December 17, 2017


TABLE OF CONTENTS     January, 2014 | Vol. 19, No. 1


Laboring the Earth: Transnational Reflections on the Environmental History of Work by Stefania Barca

“The Giddy Rise of the Environmentalists”: Corporate Real Estate Development and Environmental Politics in San Diego, California, 1968–73 by Andrew Wiese

Fleeing the Flowing Commons: Robert Thom, Water Reservoir Schemes, and the Shift to Steam Power in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain by Andreas Malm

From Sublime Landscapes to “White Gold”: How Skiing Transformed the Alps after 1930 by Andrew Denning


Looking for Nature in the Rust Belt: The Sublime of Andrew Moore’s Detroit Disassembled by Joseph Stanhope Cialdella




Issue 19.1 – January 2014

Power – what does it mean to have it? How does one obtain it? How secure is it once it’s yours? Environmental historians have asked such questions with regard to the human-nature relationship for decades. The word itself has numerous inflections. Power can manifest as political or economic influence, as a form of energy, or as physical control. It denotes strength, ability, and skill. It is a verb, a noun, and an adjective. Perhaps because of its multiple meanings, power remains a common theme in our field, as it is in this, my first issue as editor in chief.

In “Laboring the Earth,” Stefania Barca offers a compelling reminder that it is through labor that most of us encounter nature and that efforts to control people and nature are often intertwined. Barca’s piece – part review essay, part original research – investigates issues of class, activism, and environmental change across three regions to make the case for “work as the single most important interface between society and nature.” She demonstrates that although working-class peoples often experience oppression and disproportionate environmental problems, they are not powerless. In fact, she concludes, working-class communities represent an important constituency with vested interest in environmental issues and they must be included, on their own terms, in any effort to “save the environment.”

Andreas Malm tackles the issue of power from a different angle. In “Fleeing the Flowing Commons,” Malm reassesses the standard reasons given for Britain’s shift from water to coal power in the early stages of its industrialization. The general consensus has been that by the 1830s, coal represented a more economical choice and waterpower had reached its natural limits; in contrast, Malm argues, the transition to coal was an economically irrational choice predicated on British manufacturers’ refusal to cooperate with each other and submit to planning and conservation. Indeed, Malm suggests, had mill owners in Lancashire followed the lead of Scottish water engineer Robert Thom, the fossil fuel economy – and its ecological effects – might have been staved off for at least half a century.

Andrew Wiese argues in “‘The Giddy Rise of the Environmentalists’” that the ecological and aesthetic costs associated with the post-WWII real estate boom in San Diego inspired a “right-leaning environmental backlash” that helped to shape the city and its politics for decades. Concerns over diminished parklands, increased pollution, and unchecked development led the traditionally conservative community to form grassroots coalitions supporting new taxes and policies aimed at conserving areas of natural beauty by curbing sprawl. Through direct political action, the residents of San Diego successfully limited the power of corporate developers to transform the city’s canyons and waterways into sewer lines and concrete canals.

Where San Diegans sought to check development to preserve the city’s natural charms, Alpine nations embraced it as a means of transforming their iconic mountains from idealized natural scenery into lucrative sporting destinations. In “From Sublime Landscapes to ‘White Gold’,” Andrew Denning traces the growth of Alpine skiing, focusing on the sport’s natural limitations and its technological fixes. Resorts could not control when or where snow fell or how long it would remain on the slopes, so they looked to technology for solutions. Installing lifts gave skiers access to higher elevations; snow fences diminished the threat of avalanches; and grooming machines ensured ideal conditions for tourists demanding speed and safety. Technology appeared to lessen nature’s limiting power but, as Denning reveals, “the sport’s dependence on the environment did not diminish, it was only reconfigured.”

— Lisa M. Brady, Editor in chief