January 19, 2018

Wolves at Heart: How Dog Evolution Shaped Whites’ Perceptions of Indians in North America by Joshua Abram Kercsmar

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Abstract

This article explores how, as dogs evolved and were bred into distinct varieties in Europe and North America from precontact to the present, whites in America used them to judge both Indians and themselves as natural improvers. When colonists first compared their own dogs to those of Native Americans, they found Indian dogs too wolf-like and vicious. But as ecological pressures in cities and rural spaces threatened to undo European breeds during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many whites came to doubt their status as nature’s

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masters. It was only during the twentieth century, as whites observed the spread of feral dogs on reservations, that they reimagined Indians and their dogs as savage and themselves as potential rescuers. This study highlights the importance of biological evolution to European perceptions of Indians. It also refines the field of evolutionary history by treating biology and history less as distinct forces and more as mutual processes.

by Joshua Abram Kercsmar

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Shrimp and Petroleum: The Social Ecology of Louisiana’s Offshore Industries by Tyler Priest

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Abstract

This essay examines the intimate historical relationship between two of south Louisiana’s most important industries, shrimping and offshore oil. Analyzing the social, cultural, and labor dimensions of environmental change, the essay argues that petroleum did not undermine the environmental sustainability of shrimping, as many scholars assert, but rather evolved in an intimate and complementary relationship to it. The organization of labor, transportation, and physical space by shrimp and petroleum were mutually reinforcing, the products of a similar social ecology of waterborne

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extraction and commerce. The essay also explains how the close bond between shrimp and petroleum found cultural expression in the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival, long held each Labor Day weekend in Morgan City, Louisiana. Ultimately, the threat to the local survival of these industries came not from oil-driven environmental degradation and resource depletion, as often implied, but from global competition and industry migration.

by Tyler Priest

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Whale Meat in Early Postwar Japan: Natural Resources and Food Culture by Jakobina Arch

Abstract

In the face of strong opposition from anti-whaling groups, whale meat consumption became a point of national pride and cultural importance in late twentieth-century Japan. Current efforts to expand inclusion of whale meat in school lunches to preserve Japanese cultural traditions have their roots in the postwar normalization of whale meat as a part of Japanese cuisine. This article focuses on the immediate postwar period of the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–52) when whales became entangled in state policies dealing with food shortages and democratization. During the Occupation, the distribution of whale meat in school lunches shifted how people should use and think about whales in Japan. Thus policies for maximizing resource use for reconstruction had effects that still reverberate in arguments

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about the value of whale meat today. Food shortages both during and after the war were instrumental in promoting widespread consumption by fitting whale meat into a new framework of distribution for a whole new generation of children fed whale at school. As these children grew older, whale meat became normalized as something that Japanese people ate, no matter where in the country they lived. Tracing whale distribution both physically as meat and more intangibly as discourse about whales in a variety of media, from policy to children’s magazines, this article provides new evidence for one of the long-term environmental legacies of the Allied Occupation of Japan.

by Jakobina Arch

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US to USSR: American Experts, Irrigation, and Cotton in Soviet Central Asia, 1929–32 by Maya Peterson

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Abstract

In the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of Americans traveled to the Soviet Union to help build the first socialist country in the world. American experts in the Soviet Union offered general scientific and technical advice that was grounded in a seemingly apolitical transnational ideology. And yet development work is inherently political. Using published and unpublished sources from archives and libraries in the United States and the former Soviet Union, this article looks at one particular case of American technical assistance—assistance to Soviet irrigation and cotton-growing schemes in Uzbekistan—to explore the little-known story of American participation in the perpetuation of Russia’s colonial relationship with its Central Asian borderland. By privileging Russian dreams of landscape transformation in Turkestan over local uses of the environment, American experts in the region helped to ensure Central Asians’ dependence on cotton cultivation while assisting in a process of environmental degradation that continues to this day.

by Maya Peterson

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On Drawing Dead Fish by Leah Aronowsky

Drawing dead fish

Extract

Deep in the storerooms of the Smithsonian Institution resides a collection of specimens that could aptly be described as “very dead.” Long forgotten by most scientists—the collection is in fact housed at an off-site storage facility in Suitland, Maryland, about ten miles south of the National Museum of Natural History in D.C.—these are the fish of the US Exploring Expedition, the nation’s first major foray into the world of global maritime exploration. Encompassing a squadron of six ships and just over four hundred naval officers and sailors, the expedition sailed from August 1838 to June 1842, making anchorages in South America, Tahiti, the Fiji Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and Antarctica. Along the way, the crew’s nine civilian “scientifics”—naturalists culled

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from the small but growing coteries of urban elite gentlemen-scientists—collected hundreds of thousands of zoological, botanical, and geologic specimens (including these fish), many of which made their way into the foundational collection of what became the Smithsonian. Preserved in spirits, their vibrant colors now faded, these fish today are but sinewy versions of their living selves.

by Leah Aronowsky

Leah Aronowsky is a PhD candidate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her current research focuses on the history of the concept of the biosphere in late twentieth-century earth and environmental sciences, especially as it related to new ideas about “life” as a biogeochemical phenomenon and process.

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