Biodiversity Heritage Library: Taming the Wild Social Media Animals: Facebook, Twitter, Blogger… Oh My!

Maria Chiochios, Outreach Impact Strategy Intern at Biodiversity Heritage Library, discusses her experience at “evaluating BHL’s outreach strategy and impact” and how it helped her to “gain a deeper knowledge about the natural sciences and the publications that have shaped biodiversity knowledge.”

Read the full article at the Biodiversity Heritage Library Blog.


— Ant, Spider, Bee: Exploring Digital Environmental Humanities

EH Book Chat on Stephanie LeMenager’s Living Oil

In the fourth edition of the Environmental Humanities Book Chat, Catrin Gersdorf (University of Würzburg) and Sarah Elkind (San Diego State University) join moderator Hannes Bergthaller to discuss Stephanie LeMenager’s Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. For further details, visit the publisher’s website.

Sarah Elkind teaches environmental, political, urban, and public history, and runs SDSU’s public history internship program. She recently curated the exhibition “Sunshine and Superheroes” for the Oakland Museum of California in 2014. In 2011, she published How Local Politics Shape Federal Policy: Business, Power and the Environment in Twentieth Century Los Angeles. Her other works include Bay Cities and Water Politics: The Battle for Resources in Boston and Oakland (Kansas, 1998), which won the Abel Wolman prize for best book in public works history in 1998; and Public Works and Public Health: Reflections on Urban Politics and Environment, 1880-1925 (Public Works Historical Society, 1999). She is currently researching the evolution of national identity in Europe and the United States in two comparative studies, one considering American and Spanish water resources development, and another probing cowboys and Vikings in American and Danish popular history and museums.

Catrin Gersdorf holds the chair for American Studies at the University of Würzburg, Germany, and is a co-founder of the university’s Interdisciplinary Forum for Cultural Environmental and Animal Studies (IFCEAS). She is also a founding member of the European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture, and the Environment (EASLCE), as whose treasurer she has served for many years. Her book The Poetics and Politics of the Desert: Landscape and the Construction of America appeared in 2007, and she has co-edited (with Sylvia Mayer) the volumes Nature in Literary and Cultural Studies: Transatlantic Conversations on Ecocriticism (2006) and Natur – Kultur –Text: Beiträge zu Ökologie und Literaturwissenschaft (2005).

— European Society for Environmental History

HUMlab gives perspective to Nature

In an interview with Umeå University’s HUMlab Blog Ant Spider Bee editor Finn Arne Jørgensen discusses how “digital technology plays a major role in how people perceive and interpret nature.”

Read the full interview on HUMlab Blog.

— Ant, Spider, Bee: Exploring Digital Environmental Humanities

Romanticism and nature

Romanticism was an intellectual and artistic movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century. It was a reactionary response against the scientific rationalisation of nature during the Enlightenment, commonly expressed in literature, music, painting and drama. But it was not simply a response to the rationalism of the Enlightenment but also a reaction against the material changes in society, which accompanied the emerging and expanding industrial capitalism in the late eighteenth century. In this transition production became centralised in the city. The factory system of mass production was centred on processes that used and controlled natural forces such as water and wind, but also increased power by increasingly using fossil fuels. These processes, combined with the profit motive, “degraded and despoiled”, as some romantics saw it, the environment (although they would not have used the term). Cities expanded to unprecedented sizes, and grew into into centres of pollution, poverty and deprivation. They began to symbolise the failure of laissez faire liberalism’s philosophy that permitting people to follow their self-interest would lead to a perfect society. Population movement from the land, and rational search for economically efficient production methods (involving division of labour, timekeeping and mechanisation) led, according to the Romantic Movement, to spiritual alienation of the masses from the land and nature. As Marx and Engels perceived it, they became units of production: cogs in an impersonal productive machine. People and nature were objectified, and reduced to commodity status.

This was regarded as undesirable and leading to the degradation of the humans. According to the romantics, the solution was “back to nature” because nature was seen as pure and a spiritual source of renewal. It was also a way out of the fumes of the growing industrial centres for the new industrial rich. Inspired by the works of romantic authors and poets such as Wordsworth, Keats and Shelly, they hopped on the newly developed railways and travelled to the Lake District. This led in the end to an appreciation of the landscape, described in terms as the “Sublime” and also “Delight” (in the landscape). Spoliation of a pure natural landscape was regarded as undesirable and destructive. These ideas are still with us and led the way for modern day conservation and environmentalism as well as outdoor recreation and appreciation for natural and historical heritage.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (c. 1818)

This image is probably one of the most famous romantic paintings. It illustrates the sublime, so popular with Romantic artists and associated with emotions of greatness and founded on awe and terror. At the same time it shows the glories of nature and landscape that open up during long walks in the hills and mountains. This theme features heavily in English Romantic literature and poetry.

But the painting is also the very icon of the alienation from nature experience by urban dwellers of industrial cities. It depicts the wanderer as a stranger in nature, but at the same time as a conqueror of nature. The contradictions in this painting show the complexity of Romantic art.


Further reading

Ronald Rees, ‘Constable, Turner, and Views of Nature in the Nineteenth Century’, Geographical Review, Vol. 72, No. 3 (1982), 253-269.

Shelach J. Squire, ‘Wordsworth and Lake District Tourism: Romantic Reshaping of Landscape’, The Canadian Geographer, Vol. 32, No.3 (1988) 237-247.

David Pepper, Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction, (Routledge, 1996), ch. 4.


The post Romanticism and nature appeared first on Environmental History Resources.

— EH Resources

7/31/1865: Austin Cary, the Father of Southern Forestry, Born

Austin Cary, one of the great unsung heroes of American forestry, was born this date in 1865 in East Machias, Maine. A Yankee through and through, he found professional success in the South, eventually becoming known as the “Father of Southern Forestry.” In 1961, twenty-five years after Cary’s passing, his biographer Roy R. White wrote of him:

In contrast with his more renowned contemporaries, Austin Cary was an obscure logging engineer in the Forest Service. Yet the story of the life and work of this latter-day Johnny Appleseed has reached legendary proportions in the southern pine country. Cary, a New England Yankee, dedicated himself to the awesome task of bringing forestry and conservation to a region reluctant to accept, and ill-equipped to practice, these innovations. His success places him in the forefront of noted American foresters and his character warrants a position peculiarly his own.

What makes Cary an intriguing historical figure was his unorthodox, nonconformist approach to life and work. He hailed from an old, well-to-do family whose wealth made him financially independent. By the time he graduated at the head of his class from Bowdoin College, where he majored in science with emphasis on botany and entomology and received the A.B. degree in 1887 and the M.S. in 1890, he was already known as a “lone wolf” comfortable tramping alone in the woods. Despite his refined upbringing, he was called blunt and tactless, and that was by his friends. The “dour New Englander” struggled in several different jobs before finding his niche, in part because of his personality. He moved from industry forester in New England to college instructor (Yale Forest School, 1904-1905; Harvard, 1905-1909), and then in 1910, to logging engineer in the U.S. Forest Service.

Between 1898 and 1910, Cary kept asking for a job with the Forest Service. Chief Gifford Pinchot refused to hire him, though, perhaps because of his personality, more likely because of philosophical differences. Cary strongly believed that private forestry, and providing economic incentive to private land owners to hold land and reforest it, was the nation’s best hope for conserving America’s forests, whereas Pinchot had staked his agency’s position on the federal government dominating land management. Only after Pinchot’s dismissal in 1910 did Cary get hired by the Forest Service—by Pinchot’s replacement and Cary’s former boss at Yale, Henry Graves, who supported Cary’s position to some extent.

Carl Schenck wrote of Austin Cary, here photographed in Florida in 1932, “[He] was as good with the axe as if he were a Canadian lumberjack.” (FHS Photo Collection)

After graduation in 1890, Cary worked on a freelance basis as a land cruiser and surveyor in northern New England, publishing his research findings on tree growth, cutting methods, entomology, and the life cycles of northern Maine trees. His writings gave him some connections and influence in industry. After he traveled abroad several times, particularly to the Black Forest of Germany, to study forestry practices and returned in 1898, he found work with the Berlin Mills Company in New Hampshire as the first company forester in North America. Thus began a lifelong battle to persuade industrial forestland owners to embrace and undertake long-range planning of cutting, planting, and land use. Opposition to such ideas in the North did not deter him, nor did it in the Pacific Northwest, where the Forest Service sent him in 1910. The timber barons had millions of acres of virgin forests they could cut; they saw no incentive to log conservatively and reforest afterwards.

Cary didn’t fit in there and relations deteriorated. Given the choice of assignments in 1917, Cary choose the South, where the Forest Service had little presence and he could create his own program. “Significantly,” White tells us, “he planned an appeal to southern landowners and operators, large and small. It would be necessary, he knew, to influence a people generally hostile to strangers, notoriously averse to change, and shackled by a near-feudal economy.” The “lone wolf” found a home in the southern woods, which were (and still are) largely privately owned and at the time in need of intervention. Though his title was that of logging engineer, he operated as a roving extension forester.

When he arrived, the South’s First Forest was nearly exhausted. “Into the void of southern forestry he intended to introduce forest practices which would assure a second timber growth on the barren, smoldering land,” wrote White, where fire was widely used. The Forest Service campaigned to eliminate it from southern forests; Cary defied them because he saw the ecological role fire played, and instead encouraged landowners to experiment with what are now called prescribed burns. Somehow this direct, straight-shooting Yankee won over Southern landowners. He was not allied with one large company and they didn’t really think of him as Forest Service; they were charmed by “his disrespect for propriety and authority” and his personality. Their conservatism matched his, and he became a staunch defender of their practices and land rights. This culminated in a bitter denunciation of the New Deal–era federal land acquisition in 1935, captured in an open letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that Forest Service officials initially tried to suppress. In the end, they decided it was less painful to suffer his opposition than to silence him, and allowed the letter to be published in the Journal of Forestry. Thumbing his nose at the ultimate authority was his last significant action before he retired in 1935.

“With a new forest turning the South green once again,” he decided to “‘bang around less…live more quietly’” and retired to Maine. He died on April 28, 1936. The well-managed private forestlands in both New England and the South are just a portion of his impressive legacy.


You can read more about Austin Cary and his legacy in Roy White’s article “Austin Cary: The Father of Southern Forestry,” where all quotes in this article are from, and by exploring the many resources we have on him listed below:

The Austin Cary Photograph Collection contains images taken by Cary between 1918 and 1924 during his early years of working in the South for the Forest Service. The photographs document forestry and turpentining practices in the pine forests of the southeastern United States. We have a finding aid and online photo gallery.

Interviews with several foresters who discuss the positive influence of Cary reside in the “Development of Forestry in the Southern United States Oral History Interview 

A 1959 oral history interview with Charles A. Cary includes discussion of his family background and his uncle Austin Cary.

Some of Cary’s acidic nature is evident in his correspondence with Carl A. Schenck in this Journal of Forest History article.

We also have two folders’ worth of materials in our U.S. Forest Service History Collection.

His papers are housed at the University of Florida.

Filed under: This Day in History Tagged: Austin Cary, conservation, foresters, Gifford Pinchot, Henry Graves, industrial forestry, logging, private landownership, U.S. Forest Service, wildfire

— Peeling Back the Bark

Talking Art with Vic McEwan & George Main

Sunday 9 August 2015, 3:00pm to 4:00pm Monster Kitchen […]

— Australian and NZ Environmental History Network

RCC Phase II Funding Secured

Grant Approval from the Ministry Arrives

— Rachel Carson Centre LMU - News and Events

Climate History Podcast Launched with Dr. Geoffrey Parker

Dagomar Degroot has launched our new Climate History Podcast by interviewing Geoffrey Parker, author of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. If you have iTunes, you can … Continue reading →

— Climate History Network

“Networking the Digital Environmental Humanities” Podcast

by Charles Travis

Editorial note: In this post, we launch a new feature at Ant Spider Bee – event podcasts! Contact us if you want to contribute something similar.

On 18 June 2015, an Irish Research Council funded Digital Environmental Humanities (DEH) workshop at Trinity College Dublin convened international scholars from environmental, Irish, British and American history, literary and historical geography, computer science, philosophy, languages and education, visual cultural studies, literature and the digital humanities to discuss how digital practices, methodologies and mapping can facilitate a deeper study between the humanities and the environment. One of the aims of the event was to address and explore the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s call in 2015 “to facilitate and enhance further the consistent and coherent use of up to date digital technology for sharing and disseminating information.” The event went one step further by discussing how the DEH can be used as both a platform and methodology to not only enhance the study of human-environmental relations, but to facilitate social and cultural transformation in regards to perception and agency in regards to global environmental change. Human-centric analysis, crowd-sourcing  and other types of digital practices and mapping activities, influenced by literary, historical and cultural studies have a role to play in helping us understand the ‘cultural crisis’ that is climate change, in addition to being our age’s greatest environmental problem.

The event website can be found here. A PDF with all the presentation abstracts can be found here.

Session 1: Digital Environmental Humanities Overview

Professor Poul Holm (Trinity College Dublin) “Digital environmental humanities – What is it and why do we need it?” (Workshop Keynote)
Alexander von Lünen (University of Huddersfield) “We are reading time in space” – Or: the end of history?
Charles Travis (Trinity College Dublin) The digital environmental humanities and GIS: Discursive, Cultural and Social Media Integration.

Session 2: Deep Maps, Narratives and Heritage / Educational and Ethical Considerations

David Bodenhamer (Polis Center, Indiana University Purdue) Connecting Material and Metaphorical Space: Deep Maps and Environmental History.
Mads Haar (Trinity College Dublin) Literary Play: Locative Game Mechanics and Narrative Techniques for Cultural Heritage.
Theresa O’Connor (Skellig Foundation) Joyce’s Brain Atlas: A Deep Map of the Anthropocene and a Roadmap for the Environmental Humanities.
Annaleigh Margey (Dundalk Institute of Technology) Moving from Digital Creation to the Classroom: Utilising the 1641 Depositions as a Pedagogical Tool.
Francesco De Pascale (Department of Languages and Educational Sciences, University of Calabria) Geoethics and neogeographical education in an interdisciplinary study.

Session 3: Ireland and the Digital Environmental Humanities

Mary Kelly (Kingston University London): Mapping correspondence on famine and famine relief in Ireland, 1845-1846.
Rachel Murphy (University College Cork) Digital approaches to the study of landholding in Ireland.
Hannah Smyth (Trinity College Dublin) The Forgotten Majority: Mapping the Civilian Casualties of the 1916 Rising.

Public Lecture: Professor David Bodenhamer, (Polis Center at Indiana University Purdue).

Beyond GIS: The Spatial Humanities, Deep Maps, and Spatial Narratives.

— Ant, Spider, Bee: Exploring Digital Environmental Humanities

The Role of oral history in environmental history

The advantage of an historian researching the second half of the 20th century is that he or she can interview people involved in the events being studied. Oral history is often used to supplement and confirm the information found in the documentary evidence. Documentary evidence is sometimes missing or inaccessible lacking because of the fact that archives are still closed because of the 30 years rule, like in the UK, or simply because material is lost or does not contain the information one is looking for. Oral history is a tool that can plug gaps in the documentary record or literature and provide new insights into historical developments and events.1

Oral history is certainly not a historical research tool that is exclusive to environmental history. There are however a few characteristics that makes it a challenging technique for environmental historians. It seems that oral environmental history has a unique characteristic that makes it stand out in comparison to other environmental histories.

Oral history aims in most cases to supplement the incomplete written record and helps to reconstruct networks, policy changes, and decisions taken by individuals involved in certain events. There are two compelling reasons for undertaking an oral history. Firstly, there is the eventual loss of people involved in certain events, developments or organisations during a particular period and, related to this, is the richness of personal accounts and interpretations that cannot be reclaimed otherwise. Many important management decisions at different levels were never recorded in official documents, memoranda or correspondence. Secondly, there is the difficulty of retrieving certain important historical data, since many old records have been destroyed or are simply not available.

Oral history has been used in the context of researching the book, Conquering the Highlands. A history of the Afforestation of the Scottish Uplands.2 The book explores the environmental record of the British Forestry Commission in Scotland. For the research of this book a sample of former employees of the forestry commission was selected including individuals from all levels: foresters, foreman, district officers all the way through to the top of the forestry Commission, i.e. Director Generals and Commissioners. In addition people involved with organisations such as the Nature Conservancy were interviewed.

One of the greatest challenges with any oral history project is to get people talking freely and not justifying themselves or attacking others. In the context of a forest history project this proofed to be an illusion but it was also a bonus, something that only became apparent later. Here is an example that will illustrate this point.

One of the people interviewed, a person high up in the Forestry Commission hierarchy, was extremely helpful and sent material in advance of the interview: wonderful leaflets of the 1950s and 1960s explaining the good work of the Forestry Commission. During the interview the person explained in detail and very openly that the Commission had always been green and that the groups attacking the Commission were wrong. He defended the actions of the Forestry Commission, and himself, systematically and convincingly. That was one of the first interviews. It was all very convincing and his opinions highly influenced the subsequent research only to discover that it was not entirely accurate: the documentary evidence did not support the oral evidence.

For this reasons second opinions are always necessary either in the form of additional interviews or unearthing unexpected archival sources. About a year after the first interview these additional views came at a conference where the interviewee gave a talk for a forest history conference. The person told the audience almost exactly the same story. When finished some people in the audience quite savagely attached him. After some inquiries afterwards it turned out that these people had worked for environmental organizations opposing the Forestry Commissions management and planting policies as well as colleagues who clearly disagreed with some of the opinions aired at this meeting. With that knowledge in mind it was time to return to the documentary record and the documents now made more sense than before. What had become visible at the conference was part of past power struggles, political games and personal animosities that are normally not recorded in the official documentary evidence. But with this knowledge one can read between the lines what had happened and explain better the outcomes of certain developments.

This kind of additional evidence from oral history is not unique to oral environmental history. It is just one of the tools available in the toolbox of the environmental historian. As pointed out above, oral history in general helps to supplement the incomplete written record and reconstruct networks, policy changes, and little power games that were never recorded.

The crucial question is to work out where oral environmental history differs from classical oral history. First of all, Environmental history of the latter half of the 20th century is not complete without putting on boots and going out to see what the forests, mountains, industrial landscapes, any environment looks like. What happened in reality does often not match with what a historian may find in his sources. This is tremendously improved when accompanied by a person with knowledge about the landscapes and environments researched to show you around. In the case of forest history this means taking foresters into the forest plantations to show where they had worked, the rational behind their practices and what the result of their work was. In the context of the history of the Forestry Commission it proved more successful in more ways than one. It did not only provide expert opinion of what had happened on the ground in the forests but these foresters also started to talk in ways never possible in an formal indoors oral history interview. One example was striking: interviewing a district officer at his home was very difficult because he did not talk about the issues that were prepared for discussion: forest management practice, objections of conservationists, development of forestry policy and experimentation.

A couple of months later the same forester was taken to one of the forests he had managed and while entering the forest he completely transformed. It turned out that this forester had brought a picture book with photos of locations we were visiting, some documents relating to his work as a district officer and the forest we were visiting. Best of all was that the locations visited brought back memories and opened the floodgates to past stories. The couple of hours in the forest resulted in more information then during an entire afternoon interviewing the same person at home. Again, environmental history cannot be conducted in the seclusion of the archive reading room or with a one on one indoor interview. One has to get out into the woods and other environments and experience it: see the real thing. It is important to take interviewees out to the environments we, environmental historians write about and let them talk and show how it was. Colors, smells and sights bring back memories better then anything else. Maybe that is the case with more conventional oral history as well, however, environmental history is perhaps more then any other historical discipline about the outside world. What better place to interview a person than under a pine tree while talking about a pine forest?


Notes and further reading

1 This post is based on a paper presented at the annual meeting of the European Association for Environmental History – UK Branch, Open University, Milton Keynes, 21 May 2004.

2 K. Jan Oosthoek, Conquering the Highlands. A History of the Afforestation of the Scottish Uplands (Canberra: ANU Press, 2013)

‘Special issue: “talking green: oral history and environmental history“, Oral History Forum d’histoire orale, vol 33, (2013).

Danielle Endres, “Environmental Oral History”, Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture 5 (2011) 4: 485-498.

Leona Skelton, “Harvesting Oral Histories: Life, Work and Fog on the Tyne“, The Power and the Water, 22 May 2015.

The post The Role of oral history in environmental history appeared first on Environmental History Resources.

— EH Resources