January 19, 2018

Archives for September 2016

Photographing Slow Disaster: Zoe Strauss’s Grand Isle Beach by Ellen Stroud



The shock of orange shouts a warning: Danger. Pay Attention. You might miss it, so be careful and Look. Grand Isle Beach by photographer Zoe Strauss is a brown and gray beach scene, cut sharply by an orange gash (figure 1). What are those bright, odd, out-of-place plastic tubes running parallel to the waves? Are they pipes, carrying something foul or expensive across the sand? Are they a barrier, keeping poison away from water? Barring a toxin from reaching land? Would the beach be beautiful without them, or bland? Are they temporary, or are they now a fixture in this place?

The ambiguous orange stripe and the distant horizon between sea and sky trisect this photograph into a series of tidy strips: the solid land on which the viewer


stands, perhaps on the side of safety, or possibly amid disaster; a chaotic middle stripe, with the orange plastic barrier, sand being lapped by waves, and bubbling water that may be dangerous, or is perhaps being shielded from harm; and then sky. Wherever it is that the danger lies, we are on the sandy side of the barrier, the place that has no water and no sky, and something troubling is happening in that middle band, just beyond our reach.

Strauss made this image along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana in the summer of 2010. On that same trip, she photographed flames in the water, oil speckling the beach, and …

by Ellen Stroud

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



From earliest colonization, New Zealand’s forests have been altered by timber merchants, land-hunting settlers, acculturation societies, and plantation enthusiasts. Many stages in remaking the forests involved the state. From 1920 forward, the State Forest Service established pine plantations; these extensive tracts of introduced species inspired private corporations that planted further acreage. A salubrious climate allowed radiata pine in particular to mature in thirty rather than sixty years. Consequently, by the early 1950s, public and private forestry industries, managing immense plantations, emerged as substantial employers and town builders in the central


North Island. A Labour Party government in the late 1980s resolved to privatize the state plantation forests for fiscal reasons and to end the conflict of interest that existed with locating conservation and commercialization in a single Department of Forests. The decision to sell forests precipitated impassioned debates about national identity, recreation, aesthetics, the organization of industry, the paternalism of state forestry towns, and the relations of M?ori with the state.

by John Weaver

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



From the 1840s through the end of the nineteenth century, the southern Appalachian region emerged as the United States’ most important supplier of so-called crude botanical drugs to the growing pharmaceutical industry centered in the northeastern and Midwestern United States. This article investigates the role of ecology, markets, and local culture in sustaining this trend. It argues that mountain entrepreneurs and the remarkable biodiversity of the Appalachian ecosystems combined with harvesters’ intimate knowledge of the landscape and a local commitment to common rights to make the region the nation’s foremost supplier of crude drugs. The botanical drug trade provides an interesting


divergence from the typical narrative of commodification. Instead of restructuring nature into productive landscapes governed by capitalist values, the commodification of medicinal herbs helped reinforce common rights and expand ecological knowledge of the landscape. This process shaped late nineteenth-century Appalachian life by increasing the importance of the forests in rural economies. Although mountain people continued to harvest medicinal herbs well into the twentieth century, resource depletion, habitat destruction, economic changes, and other factors fundamentally changed the dynamics of this gathering commons.

by Luke Manget

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


This essay reconsiders the early career of Lewis Mumford and the assumption that modernity has been disastrous environmentally. Might it be possible to see Mumford, especially in his writings of the 1930s, as an early exemplar of green urbanism? Within environmental history, Mumford has been treated mostly as a regionalist—sometimes even as an opponent of the city. This essay argues that in fact his path toward ecological “balance” led directly through the city, not out of it. Indeed, he gives us access to modernity’s ambivalence and complexity by accompanying his trenchant critique of modern cities


with a positive vision for how people might design and occupy urban spaces more sustainably. To rediscover Mumford is to reconsider the city not just as a site of erasure and hubristic “renewal” but also as a landscape full of what he called “remnants” and “persistents”; it is to rediscover modernity’s environmental possibilities, in line with current trends in urban ecology and design, and with the new momentum in urban environmental history to combine material and cultural perspectives.

by Aaron Sachs

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



This essay examines the life and legacy of Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781–1861), a European-born composer who migrated to America in 1811. Heinrich is a nearly forgotten musician who spent his professional career working in an equally forgotten repertoire of music—the American symphony. In the nineteenth century, European composers, especially the German masters, dominated musical tastes on both sides of the Atlantic. Throughout this period, however, many Americans longed for a distinct musical identity, but the effort to place music from American authors in the performing


canon was often rebuffed by critics and audiences alike. As a result, Heinrich would never become a mainstream voice, but in this battle for artistic supremacy, he deserves our attention because he wrote unique compositions influenced by the physical environment. Like the romantic poetry and landscape paintings drawn from the same era, Heinrich’s nature-inspired symphonies celebrated American political achievement by glorifying the nation’s environment.

by John Herron

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