December 17, 2017

Issues 13.1 to 13.4

Issue 13.1

THIS ISSUE IS COMPOSED of four essays that are more in dialogue with past and future essays than with each other. Thomas Cox’s “A Tale of Two Journals” is in many ways a companion piece to Brian Donahue’s “Another Look from Sanderson’s Farm” (January 2007). In recognition of the Forest History Society’s long-standing commitment to scholarly publishing, I asked Brian to do a reflective piece on Forest History’s most widely cited essay. At the same time, I invited Tom to write a fifty-year retrospective about Environmental History and its predecessors. Nancy Langston’s “The Retreat from Precaution” focuses on the role of endocrine disruptors (industrial pollutants that mimic body hormones) in causing medical problems; a wide-ranging essay, it examines health debates that stretch back to the 1930s and 1940s. It also offers a foretaste of things to come: Nancy is preparing a forum on the topic of toxic bodies that will be published in the October 2008 issue. Glenn Grasso’s “What Appeared Limitless Plenty” builds on an earlier essay by Jeffrey Bolster (“Opportunities in Marine Environmental History,” July 2006). Grasso focuses on the demise in the late nineteenth century of the halibut, a fish that has been too often overlooked by scholars in favor of more prized species such as cod and salmon. Finally, James Murton’s “Creating Order” examines the draining of Sumas Lake in British Columbia in the 1920s, a cautionary tale about the limitations and contradictions of Canadian liberalism and the state’s failure to comprehend environmental complexity.

Issue 13.4

13-4THIS ISSUE BEGINS with a forum on an emerging frontier of environmental history: the historical study of the impact of new synthetic chemicals on humans and other species. It also features essays on the history of environmental consciousness in Brazil during the first half of the twentieth century, and in the United States during the second half.

The awareness of the chemical dimension of environmental history is, of course, not really new: every reader of this journal is familiar with the seismic impact of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring on public consciousness of the environmental damage wrought by chlorinated hydrocarbons and other pesticides. But less dramatic examples of chemical hazards—including an especially insidious category of chemicals that function as endocrine disruptors, interfering with the hormones of humans and other species—are now receiving their due, thanks to the research of Nancy Langston, Jody Roberts, and their forum colleagues.

In “Wilderness and the Brazilian Mind (I): Nature and Nation in Brazil from the 1920s to the 1940s,” José Luiz de Andrade Franco and José Augusto Drummond have begun to perform for the history of Brazil’s environmental movement the service Roderick Nash did for American environmental history more than forty years ago: they have excavated the biographies of the founders of Brazilian conservation. More specifically, they have studied the ideas and institution-building efforts of the “second generation” of Brazilian conservationists, men who were active in the 1920s through the 1940s. But whereas the reputations of many of Roderick Nash’s subjects were still intact when he investigated their ideas and careers, the second-generation conservationists studied by Franco and Drummond—Alberto José Sampaio, Armando Magalães Corrêa, Cândido de Mello Leitão, and Frederico Carlos Hoehne—had been largely forgotten even in Brazil. “Wilderness and the Brazilian Mind” rescues these pioneering figures from oblivion.

While Franco and Drummond have explored a cluster of distinguished but neglected conservationists of the early twentieth century, Joel B. Hagen’s “Teaching Ecology During the Environmental Age, 1965–1980” views a more recent period through the prism of a single book, Eugene Odum’s Fundamentals of Ecology—the dominant textbook in college ecology courses for the generation that came of age during the 1960s. As Hagen points out, Odum’s textbook may have flourished during that crucial decade and beyond, but the intellectual assumptions of its author had their origins in the 1930s, and reflected the progressive optimism of the New Deal era. Odum saw ecologists as expert problem-solvers who embraced a cooperative ethos that applied equally to nature and society. Odum’s master-idea was the “ecosystem,” with its intricate mechanisms of cooperation and homeostasis. This ecological paradigm collapsed when a new intellectual framework, drawn from evolutionary biology, and a different set of metaphors, from “degraded commons” (Garrett Hardin) to “selfish genes” (Richard Dawkins), replaced Odum’s cooperative perspective during the 1970s and the 1980s.

THE FIRST WORLD CONGRESS on Environmental History will take place August 4–8, 2009, in Copenhagen, Denmark. I would like to use this occasion to publish more scholarship on global, transnational, and cross-cultural topics. I encourage you to submit essays that dovetail with the conference’s focus, whether or not you plan to go to Copenhagen.

—  MARK CIOC