September 28, 2016

Environmental History October, 21.4

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TABLE OF CONTENTS October, 2016 | Vol. 21, No. 4

 

ARTICLES

Nature Sounds: Anthony Philip Heinrich and the Music of the American Environment by John Herron

Lewis Mumford’s Urbanism and the Problem of Environmental Modernity by Aaron Sachs

Nature’s Emporium: The Botanical Drug Trade and the Commons Tradition in Southern Appalachia, 1847–1917 by Luke Manget

Capital in Nature/Nature by Capital: Global Integration and New Zealand’s Forests, 1870–2000 by John Weaver

GALLERY

Gallery Editors’ Note by Finis Dunaway

Climate change poses representational challenges for environmental activists, artists, and writers. It is not a singular, spectacular catastrophe. Its causes and consequences defy conventional depictions of instantaneous danger. Like other systemic and gradually escalating problems, it calls on scholars and image-makers to grapple with multiple timescales and to experiment with different modes of representation. In this issue’s Gallery essay, Ellen Stroud looks at a selection of photographs by the contemporary artist Zoe Strauss. These images focus on some of the most dramatic disasters in recent US history—the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill along with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Despite the sudden violence of these events, Stroud finds in Strauss’s photographs a subtle narrative of slow-motion tragedy. For Stroud, these images provide a portal into broader questions about the relationship between art and history, time and space, the local and the global. Her essay cuts across disciplinary boundaries to offer a provocative meditation on the challenges of environmental storytelling in an era of global ecological change.

Read the full Gallery Essay Photographing Slow Disaster: Zoe Strauss’s Grand Isle Beach by Ellen Stroud

EDITOR’S DESK BY LISA M. BRADY

Issue 21.4 – October 2016

The year 2016 has been (and at this writing continues to be) a volatile time in global politics, one that should serve to remind us that ideology and rhetoric are directly tied to action. The events and elections of this year—regardless of whether we are elated or disgusted by them—should inspire us to take stock of our own positions. As readers of this journal, we all value the perspective and context history can provide as we undertake such an assessment of our own beliefs and obligations. All of the articles in this issue, while not necessarily directly related to the political quandaries and opportunities we face today, reveal important moments when politics and nature coalesced, resulting in novel artistic expression, hope for a more sustainable future, support for an egalitarian ethos, and restoration of indigenous rights.

herronfig2x550Our first article examines the singular contributions of Anthony Philip Heinrich. Born in Europe in the late eighteenth century, Heinrich migrated to the United States during the nation’s formative years. A musician, he began composing symphonies celebrating his adopted country, turning to nature for his muse. In “Nature Sounds,” John Herron vividly depicts Heinrich’s musical portraits of the United States, which like Romantic literature and Hudson River School paintings, “celebrated American political achievement by glorifying the nation’s environment.” Beyond that, Herron argues, Heinrich helped to establish an authentically American brand of music that had, at its base, a link between nature and politics: Heinrich’s “compositions celebrated the connections between the environment and American democracy,” Herron suggests, “and as such, his music became part of the discourse of nation building.” Herron artfully translates music into words, helping his readers to imagine the sounds of Heinrich’s symphonies, just as Heinrich used cymbals, piccolos, and cellos to help his listeners imagine the sounds of nature. Heinrich deserves our attention, Herron makes clear, in part because he composed music about nature, but also because his “work was part of an effort not just to create an American style of composition but an American identity based on American nature.”

A century after Heinrich composed his nature symphonies, American planner Lewis Mumford also saw hope in nature, envisioning a sustainable, democratic future where the city and country intertwined, balancing each other and together satisfying the pull between past traditions and modern imperatives. Aaron Sachs eloquently analyzes Mumford’s vision, asking us to consider, “Might it be possible to see Mumford, especially in his writings of the 1930s, as an early exemplar of green urbanism?” Sachs urges us to set aside the view of Mumford as anti-city, understanding him instead to be someone who foresaw urban areas as places where the “traumas of modernity” could be combated through collectivity, democracy, and green spaces. Such melding of city and country—of culture and nature—would, in Mumford’s view, alleviate the stresses of urban and industrial life. “Ultimately,” Sachs notes, “the goal of the truest urban planning was to generate a shared commitment to public life and political participation and to a sense of the environment as a commonwealth that had to be cultivated and protected collectively.”

mangetfig6x550Luke Manget’s article, “Nature’s Emporium,” illuminates yet a third way nature and politics intersected in American history. Focusing on the southern Appalachian botanical drug trade, which flourished in the mid- to late nineteenth century, Manget demonstrates that although the expansion of the market for such products led to the commodification of the plants from which they were sourced, it “did not lead to the bounding of the land.” Moreover, Manget suggests, “Rather than accentuate economic and political inequality, the process instead helped to maintain widespread commitment to common rights, which reinforced an egalitarian ethos.” Indeed, herb gatherers enjoyed significant latitude in that wild plants were deemed the property of the harvester, not the person on whose land they grew. By the turn of the twentieth century, however, legal and ecological changes challenged both harvesters’ rights and the viability of the plants they sought. Nevertheless, as Manget effectively shows, the history of the botanical drug trade in Appalachia is not entirely a story of decline. At its height, the medicinal herb trade “helped many mountain people maintain their independence while avoiding large-scale ecological change that came with other extractive industries” and now serves as a model for activists looking “to restore independence and prosperity to rural communities blighted by the inequality of industrial capitalism.”

weaverx550John Weaver’s “Capital in Nature/Nature by Capital” provides an excellent counterpoint to the three US-focused articles by illustrating ways politics and nature shaped each other in New Zealand’s forests. As Weaver deftly demonstrates, forests long had been central to political debate in New Zealand, encompassing disagreements across the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries between agricultural and forestry interests, public and private enterprises, labor and management, preservationists and conservationists. These contests reached a heated pitch in the 1970s and 1980s when concern over deforestation became a worldwide issue; in New Zealand, the debate culminated in 1988 with a restructuring of government departments and a major sale of forest assets. Weaver argues that these contests over forests—in which government ministers, environmental activists, timber corporation leadership, and Māori representatives participated—were “impassioned debates” not just over the status of trees and forests, but “about national identity, recreation, aesthetics, the organization of industry, the paternalism of state forestry towns, and the relations of Māori with the state.” In attempting to solve a fiscal and managerial problem, the 1988–89 debates over forest sales and Department of Forestry reorganization revealed underlying political issues over access, rights, and sustainability that went beyond the halls of government into forests themselves.