January 19, 2018

Gallery Editor’s Note, July 2015

By Neil M. Maher and Cindy Ott

With all the new modeling technologies and advances in the meteorological sciences, it is still hard to get a handle on the weather. We often rely on our common everyday experiences as much as our apps or the nightly news to predict what’s coming, and we turn to poets and artists for a deeper appreciation of weather’s impact on our lives. In this issue’s Gallery, historian Catherine T. Dunlop takes us back to nineteenth-century France in her analysis of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings of the Mistral, the forceful, unpredictable winds of Provence. Her analysis of paintings by Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh points to the ways artistic expression, philosophy, and the natural sciences infuse each


other and together shape people’s understandings and relationships with the natural world.

This Gallery marks the end of our tenure as Gallery and Graphics editors. We are extremely grateful to Environmental History editors, the rest of the editorial staff, the Oxford University Press, and the journal’s editorial board for their insight and support of both our work and the Gallery section of the journal. It was a real privilege to serve them and the authors whose work has inspired us. We feel very fortunate to hand over the helm to the talented Finis Dunaway, one of the most influential environmental historians of visual culture.

Catherine T. Dunlop’s “Looking at the Wind: Paintings of the Mistral in Fin-de-Siècle France” >>

Gallery Editor’s Note on Oxford Journals >>

Gallery: Looking at the Wind: Paintings of the Mistral in Fin-de-Siècle France

DunlopFig1crop-550By Catherine Tatiana Dunlop

Catherine Tatiana Dunlop is assistant professor of modern European history at Montana State University, Bozeman. Her work explores the connections between visual culture, geography, and environmental history. She is the author, most recently, of Cartophilia: Maps and the Search for Identity in the French-German Borderland (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). This article draws from her new book research on the cultural and environmental history of the Mistral in nineteenth-century France.

On the days when a cold northwesterly wind called the Mistral sweeps across Provence, the typically warm and tranquil region in the south of France undergoes a dramatic transformation. Wheat fields begin to swirl like ocean waves, cypress trees tilt violently from side to side, and the peaceful Mediterranean waters become frothy and tempestuous. So powerful is this regional French wind that locals


have called it a curse “equal to the seven plagues of Egypt.”1 Originally named after the Latin word for “master,” the Mistral can blow for forty-five days at a time and reach speeds of 100 kilometers per hour.2 Yet for all of its power to shape, and even dominate, the lives of people in Provence, the Mistral has remained an elusive topic of historical inquiry. By most accounts, the Mistral has existed apart from historical change, a peculiar aspect of the timeless physical setting in which the history of southern France unfolded.3 But what if we decided to take the Mistral’s role in history more seriously? What connections might we find between the “master” of Provence and the transformation of French society over time?

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Tigers—Real and Imagined—in Korea’s Physical and Cultural Landscape

SkabelundFig4-550 by Joseph Seeley and Aaron Skabelund

Historically, people in Korea have valued tigers more as symbols than actual living beings. Premodern Koreans gave various cultural meanings to the tiger—including trickster, divine messenger, and protector. Yet violence characterized most actual encounters between tigers and humans. Various Korean dynasties, most significantly the Chos?n (1392–1910), pursued wild tigers as threats and as sources of valuable fur. Human population growth, agricultural expansion, and overhunting placed significant pressure on them by the late nineteenth century. During the period of Japanese colonial rule over Korea (1910–45), nationalists reimagined tigers as symbols of resistance to imperial


rule. Traditional attitudes toward wild tigers changed little, however, as continued hunting and habitat destruction led to their disappearance by the mid-twentieth century. But even in their absence, tigers’ cultural mystique continued. The tiger’s disappearance encouraged a feeling of closeness and affinity for the animal rather than diminishing their symbolic importance. Tiger nostalgia has led some to consider bringing them back, but the tiger remains a symbol with more importance as a cultural idea than a living animal.

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Making Sea Cucumbers Out of Whales’ Teeth: Nantucket Castaways and Encounters of Value in Nineteenth-Century Fiji

Fig4Melillo-550 by Edward D. Melillo

This article explores the social biographies of sea cucumbers and whales’ teeth, challenging a prevalent tendency among scholars to endow objects with abstract essences. It focuses on encounters of value in which the meanings of material possessions fluctuated across cultural and ethnic boundaries. Such moments of contradiction and coalescence had profound environmental and social consequences and suggest new ways that environmental historians might understand the roles of cultural arbitrage and expropriation in the making of the world system. To illustrate these crucial issues, this article discusses the experiences of David


Whippy and William Cary, two Nantucket castaways in nineteenth-century Fiji, and it investigates long-term connections that emerged among Nantucket, Fiji, and the broader ecosystems and cultures of the Pacific Ocean region during the 1800s. Both men were involved in the export of sea cucumbers (genus Holothuria) from Fiji to China and the importation of sperm whales’ teeth to Fiji from various parts of the Pacific. The histories of these two commodities offer potent testimonials about cultural and ecological changes during the nineteenth century.

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Environmental Consequences of the Peace: The Great War, Dammed Lakes, and Hydraulic History in the Eastern Alps

Fig4Landry-550 by Marc Landry

This article examines hydropower development in early twentieth-century Bavaria to suggest the importance of peace settlements in the environmental history of war. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Alpine lake Walchensee became the center of plans to transform the Alpine lake into a reservoir. At this time, engineers across the Alps recommended converting high-altitude lakes into reservoirs. The new infrastructure would deepen the hydroelectric transition in the Alps, enabling the substitution of hydro for coal and expanding water power’s role in the electricity supply. Despite the Bavarian state’s determination to take advantage of the Walchensee’s energy storage capabilities, societal and political opposition brought the project to a standstill on the eve of the First


World War. The pressure of total war subsequently convinced Bavarians to move forward; however, crises accompanying the peace settlement of Versailles—above all Germany’s loss of coal reserves due to territorial changes—ensured that Bavaria finally broke ground on the facility in the postwar period. The Walchensee reservoir did fulfill some of its energy promises, but only at the price of dramatic environmental change. The new landscape of energy storage disrupted ecological and human communities alike. Only in the post–World War II period did Bavarians consider revising aspects of this environmental legacy of Versailles.

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Mapping Permafrost Country: Creating an Environmental Object in the Soviet Union, 1920s–1940s

ChuFigure3-550 by Pey-Yi Chu

Permafrost appears in contemporary discussions about climate change as a natural object whose thawing threatens to accelerate global warming. How did “permafrost” emerge from the phenomenon of frozen earth? This article analyzes the origins of permafrost as a concept in the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, a scientist named Mikhail Sumgin advanced a term, definition, and geographic understanding of permafrost that became standardized in the USSR and subsequently abroad. Sumgin combined a name suggesting longevity with a technical definition oriented to short-term conditions. He also represented frozen earth as a cohesive physical geographic space that he called “the region of permafrost.” Although


these ideas were contested, they suited the revolutionary moment in Russian and Soviet history. The notion of permafrost country highlighted the importance of an emerging discipline for Stalinist industrialization. Descriptions of the dynamism of permafrost country also cast permafrost as an object in relief. This article argues that permafrost is neither a neutral descriptor of frozen earth nor a self-evident environmental object. Frozen earth was transformed into permafrost in a process inseparable from scientists claiming expertise and communicating their work against the background of socialist revolution.

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Conservation Memories: Vicissitudes of a Biodiversity Conservation Project in the Rainforests of Colombia, 1992–1998

LealFig1-550 by Claudia Leal

Based primarily on personal memories and conversations with participants, this article discusses a turning point in the long history of nature conservation as it played out in one of the biodiversity hot spots of South America. In the mid-1990s, after the Earth Summit in Rio, conservation initiatives moved beyond protected areas and called for the participation of local communities. Proyecto Biopacífico, the first biodiversity conservation project financed by the Global Environment Facility, unfolded during those days in the very


humid jungles of the Pacific coast of Colombia, an area inhabited primarily by black people. This article unpacks the complexities of involving local communities and organizations in the context of the multicultural turn in Latin American politics. It also analyzes divergent interpretations of this particular experience, questioning the ways in which our worldviews often lead us uncritically to find what we are looking for.

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