January 17, 2018

“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

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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

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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

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The Engineer as Lobbyist: John R. Freeman and the Hetch Hetchy Dam (1910–13)



The damming of Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park is a watershed event in environmental history, a presumed travesty that brought anguish to John Muir and his many supporters throughout the United States. Exactly how San Francisco won the right to transform the bucolic valley into a reservoir has been little studied up to now, although historians recognize that the East Coast hydraulic engineer John R. Freeman played a critical role in the campaign. This article examines how Freeman created a provocative water supply report that, using a wide range of visual images, successfully promoted the Hetch Hetchy Dam as an improvement to the landscape of California’s High Sierra. As part of this, he emphasized how few people had visited Hetch Hetchy prior to 1912, and he championed the development of roads to make the reservoir and the park


more accessible to tourists. The article highlights how Freeman drew upon his engineering skills to design a high-pressure aqueduct capable of generating 200,000?hp of hydroelectricity, and also how his knowledge of America’s political and social culture proved essential in winning congressional approval for the dam in 1913. Readers familiar with the environmentalist side of the Hetch Hetchy controversy will find this account revealing, especially in how Freeman operated as a political advocate advancing the city’s cause. They will also find important parallels between Freeman’s work as a dam lobbyist and the effort that underlay passage of the National Park Service Act in 1916.

by Donald C. Jackson

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Panama Canal Forum: From the Conquest of Nature to the Construction of New Ecologies

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Forum Introduction extract by Ashley Carse and Christine Keiner

The year 2014 marked the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal. Its construction is often narrated as a tale of triumph in which the US government conquered tropical nature using modern science and technology: dominating diseased landscapes, unpredictable rivers, and even physical geography itself. In this Forum, we combine environmental history with the histories of science, technology, and empire to complicate that well-known story. The essays that follow explore the new ecologies that emerged around the canal during its construction and the decades


that followed. We collectively show how the US Canal Zone, the Republic of Panama, and the borderlands that separated them became ecological contact zones and important sites for imagining, understanding, and managing tropical environments transformed through human activity. Rural and urban residents, health officials, natural scientists, and tourists discursively and materially constructed different environments on the isthmus. Their efforts were facilitated and hindered by the US government’s numerous environmental management projects, from flooding artificial lakes and depopulating the Canal …

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From Factory Town to Metropolitan Junkyard: Postindustrial Transitions on the Urban Periphery

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By Andrew Hurley

The dismantling of America’s manufacturing economy in the 1970s and 1980s left hundreds of beleaguered communities struggling to reclaim something viable from the detritus of an industrial age. Across the nation’s Rust Belt, sharp workforce reductions and plant closings eroded the financial resources of local governments and families alike. Deindustrialization also saddled afflicted localities with the physical remains of industrial production: hulking factory carcasses, decaying rail spurs, and toxic waste dumps. Finding some constructive use for these brownfield sites emerged as one of the most pressing revitalization challenges of the 1990s. Postindustrial recovery proved particularly daunting for former manufacturing enclaves located on the metropolitan fringe—places like Camden, New Jersey;


East St. Louis, Illinois; and Richmond, California. These locales had grown dependent on manufacturing for their sustenance and were among the most devastated by the withdrawal of corporate investment. Their spatial placement within host metropolises, however, endowed them with opportunities for economic redevelopment that more remote centers of industry lacked. This article explores one common but understudied redevelopment response: integration into regional networks of waste handling and disposal. In the final decades of the twentieth century, manufacturing suburbs adapted and expanded a robust infrastructure for moving and transforming materials to accommodate burgeoning volumes of postconsumer garbage and scrap.

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Revolutions in the Grass: Energy and Food Systems in Continental North America, 1763–1848

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By Natale Zappia

This article draws connections between the political revolutions of the Atlantic World and the equally powerful environmental revolutions occurring in North America between 1763 and 1848. The political-economic transformations that shook coastal cities also reverberated in the reorganization of food production and indirectly grass consumption, revealing deep interconnections between


imperial objectives, continental land use practices, and the emergence of a global food system. Understanding the critical role of nonhuman actors, including grass and herbivores, reveals deeper relationships shared between early modern political, cultural, and environmental history.

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Fascist Modernist Landscapes: Wheat, Dams, Forests, and the Making of the Portuguese New State

by Tiago Saraiva

Fascist ideology held strong claims about the relationship between national soil and national community. It has been less noticed that this “ideology of the land” materialized in massive state campaigns that led to major environmental changes. This article examines three such campaigns undertaken by the New State, Portugal’s fascist regime—the Wheat Campaign (1929), the Irrigation Plan (1935), and the Afforestation Plan (1938)—to demonstrate the importance of crops, dams, and forests to the institutionalization of fascism. It argues


that paying attention to such topics, typical of environmental historians’ narratives, suggests that instead of characterizing fascist regimes through the paradox of reactionary modernism, in which the ideology of the land constitutes the reactionary element, it is more productive to place intensive environmental management at the core of fascist modernist experiments.

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Cruising for Pinelands: Knowledge Work in the Wisconsin Lumber Industry, 1870–1900

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by Craig William Kinnear

Timber cruisers, those workers hired to locate and assess the value of trees, blazed the trail for the lumber industry’s expansion across northern Wisconsin between 1870 and 1900. This article demonstrates that, in addition to tough physical labor, timber cruisers did significant cultural work to gather the information needed to expand industrial logging operations. They chatted with those they met on the trail, trading exaggerated stories about the difficulty of travel in the region. From these tall tales, cruisers gleaned local knowledge about the forests. Even as they


shared local environmental knowledge, however, the cruisers kept some information, like the location of valuable pine stands, private. By gathering shared local knowledge and hiding valuable information, cruisers did the “knowledge work” with which capitalists selected the parcels of timberland best suited to industrial logging. That tall tales and outright lies were essential to cruisers’ labor suggests that this unexpected and often exploitative knowledge work was central to late nineteenth-century industrial capitalism.

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The Ravages of Teredo: The Rise and Fall of Shipworm in US History, 1860–1940

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By Derek Lee Nelson

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an epidemic of marine wood-boring organisms—known collectively by the catchall name teredo—tore through the American coastline, consuming wharves, ships, and any wooden objects that touched salty and brackish waters. The epidemic, consisting of both native and invasive species, stemmed from the massive commercial development of America’s coastal waterways that began in the late nineteenth century, which created new habitat upon which teredo fed, flourished, and spread. Because teredo hollowed out planks and piles out of sight until they crumbled, the surreptitious borer terrified coastal communities with unexpected damages, ranging in the millions of dollars annually. Teredo was so feared that when sailors, engineers, and stevedores wrote or spoke of it they regularly drew on the menacing catchphrase “the ravages of teredo” to describe its exploits, a negative association that helped to turn the word teredo into an environmental icon that Americans used to express social, economic, and cultural fears and disdain for decades. Americans fought the teredo epidemic by developing freshwater estuaries, importing purportedly teredo-proof hardwoods, and producing all sorts of chemical concoctions to thwart woodborers. Up until the 1940s, when the epidemic subsided, teredo played an important part in shaping the evolution of the American coastline and its peoples.

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