January 17, 2018

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

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

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

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

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

Conklin Dog Brokerx550


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


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

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

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

Figshrimp and petro logo


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


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

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

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


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


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

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

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

Wilbur map Petersonx550


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

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

On Drawing Dead Fish by Leah Aronowsky

Drawing dead fish


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


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.

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

“Still Life with Vitamins: Art and Science at the 1939 New York World’s Fair”



At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, artist Witold Gordon created a mural depicting common foods such as dairy, fruits, vegetables, and seafood on the exterior of the main food exhibition hall. Alongside the foods of the mural, Gordon painted vitamins in little circles and letters. This essay argues that the inclusion of vitamins in the mural illustrates a moment when nutritional science was becoming an important way of understanding the relationship between food and health. To do this


conceptual work, Gordon played with abstraction and painterly styles to create a scene that both emulated the scientific message of the fair and depicted reverence toward nature as a guiding force in human life. The end result was an optimistic still-life mural that demonstrated the effort to popularize scientific ideas about vitamins and nutrition to the American public in the 1930s.

by Raechel Lutz

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Texas Longhorn: An Evolutionary History



This article examines the history of the Texas Longhorn, a cattle breed that emerged in what is today the American Southwest during the nineteenth century. Using the methodologies of evolutionary history and animal studies, this article argues that the Texas Longhorn was both technology and laborer. Longhorns were ideally suited to nineteenth-century ranching, largely because the animals themselves performed much of the labor involved in beef production. Initially celebrated for its ability to endure grueling cattle drives, the breed was later abandoned in favor of more market-friendly breeds. In the twentieth century, however, the Texas Longhorn was rehabilitated as a symbol of Texas history and culture. Yet this memorialization was predicated on a false view of the longhorn as a more natural and premodern breed. By contrasting their earlier contributions to ranching with the breed’s twentieth-century memorialization, this article argues that animals are not simply inputs in our agricultural system, but key agents for creating and operating this system.

by Joshua Specht

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>

Floods and Flood-mindedness in Early Colonial Australia



To date, environmental histories of rivers, floods, and settlers in early colonial Australia (1788–1820) have meshed with colonial historiography rather than challenging it. Missing from these studies are problem-oriented questions about the behaviors of rivers and people alike. What were the specific histories and impacts of floods and freshes? How did settlers survive, conceptualize, and understand floods? Why did they stay on the riverbanks, even defying governors’ orders to move to higher ground, when they well knew the river’s destructive power? These are questions we might ask of all humans who live on floodplains. This


article argues and demonstrates that a deep ethnographic and environmental approach can do more than graft new environmental research onto existing historical narratives. It can unlock the radical potential of environmental history to reveal past peoples more fully, more humanly, in a whole new light—in short, to change the way we think about them and their environments.

by Grace Karskens

Full text (HTML) >> Full text (PDF) >> Abstract on Oxford Journals >>