)

Festin’s reintroduction proposal came 40-50 years after these, yet it was his idea that would be acted on and not these earlier ones. On top of that, Festin apparently didn’t even know about those earlier proposals. For him, his idea was new. And in many ways, he was right because his idea led to action whereas the others did not. He did organise the first release of newly imported beavers from Norway.

So where does the story of beaver reintroduction in Sweden begin? Eventually I will partially answer that question by how I write the reintroduction’s history. For now it is an open-ended question. Perhaps there are even older documents waiting to be uncovered. Even if I find others, I’ll never know if I really have seen the first reintroduction proposal. The beginning is just as elusive as the end.

— Dolly Jørgensen, The Return of Native Nordic Fauna

Journées de la Société Française d’Histoire Urbaine, “Animaux dans la ville, de l’Antiquité à l’époque contemporaine”, 15-16 janvier 2015.

Les prochaines journées d’études de la Société Française d’Histoire Urbaine auront lieu du 15 à 16 janvier 2015 à Maisons-Alfort. Elles seront consacrées aux “animaux dans la ville, de l’Antiquité à l’époque contemporaine”.

Consulter le programme complet


Parution. Le Mouvement Social “L’émergence du risque industriel (France, Grande-Bretagne, XVIIIe-XIXe siècles)”, n°249, oct-dec 2014.


Korstian Forestry Education Lantern Slides Now Viewable

From the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, lecturers often used glass lantern slides to illustrate their topics. Photographs were copied onto glass plates to make the slides, which would then be used with a projector to cast images onto walls or large screens. First developed in 1849, this process allowed for large groups of people to view photographs at the same time. This new technology was a no-brainer for lecturers. Large audiences now had a visual aid, one that was oftentimes further enhanced through color. Professional colorists hand-tinted the slides, producing colorized photos long before the invention of color film.

Cheat River watershed, West Virginia

Lantern slide depicting a stand of mixed hardwoods and softwoods, Cheat River watershed, West Virginia, 1923.

FHS houses a set of such slides in the Duke University School of Forestry Lantern Slide Collection, a portion of which was recently digitized. These slides were collected by Clarence F. Korstian (1889–1968), a seminal figure in the history of forestry education both in North Carolina and nationwide. Korstian used the slides to accompany lectures during his tenure at Duke University from 1930 to 1959.

Clarence Korstian

Korstian standing in open stand of timber in Craven County, NC, 1927.

Born and raised in Nebraska, Korstian spent the majority of his career in North Carolina. He served two decades with the U.S. Forest Service, about half of that at the Appalachian Forest Experiment Station in Asheville. He left the agency in 1930 to take a job at Duke as both a professor of silviculture and director of the Duke Forest. At Duke, Korstian organized a graduate school of forestry and served as the school’s first dean when it opened in the fall of 1938. He was instrumental in developing one of the nation’s leading forestry programs during his tenure, while also managing and expanding Duke Forest.

Duke Forest vehicle 1930s

Duke Forest vehicle traveling on bridge over New Hope Creek in Durham, NC, 1930s.

The lantern slides Korstian collected to illustrate his forestry lectures come from at least 36 different states and several countries. Some of the photographs were taken by Korstian during his time with the Forest Service. The collection also includes photos from a trip he took to Europe to visit forestry schools in Germany, Switzerland, and France in the summer of 1932. The majority of slides in the collection are hand-colored, and as a whole they provide a unique look at forestry practices of the time as well as photographic technology.

German forest road

Dr. Hans Mayer-Wegelin, Forstassessor Petri, and Prof. Joshua Alban Cope on forest road in Bramwald Staatsoberforsterei. Hann-Munden, Germany, 1932.

By the 1940s, 35mm Kodachrome slides began to take over as the preferred method for publicly showcasing photographs. Lantern slide use all but disappeared by the late 1950s. This was also around the same time that Korstian’s own career was winding down. He relinquished the deanship in 1957, and fully retired two years later. Following his retirement in 1959, one of the major divisions of Duke Forest was named in his honor.

Over 100 of the 900 slides in the collection have so far been digitized and can now be accessed online via the FHS image database. You can view more selections from the collection below, and see the collection’s finding aid for additional information. To learn more about Korstian, read the oral history interview Clarence F. Korstian: Forty Years of Forestry conducted by Elwood Maunder in 1959.

Fire scars

Second growth oaks, damaged at the base by fires. Pisgah National Forest, 1927.

Steam skidder in Great Dismal Swamp

Steam skidder in a gum swamp, Dismal Swamp area, NC, 1922.

Kudzu vines planted to control erosion

Kudzu vines planted to control erosion, Tennessee, 1930.

Chestnut trees at Greenwich Park

Chestnut trees at Greenwich Park, England.

rhododendron undergrowth

Virgin forest, chiefly spruce, at high elevation with rhododendron undergrowth, NC, 1900.

Filed under: From the Archives Tagged: Clarence F. Korstian, Duke University School of Forestry, historic photographs, lantern slides, North Carolina

— Peeling Back the Bark

INQUA session CfP: Reconstructing Historical Climate Variability Using Documentary Sources

Once every four years, the International Union for Quaternary Research holds a congress to exchange research and set the agenda for future meetings. This congress will be held next year in Nagoya, Japan, from July 27th to August 2nd. Professors David Nash and Rudolf Brazdil and have proposed a session entitled “Reconstructing Historical Climate Variability Using […]

— Climate History Network

Parution. Revue Développement durable et territoires. “Géohistoire des risques et des patrimoines naturels fluviaux”.

Le nouveau numéro de la revue Développement durable et territoires est consacré à la “Géohistoire des risques et des patrimoines naturels fluviaux” sous la direction d’Hélène Melin et Olivier Petit.

Accéder à la revue


KTH, Sweden: Associate professor in environmental history

KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden is […]

— Australian and NZ Environmental History Network

Appel à communication. “6th European Conference on African Studies”. Paris, 8-10 juillet 2015.

Dans le cadre de la sixième conférence européenne sur les études africains, un panel est organisé autour des “Naturalistic collections as historical sources in Africa: knowledges, environment and identities”.

Les personnes intéressées peuvent proposer un papier à l’adresse suivante: http://www.ecas2015.fr/naturalistic-collections-as-historical-sources-in-africa-knowledges-environment-and-identities/

Date limite: 9 janvier 2015


Appel à chercheurs (post-doctorants, chercheurs) 2015-2016. Rachel Carson Center (Munich).

Le Rachel Carson Center du Munich a lancé son appel à candidature pour la période 2015-2016.

L’ensemble des renseignements sont disponibles ici.

La date-limite est fixée au 31 janvier 2015.


Considering the Anthropocene

Dolly Jørgensen has posted yet another fascinating discussion on her blog.  Today, she begins with her visit to the new Welcome to the Anthropocene exhibit at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, using this as a point of departure for considering the reintroduction of species.
The Anthropocene concept itself has been receiving ever-more attention from environmental historians.  This makes sense: the notion of a new geological era defined by humanity’s transformative impact can serve as a succinct summary of the recent history of human-nature relations.  But as historians embrace the Anthropocene, some questions might also come to mind.  Here are three of them:
1) What does the concept mean for how historians think about time?  The Anthropocene is framed in terms of geological time – does that make it more difficult to think in terms of the finer time scales where genuine historical explanations are to be found?
2) And what about scale?  The Anthropocene is a global concept: shorthand for the notion that human impacts are evident everywhere on the planet.  Yet that global vision itself can obscure finer scales of geographical analysis.  After all, in some places the Anthropocene began centuries ago; in other, more remote regions it’s still a novelty,  Can historical discussions framed in terms of the concept still capture those subtleties?
3) What does the concept mean for how historians relate to scientists?  Adopting the language of the Anthropocene means adopting how the concept has been framed by scientists – and this framing itself reflects the historical context of global science.  If historians are right to be careful when they apply scientific concepts and methods – acknowledging that science is not simply an objective source of knowledge – does their quick adoption of the Anthropocene, as compelling as it is, reflect an easing of this critical gaze?

— Stephen Bocking - Environment, History, Science