December 17, 2017


TABLE OF CONTENTS    October, 2014 | Vol. 19, No. 4


coover19-4In the Bellies of the Marshes: Water and Power in the Countryside of Ottoman Baghdad by Faisal Husain

“Nature Was Helping Us”: Forests, Trees, and Environmental Histories of the Holocaust by Tim Cole

A Company Town on Common Waters: Standard Oil in the Calumet by Jonathan Wlasiuk

Reflections: The Wilderness Act at Fifty

Reflections on the Wilderness Act at Fifty: Editor’s Introduction by Lisa M. Brady

The Higher Altruism by Donald Worster

Wilderness in a Global Age, Fifty Years On by Libby Robin

Acts of Courage, Acts of Culture: The Wilderness Act and Latin America by Emily Wakild

This special forum features an online-only discussion component where the readers of Environmental History can read and comment on the essays. Oxford Journals provides open and free access to the essays in the forum through 2014.


Gallery Editors’ Note by Neil M. Maher and Cindy Ott

LBJ, Wilderness, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund by Sara Dant





Issue 19.4 – October 2014

In 1977, geographer Yi-Fu Tuan cogently articulated the role of culture in making space – a particular location, a specific ecosystem and its geography – into place – a landscape that evokes emotions, an environment that exudes meaning. Thirty-five years later, environmental historian Jerry Frank added nuance and specificity to Tuan’s insight by including the factor of time. Frank’s revised formula incorporates the mutability of place as it evolves and adapts to changing conditions, whether initiated by natural or cultural forces.1 Although not directly linked to either Tuan’s or Frank’s theoretical approach, each of the contributions in this issue illustrates how material realities intersect with cultural ambitions at a specific time to create unique places from which we can draw important meaning about the past and, perhaps, extrapolate about potential directions for the future.

We begin with Faisal Husain’s article on Ottoman attempts at the turn of the eighteenth century to dominate the Khazāʿil tribe of the Middle Euphrates. The Ottoman authorities in Baghdad frequently attempted to undermine the influential tribe through large scale damming and canal projects, draining the swamps that provided the Khazāʿil with material and cultural power against the Ottoman rulers. What began as a military expedient, however, had longer-term political and religious repercussions; as Husain deftly shows, draining the marshes not only transformed them from places reflective of Khazāʿil culture, it opened the way for the region to become deeply and strongly associated with Shi‘a Islam, a greater challenge to the Ottomans in later years.

Tim Cole also concentrates on places of conflict in his article on forests, trees, and the Holocaust. Cole thoughtfully examines how places that had once been characterized as frightening – woods and forests – became places of refuge. Cole employs oral histories and memoirs to illustrate the paradoxical history of the forests of Central and Eastern Europe, which served to protect resistance fighters and Jewish escapees, while at one and the same time were used as locales to annihilate entire communities of them. Ultimately, Cole reveals “the ways in which nature functioned both materially and imaginatively during the Holocaust and its post-war retelling,” giving voice to the individuals for whom the forests became places of adaptation and, for some, survival.

Jonathan Wlasiuk’s study of the Calumet region traces the creation, quite literally, of a new place on the map: Standard Oil’s company town of Whiting, Indiana. The town, as Wlasiuk suggests, “as envisioned by Standard Oil, represented more than just an attempt to set the terms of the company’s social contract with its workers and local government: it was also an aggressive experiment in environmental engineering.” Wlasiuk explains how the company drained lakes, diverted streams, and reshaped Lake Michigan’s coastline to suit its business and technological needs. Here, place was both culturally and materially made. The legacy of place creation in this instance has a long reach and challenges assumptions about the role of the state and the market in both economic development and ecological protection.

The final set of essays – those by Donald Worster, Libby Robin, and Emily Wakild collected in the “Reflections” section, as well as Sara Dant’s Gallery piece – addresses two important pieces of U.S. legislation that have reached the 50-year mark. The three Reflections essays focus on the Wilderness Act of 1964 and its legacy, not only for the United States, but internationally. It seemed appropriate on its fiftieth anniversary to ask several scholars intimately connected through their research, their activism, or both, to comment on the meaning of wild places and the Act that gives them – in the United States at least – legal standing. Dant’s Gallery contrasts the Wilderness Act with its lesser-known, but perhaps more important partner legislation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, which President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the same day as the more famous bill. Dant reminds us that just as he had signed off on setting aside land “out there,” LBJ also approved federal purchases of land “right here” for the purpose of making outdoor recreation accessible to all. Because wilderness continues to be central to our field and to political debate, we will host an online discussion on the issue, with these essays as the springboard, at Our Digital Content Editor, Finn Arne Jørgensen, will moderate the discussion.

This issue of Environmental History confirms the power of place both as a historical element that must be examined critically and as a rhetorical instrument that can serve political ends. It also suggests that examining past place – space, plus meaning, plus time – might just help us to understand current conditions and make better future decisions.


1 Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1977); Jerry J. Frank, “Preservation, Parks and Place: Rethinking America’s ‘Best Idea’,” in A History of Environmentalism: Local Struggles, Global Histories, ed. Marco Armiero and Lise Sedrez (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). 

— Lisa M. Brady, Editor in chief