Posted by: surleyshady | September 28, 2012

Nature’s Past Podcast – Global Warming

The most recent episode of Nature’s Past would be a great preamble to this year’s workshop. I recommend listening as it puts forward many questions and references that would be useful for our panel discussions.

The episode is a round-table discussion about the role of climate in Canadian and global history with James Daschuk, Joshua MacFadyen, and Dagomar Degroot. Sean Kheraj also speaks with Ross Coen, author of the recently published book Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil: The Epic Voyage of the SS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage.


Posted by: surleyshady | September 4, 2012

2012 Call for Projects – Extended!

Put forward your budding thoughts, unfinished projects and working papers! The workshop will be a great opportunity to share your work and receive some constructive feedback. The call for abstracts has been extended until September 18th and we are still welcoming general participants. Contact either Mike Commito at or Sinead Earley at with expressions of interest.

Posted by: Jim | November 2, 2011

Post P&P – Gardens

Moderator Blog Post by: Jim Clifford

Early in the morning four of us started the workshop with a discussion of Amanda Hooykaas “Enduring Gardens: Woven by Friends into the Fabric of the Canadian Community.” Although there were only four of us, the conversation was still quite engaging. It was a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary discussion between a human geographer, a Canadian environmental historian, a transnational labour historian and a British urban environmental historian. We were all a little inspired by Amanda’s passion for her topic, which explores the ways gardens and communities interact to create meaningful places and spaces. The group pushed Amanda to expand beyond the material presented in her paper and describe the interviews she has carried out with gardeners at Maple Lawn Gardens in Ottawa. This gave us further opportunity to badger Amanda with historical questions and to share with her a long list of history books and articles that might contribute to her thinking on the role of urban gardens in today’s culture. Amanda politely withstood our disciplinary prosthelytizing and contributed a great deal to my understanding of the similarities and differences between environmental history and human geography. This session illustrated quite well the benefits of providing a forum for interdisciplinary discussion.

Posted by: wegamind | November 1, 2011

Plenary Discussion – Environmental History and Film

At the end of the Place and Placelessness workshop, we hosted an hour an half discussion on the topic of ‘environmental history and film’. Three of the creators of the short films made for the workshop, Amanda Hooykaas, Patrick Earley, and Cristina Silaghi, along with three other workshop participants joined us. The aim of the plenary discussion was to debate the uses, merits and drawbacks of using film to represent, study, research, teach and understand environmental history broadly conceived. Can film capture history effectively? Does using film create new research methods not available through traditional archive work? Will film, or YouTube, become an important component of teaching environmental history publicly and academically? What kinds of understanding does film provide that text or still images do not? Listen to the podcast below and then post  a comment to keep the discussion going!

Plenary Audio

Posted by: wegamind | October 22, 2011

Post P&P – Plenary B

Moderator Blog Post by: Michael Del Vecchio

The second plenary panel consisted of a small, yet dedicated group.  Two panelists, Glen Sandiford and Erin Neufeld), joined me for a discussion about the role of technology in disseminating research.  We talked about the format of the conference in general, and, more specifically, the three short films that were submitted for the conference.

Both Glen Sandiford and Erin Neufeld each made a point which crystallized some of the objectives the NiCHE New Scholars Reading Group had when conceptualizing and planning the conference. First, Glen mentioned that he really appreciated how relaxed the atmosphere of the conference was.  Although we were on Skype, only audio (no video) was used.  You could join the conference in your pajamas if you wanted, as many, especially those from other time zones, did. The conference had none of the “small-talk” time of a normal in face-to-face meeting, an aspect that some may miss, but others may appreciate.  In essence, Glen felt it was all about the paper and the research.  Erin, who joined our conference all the way from New Zealand, was simply happy that she was able to present and discuss research with out leaving her home or spending any money.  This same dilemma was the catalyst behind the formation of the NiCHE New Scholars Reading Group who responsible for organizing the conference.  Graduate students from across Canada, often lacking other environmental history students in their home department, began to meet monthly using Skype to network and workshop papers.  Several presentations, articles, and dissertations (included some of my own work) have been greatly aided by the ability to network for no cost in either cash or carbon.  To be fair, some money was spent on running the conference.  Approximately $1, 000 Canadian was spent to cover to cost of purchasing and mailing more than twenty headsets that were shipped to every continent except Asia and Antartica (we did have a participant who is currently living in Japan, but he received a headset from last year’s conference).  Compared to how much money it would take to have flown everyone (from New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, Uganda, etc) to a central location, the costs seem minimal indeed.

In general, we three favoured Amanda Hooykaas’ video “Lost in Space: Found in Place” because Hooykaas’ video was the only one that included a distinct narrative (whether written in text or spoken).  The three of us had trouble following the other two videos.  We appreciated that they were an aesthetically stimulating series of images, but we wanted something more direct in the way the directors presented their stories.  However, I wondered how both the medium and context was affecting the message.  In a freakishly fateful moment, I noticed that Andrew Watson, who was moderating the other plenary session, has just tweeted “Does society need to be spoon-fed with a story (a narrator) in order ‘to get’ the message in films.”  I realized that my objectives for the videos, that is, what I wanted and expected them to do, affected the way in which I interpreted them.  I had spent half the morning discussing the role of narrative in environmental history and, at least for myself, concluded that it was central.  My mindset at the time of discussing the films certainly effected my interpretation. I wondered that if I had viewed them at an art show, or after reading a piece of environmental history that stressed the role of visual imagery, would my perception and interpretation of the films been different. Would I have been more open to recognize the non-verbal or non-written narrative that existed within each film?  These are questions that I will continue to ask as I experiment with the role of video while preparing my own videos for NiCHE’s EHTV (Environmental History Television –

After about an hour of discussion, we discovered that Erin had also once worked as a guide while living in Alaska.  At this point the conversation diverged as we laughed and shared stories of our experiences.

Posted by: wegamind | October 22, 2011

Post P&P – Seasoned Perspectives

Moderator Blog Post by: Michael Del Vecchio

What do you get when you combine nature writing, biography, oral history, literary non-fiction, and environmental history?  This is exactly the question our panel hoped to answer.  In short, you get Glen Sandiford’s, “Deepe in the Adirondacks”, a skillfully-written (his)story that narrates the life of Adirondack guiding legend, Tony Deepe.  In a larger sense, the combination of oral history and literary license used by Sandiford places emphasis on the role of narrative in both conducting and disseminating environmental scholarship.  It provides an alternative (in both its final product and its methodology) to the heavily footnoted and detailed books most students of history are used to reading, and he does so without sacrificing research quality.

The role of narrative in telling environmental (his)stories was a central topic for discussion by our panel.  Having recorded a vast amount of oral history by Tony Deepe, Sandiford explained that he was unsure how to incorporate Deepe’s own words into his writing.  Sandiford decided to use a literary style that left large sections of transcribed interviews with Deepe intact by italicizing the portions of text that came verbatim from Deepe’s mouth.  Sandiford then used some literary license – informed and supported by more “traditional” historical research such as the use of newspapers – to construct Deepe’s personal history of guiding and living in the Adirondacks into a larger narrative structured around the changes of the four seasons.

Sandiford’s paper also highlighted some traditional themes of environmental history, mainly, the divisions between elite, urbanites who used rural areas for recreation, and the people, like Tony Deepe, who lived in and relied on these areas for their livelihood.  Sandiford elaborates about an incident where Tony had become annoyed with some rowdy young skiers from the city. In order to teach them a lesson, Tony and some friends hauled a stuffed bear up the mountain and left in on the downhill side of a blind corner.  When the city kids made the turn and found a bear was in the middle of their line, they panicked and skied off the trail.  Two skiers even hit trees and were slightly injured.  This humorous story demonstrates the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) acts of resistance that guides and other rural people have for exerting their agency.  I was reminded of my own experience as a fishing guide in northern Ontario where, if a group was giving me a hard time, I left the anal glands on the fish that I cleaned for them to take home – something I referred to as the ‘a-holes for a-holes’ tactic.

The panel discussion flowed freely for an hour and a half.  Glen Sandiford was pleasantly surprised to hear that most members of the panel really enjoyed his literary style; I think he expected us to criticize the lack of distinction between his and his subject’s voice.  However, perhaps because of the prominent role narrative has played in the research and writing of environmental history (I think of William Cronon’s article “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative,”) the panelists had only positive things to say about Sandiford’s prose.

Posted by: wegamind | October 22, 2011

Post P&P – Tourism and Recreation

Moderator Blog Post by: Jessica Marx

Jared Taber examined the interplay between conservation and livelihoods in his paper “Establishing the Hunting Season in Missouri: Wildlife restoration and State Authority: 1930-1970.”   Local interests and wildlife science merged to establish a wild turkey hunting season beginning in the 1930s. While wildlife was managed at the state level, conservation scientists engaged residents to support research and restoration of the turkey population. Jared’s research highlights the importance of utilizing local knowledge through the state’s recognition of the community and local hunters. The inclusion of the community’s interests rendered an environmental success story due to the dramatic comeback of the turkey population.

Panel participants questioned if environmental triumphs can be branded as successes versus failures. How can we gauge success? Historically, there has been a lack of incorporation of local knowledge in relation to what we call nature or environmental issues. Community based approaches to wildlife management seem to be the best way to realize a “success story.” But, in this case specifically, what is the difference between residential science and local ecological knowledge? The establishment of the hunting season in Missouri merges these concepts by incorporating both scientists and local hunters into the project.

Robin Sullivan’s paper, “Synthetic Seasons: Fall Foliage, Tourism, and Techno-Nature,” investigates the boundaries of nature – how we experience, understand, and relate to nature and our constructed view of nature. Specifically in this workshop, Robin presented the “Fall” season and how people have come to experience it via technology. She questions how the general public views something as “real” nature, such as fall foliage, through iPhone applications, online media, and other mediums. But, is this “techno-nature” an authentic experience, or a created experience? What is “true” and “un-true” nature? In her paper, Robin delves into constructed ideas of wilderness in the early 20th century compared to the present day. Is techno-nature a modern construction or does it go back to conservation efforts in the early 20th century, such as wildlife restoration in Missouri?

In the workshop, panel participants discussed how technology allows for a newly constructed dissemination of how we see the natural world. The experience of nature can be understood as one of labor versus leisure, i.e. the privileged view of nature through an iPhone application versus the experience of nature through hiking or farming. In questioning these experiences as true or untrue, panel participants discussed, ‘What is authenticity based on? What is the meaning of the experience?’ As Robin describes in her paper, this authenticity is “complex and nuanced.” The authenticity of techno-nature transforms ones experience with nature, whether it may be through an IMAX theater or adapting to the hunting season in Missouri.

The themes of tourism and recreation surfaced throughout the discussion of both papers. The experience of recreation (the turkey hunting season) mirrors the experience of techno-nature of “wilderness” in various media forms. Techno-nature can be experienced as tourism in the sense that one can consume nature – such as the fall season. Nature is social; the experience of nature is influenced by culture – which is evident through both papers. The juxtaposition of these two seemingly different papers made for quite an interesting workshop and discussion.

Posted by: wegamind | October 20, 2011

Post P&P – Imagining and Making Place

Moderator Blog Post by: Andrew Watson

The participants on this panel read two very different papers from Polly Knowlton Cockett of the University of Calgary and Erin Neufeld of the University of Canterbury that nonetheless shared a common focus on the importance of ‘place’ and the process through which place is conceived and constructed. The first thirty minutes was devoted to a discussion of Knowlton Cockett’s paper, followed by thirty minutes on Neufeld’s paper, with the last thirty minutes intended as a broader discussion of the themes common to each paper. Joining us on the panel were Cristina Silaghi of the University of Canterbury, Jeffery Doherty of Calgary, and Elsa Devienne of L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Due to technical problems, Linnea Rowlatt of the University of Kent was unable to attend the panel.

Knowlton Cockett is a community activist in a residential neighbourhood of northwest Calgary called Brentwood, and a PhD candidate in Environmental Education. Knowlton Cockett’s paper focused primarily on the reciprocal relationship between strong social bonds within the community and an engagement with and understanding of local ecological diversity. While not primarily interested in the history of this relationship, Knowlton Cockett does take a longer view of the community, its inhabitants, and the changes that have occurred within Brentwood over the past sixty years. Knowlton Cockett used Brentwood’s community website to take participants of 4B on a virtual tour of Whispering Woods in order to get a better sense of the place she discussed in her paper. This evolved into a broader discussion on the use of technology such as GPS and interactive websites as a means of introducing non-residents to places, and whether a sense of place can be achieved without actually occupying the physical space.

The idea of knowing a place without having visited it provided the perfect segue into Erin Neufeld’s paper. Neufeld is a PhD candidate in Antarctic Studies, and native of Yukon, whose work explores the ways people develop and establish a sense of place in the extreme environment of Antarctica. Like Knowlton Cockett, Neufeld includes a historical context in her work, but is more interested in contemporary understandings of place. Neufeld’s paper reveals the way an alien environment, such as Antarctica, is imagined by people who have never been there, and how the challenge of knowing a place that has almost no human history. The discussion quickly turned to concepts of ‘scale’ and ‘change’ and their influence on how people have constructed a sense of place. As an extreme environment, the landscape, day length and climate in Antarctica are at odds with the scale of peoples’ lived experiences, which in turn creates a sense that there is no change in such a place.

While the papers dealt with entirely different places, the focus on ‘place’ allowed for some interesting intersections. The panel picked up on the importance of technology and different types of media in helping to create a sense of place. Knowlton Cockett’s website reveals that people can share in community and local ecology without actually having to meet their neighbours or get their hands dirty in the process, while Neufeld’s work makes clear the role of stories and images have in formulating conceptions of places most people will never visit. The panel also encouraged both authors to consider the cultural assumptions at work in creating a sense of place in both suburban parks and extreme environments. Whose voices speak for the popular conception of these places? What kinds of language is being used to construct that meaning? And, who is excluded from these places, and what does this do to creating a sense of place?

Like any good workshop, the panel ended before we could figure out all the answers…

Posted by: wegamind | October 19, 2011

Post P&P – Migrant Labour

Moderator Blog Post by: Jennifer Lee Johnson

Both papers discussed in this panel examined the daily temporalities and yearly seasonalities generated through and by migrant labor regimes and human and non-human migrant laborers in islands contexts.  The movements, meanings and materialities generated through the circulation of workers and ideas about how best to organize workscapes provided by our authors and their texts generated a lively discussion around the ability of ‘traditional’ historical methods and creative narrative forms to provide more satisfying accounts of particular events and phenomena.

We began with Gregory Rosenthal’s piece “Life and Labor in a Seabird Colony: Hawaiian Guano Workers, 1857-1870.”  Gregory’s piece playfully seeks to speak for birds and men who together co-created islands environs of guano work in the mid-late 19th century in the equatorial central pacific ocean.  Despite the difficulties inherent in providing credible accounts of avian and native Hawaiian subalterns alike, Gregory’s history ‘from the mounds’ (of shit), encouraged participants to consider how birds, entrepreneurs and laborers both influenced and were influenced by shifting temporalities, seasons and representations of their work in media sources.   Here, native Hawaiian conceptions of bodily well-being and the suitability of guano work and working conditions first seemed to resonate well with life on these small islands – or at least guano workers sought to depict that they were very capable of maintaining well-being in these new locales to their contemporaries back home.  Soon after, however, the demand for guano under mercantilist capitalism quickly undermined the suitability of guano work, and life on these small islands in general for young men who labored with birds in the absence of sufficient nutrition, leisure and control over working conditions.  Tough, as we know from contemporary efforts to preserve these ‘pristine’ islands of feces, the work of these men has long been forgotten.

Next up, Naomi Alisa Clanitsky’s shared her paper, “Locating Seasonal Migrant Cultural Formations in Central Otago.” Naomi’s piece examined the contemporary ambitions of a small group of seasonally migrant men from Vanuatu, as they worked in the fruit orchards of Southern New Zealand, and worked through music to maintain connections to home (and each other), while forging new connections to New Zealand citizens.  Linking contemporary migration patterns to broader historical demands and flows of labor, Naomi reminds us that the legacies of colonialism continue to be inflected in contemporary migratory labor regimes – though the people, places and literal fruits of labor may have shifted.  Central to Naomi’s analysis of the oral career histories from a small group of these migrant men is the seasonal nature of the labor regime that circumscribes their work, where several month contracts ensure that migrant workers are able to satisfy heightened labor demands at harvest time in New Zealand, but unable to make claims to New Zealand citizenship.

Interestingly, both papers provide glimpses of the (perhaps) timeless temporality of an individual’s own seasonal transformation from youth to adult – and the needs of migrant workers to be able to return home as productive and moral members of society.  Migrant workers on guano islands provided accounts of their varied their ambitions, successes and challenges (through their harvesting of accumulated guano) in vernacular newspapers, just as Vanuatu’s migrant men provided similar accounts their oral history testimonies (both spoken, and sung).  Both pieces provide an opportunity to give voice to this (probably) universal transformation that helps explain why young men (in both cases) might travel so far from the comforts of home to work with birds, fruit trees, and variously oppressive labor regimes in hopes of bringing more comfort back home.   Both too are good to think with about the less obvious, but maybe no less influential demands that those who do not migrate may place on workers across the various seasons and times of one’s life – and how one’s seasonal absence and return may also shape and be shaped by social and environmental transformations far from worksites, but very close to home.

Posted by: wegamind | October 18, 2011

Post P&P – Nature and Politics

Moderator Blog Post by: Daniel Macfarlane

The panel on “Nature and Politics” featured two papers: “Confronting the Tragic City: The Impacts of the 1970 Earthquake and the Peruvian Revolution in Chimbote, Peru” by Nathan Clarke and “Fishing at Karluk: Nature, Technology, and the Creation of the Karluk Reservation in Territorial Alaska” by Anjuli Grantham.

Moderated by Daniel Macfarlane, this panel got off to a bit of a slow start, as some technical difficulties meant we didn’t have all the participants in the group at the scheduled start time. However, two people were able to join in during the first discussion. One scheduled participant had to bow out because of illness, and another failed to come online, and we ended up with 6 participants that, in addition to the aforementioned moderator and presenters, included Gregory Rosenthal, Robin O’Sullivan, and Elsa Devienne.

Nathan’s paper was first up for consideration. His paper looked at the attempts to rebuild and reorganize the city of Chimbote, Peru after the disastrous 1970 earthquake (which killed over 70,000 people) and in light of the Peruvian Revolution. This involved charting the means by which the Peruvian state used the opportunity provided by this natural disaster to attempt to turn Chimbote into an orderly industrial and port city.

Nathan – an Assistant Professor at Minnesota State University Moorehead who is originally from the Vancouver area – relayed that his paper built on work he had done years earlier as a PhD student which he had reworked for this e-conference. Stating that it was a work-in-progress, he asked for feedback on possible forms of publication. The group threw out some ideas, and Gregory, among others, postulated that it could serve as the basis for a future monograph.

Anjuli’s paper examined salmon fishing at Karluk, Alaska. Anjuli looks at the role of technology and the creation of racially and technologically exclusive fishing areas. Engaging envirotech literature, this paper delves into tensions between the different types of seines (beach and boat) as well as differing ethnic and socio-economic groups.

Anjuli’s paper was based on her M.A. thesis (which she has parlayed into a recently-started job that engages her research topic at Baranov Museum!) and she is hoping to turn this into a journal article. The group thought she was well on her way to doing so, and Anjuli asked if there were parts that could be pruned. Some suggestions were forthcoming, notably from Elsa. Both Elsa and Robin pointed out the ways that both papers intersect with themes from gender and ethnic history.

Both papers mentioned James Scott and high modernism, which led to some discussion on that topic in the western and historical context. The role of the state was also a theme in both papers, particularly in connection with technology, industry, and resource extraction.

There was fairly even participation, and things went smoothly in terms of avoiding talking over each other or interruptions. Some use was made of the instant chat function. There was little in the way of stalling or technical difficulties. The participants seemed to think it was a satisfying experience, and it appears that the authors received useful feedback.

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