December 17, 2017

Leopold-Hidy Award prize-winning essays

The Leopold-Hidy Award, awarded annually, recognizes the best article in Environmental History.

The award is given in tandem by the Forest History Society and the American Society for Environmental History who jointly publish the journal.  It is named after Aldo Leopold, a forester, wildlife biologist, and environmental philosopher and Ralph W. Hidy who was a professor of business history at the Harvard Business school and a long-time Forest History Society director and member.

The winner of the Leopold-Hidy Award is determined by the vote of the Editorial Board members, who are asked to re-read all of the essays published in Environmental History during the year, and to decide which article best contributed to the fields of forest and environmental history considering the quality of the argument, quality of the research, and writing style.

2015: Alan Mikhail, “Ottoman Iceland: A Climate History” 20 (April): 262-284.

2014: Faisal Husain, “In the Bellies of the Marshes: Water and Power in the Countryside of Ottoman Baghdad” 19 (October): 638-664.

2013: Natalia Milanesio, “The Liberating Flame: Natural Gas Production in Peronist Argentina” 18 (July): 499-522.

2012: Cynthia Radding, “The Children of Mayahuel: Agaves, Human Cultures, and Desert Landscapes in Northern Mexico” 17 (January): 84-115.

2011: Samuel White, “From Globalized Pig Breeds to Capitalist Pigs: A Study in Animal Cultures and Evolutionary History” 16 (January): 94-120.

2010: Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert and David Schecter’s , “The Environmental Dynamics of a Colonial Fuel-Rush: Silver Mining and Deforestation in New Spain, 1522 to 1810,” 15 (January) 94-119.

2009: Emily T. Yeh, “From Wasteland to Wetland? Nature and Nation in China’s Tibet,” 14 (January) 103-137.

2008: Nancy Langston, “The Retreat from Precaution: Regulating Diethylstilbestrol (DES), Endocrine Disruptors, and Environmental Health,” 13 (January) 41-65.

2007: Mark Carey, “The History of Ice: How Glaciers Became an Endangered Species” 12 (October) 497-527.

2006: Richard Judd “A Wonderfull Order and Ballance’: Natural History and the Beginnings of Forest Conservation in America, 1730-1830,” 11 (January) 8-36.

2005: Gregg Mitman “In Search of Health: Landscape and Disease in American Environmental History,” 10 (April) 184-210.

2004: Brett Walker “Meiji Restoration, Scientific Agriculture and the Destruction of Japan’s Hokkaido Wolf,” 9 (April) 248-274.

2003: Edmund Russell: “Evolutionary History: Prospectus for a new field” 8 (April) 204-228.

For announcements and links, see below.

Issue 20.2

Alan Mikhail, “Ottoman Iceland: A Climate History,”

Each year, members of the Editorial Board read and select among the articles published in Environmental History the one that best exemplifies the research and writing in our field. Every year, I hear how difficult it is to choose. Nevertheless, one always rises to the top and this year, 2015, it is Alan Mikhail’s “Ottoman Iceland: A Climate History.”

As editor, I ask the board members to provide their assessments of the top article. One responded, “Mikhail’s essay convincingly links a volcanic eruption in the North Atlantic to the riverine flows of the Nile; the immediate effects of volcanic ash and cloud in Iceland on animals and people and the more distant consequences in Egypt…. More broadly, the essay suggests the promise of a global imagination in the writing of environmental history and the utility of linking different scales of environmental process and social experience.” According to another, “In raising questions about how to approach climate history in places like the Middle East and across the globe, Mikhail’s piece goes a long way toward encouraging future scholarship.” A third praised Mikhail for offering “a perspective that is strikingly original and visionary.” Finally, one remarked, “Alan Mikhail’s essay connecting a volcano in Iceland with Ottoman tribulations demonstrates a first-class historical imagination, clarity of thought, and self-reflective practice.” This particular board member was “enchanted by the deft use of illustration and the ability to orchestrate multiple factors at multiple scales without losing the thread of the argument. In combining both physical and political sources across a large region, it is evidence of how environmental history, well done, reshapes our categories.”

It was my pleasure to work with Alan on his essay and an even greater pleasure to present him with the Leopold-Hidy Award for the Best Article in Environmental History for 2015. Congratulations, Alan, well deserved.

— Lisa Brady, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 19.3

Faisal Husain, “In the Bellies of the Marshes: Water and Power in the Countryside of Ottoman Baghdad,”

I have the honor of presenting this year’s Leopold-Hidy Prize for the best article in Environmental History to Mr. Faisal Husain, a PhD Candidate at Georgetown University, for his article “In the Bellies of the Marshes: Water and Power in the Countryside of Ottoman Baghdad.” In this deeply researched study, Mr. Husain examines Ottoman attempts to dominate people by exerting power over nature. He takes us into the marshy world of the Khazāʿil, a tribe that had long been a thorn in the Ottoman side. After failed efforts to bring the Khazāʿil into the fold by traditional means, Ottoman authorities in Baghdad implemented extensive dam and canal projects aimed at draining the wetlands that gave the Khazāʿil security and sustenance. What began as a military expedient, however, had longer-term political and religious repercussions; as Husain deftly shows, draining the marshes not only transformed them from places reflective of Khazāʿil culture, it opened the way for the region to become deeply and strongly associated with Shi’a Islam, a greater challenge to the Ottomans in later years.

Each year, Editorial Board members are encouraged to comment on the articles they chose for the top spot. One called Husain’s article “noteworthy” because “it shows not only how imperial powers – the Ottomans in this case – attempted to use the landscape as a means of warfare, but how this strategy led to an unexpected yet transcendent consequence – namely, the rise of Shi’ism in Iraq. Most of all, I appreciate the use of environmental history to link the local with the global in a way that attends to geopolitics as well as to village-level uses of the land.”

Another wrote, “The article is impressive for its temporal sweep, integration of ecological analysis and hydrological concepts, and use of a range of primary materials.” Others highlighted Husain’s thorough research, with one stating that the article “was based on very substantial research, had an innovative and convincing argument, and teaches some new lessons about ‘seeing like a state’.”

In an excellent summary of why Mr. Husain’s article won the award, a board member wrote, “Faisal Husain demonstrates remarkable fluidity in analyzing the politics surrounding the marshes of the Euphrates at the heart of the Ottoman Empire. He reveals the intricate dynamic between the ecology of a marsh ecosystem, those who depended on it, and the Ottoman state.”

When evaluating articles for the Leopold-Hidy Prize, Editorial Board members are asked to assess each one based on elegance of writing, insightfulness of argument, novelty of premise, and rigor of scholarship. In every one of these criteria, Mr. Husain hit the mark perfectly. Please join me in congratulating Mr. Faisal Husain on his selection and in thanking him for contributing such excellent work to our journal.

— Lisa Brady, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 18.3

Dr. Natalia Milanesio, “The Liberating Flame: Natural Gas Production in Peronist Argentina,”

The winner of the 2013 Leopold-Hidy Award for Best Article in Environmental History is Dr. Natalia Milanesio for “The Liberating Flame: Natural Gas Production in Peronist Argentina.” Dr. Milanesio’s article examines the dramatic rise in the production and use of natural gas during Juan Domingo Perón’s government (1946-1955), revealing how “the Peronist government transformed gas into a culturally meaningful object through a web of discourses and images that evoked representations of nature conquered, national prowess, and economic liberation.” Milanesio astutely and convincingly argues that the “cultural, social, and political meanings of gas production and consumption in Argentina not only provide an alternative narrative to stories of foreign extraction in the region but also blur the boundaries among nature, culture, and politics.” She suggests that the story is one “of accomplishment, an alternative case to common declensionist narratives about imperialist extraction and exploitation in the region.”

In praise of her article, one Editorial Board member called Milanesio’s work “innovative,” noting that it “points to new directions in the field.” Another remarked, “Not only does ‘The Liberating Flame’ tell a fascinating story about the importance of natural gas in Peronist Argentina, it provokes questions of wider relevance in environmental history.” Her article, while tightly focused in time and place, sweeps across the conceptual space of our field, serving as a model for environmental historical research and analysis. Congratulations, Dr. Milanesio!

— Lisa Brady, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 17.1

Cynthia Radding, “The Children of Mayahuel: Agaves, Human Cultures, and Desert Landscapes in Northern Mexico”

This year’s Leopold-Hidy Award for best article published in Environmental History during 2012 goes to Cynthia Radding, “The Children of Mayahuel: Agaves, Human Cultures, and Desert Landscapes in Northern Mexico,” (January 2012). This article brings together research in ethnobotany, ecology, and history to show the mutually reinforcing relations between humans and agaves. Its theoretical framework integrates three foundational concepts relating to the production of space, the evolution of life-forms, and the creation of desert landscapes. Centered on the relations between the agave family of plants and both indigenous and colonial populations in northern Mexico, this study challenges the conventional distinction between wild and cultivated plants and addresses different modes of cultural diffusion between Mesoamerica and the arid lands of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Its aim is to relate the botanical complexities of the Agaveae to the development of different systems of knowledge and cultural beliefs relating to the plant and to the historical communities that have intervened in its cultivation and distribution.

The members of the editorial board noted that Radding’s article is a masterful analysis that blends indigenous ecological knowledge with modern-day ecological and social theory to help us rethink several foundational categories in environmental history. But this is also a carefully researched article based on creative readings of primary and archival sources as well as a rich array of secondary literature. Radding’s article underscores that the so-called “Columbian Exchange,” was a far more complicated and nuanced process that we’ve originally believed.  Finally, Radding does what environmental historians do best–tracing how the contingent material world and an evolving human world constantly entangle over time and space.

— Nancy Langston, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 16.1

Samuel White, “From Globalized Pig Breeds to Capitalist Pigs: A Study in Animal Cultures and Evolutionary History.”

The winner of the Leopold-Hidy Prize for best article published in Environmental History during 2011 is Samuel White’s essay, “From Globalized Pig Breeds to Capitalist Pigs: A Study in Animal Cultures and Evolutionary History” (16.1, 94-120).

White asks: how did pigs from Asian make their to Europe and the Americas? Asian hogs were thoroughly domesticated, fed on home and barnyard waste, while European hogs were tougher, wilder critters that had to forage in forests to survive. As farming intensified in 18th century Europe, forest clearance meant that fewer wild food sources were available for local pigs. Enter the Chinese pig: with an enhanced capacity for rapid fattening, these breeds played a key role in the transformation from subsistence to industrial meat production.

White’s article uses pigs as a fertile case study to explore the history of early modern globalization and the emergency of industrial capitalism. He combines cultural and technical material with grace and subtlety over a wide span of space and time, showing how the reciprocal influences of culture, evolution, and economy shaped pig breeds from the pre-modern era to the present. One editorial board member calls this “classic environmental history: blending archival and scientific sources, the national and the global, our effects on nature and nature’s effects on us, to help us re-see a world we thought we knew.” Another board member notes that “Sam White’s brilliant article attests to the potential of interdisciplinary work. His analysis is both striking and consequential, pointing to an environmental history of breeding in the necessary long-term perspective. A new approach to the growing body of animal studies in environmental history, based on a evolutionary perspective. The piece is eloquently argued and well illustrated. A major achievement for a young-career writer.”

— Nancy Langston, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 15.1

Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert and David Schecter, “The Environmental Dynamics of a Colonial Fuel-Rush: Silver Mining and Deforestation in New Spain, 1522-1810.”

Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert and David Schecter’s essay, “The Environmental Dynamics of a Colonial Fuel-Rush: Silver Mining and Deforestation in New Spain, 1522 to 1810,” (15.1: 94-119) has been selected by members of the Editorial Board as the recipient of the ASEH/FHS Leopold-Hidy Prize for best article published in Environmental History in 2010. Part of a larger project on the environmental effects of mining in Mexico, this essay explores the what the authors call the “overall rhythms and scales of fuel wood consumption” for mining districts over four centuries. The argument gracefully moves across scales, paying close attention to the local environmental transformations wrought by charcoal-making before considering changes in global economic processes across centuries.

This article connects what historians have too often seen as separate enterprises, the histories of mining and forests, showing how the need for wood for smelting silver ore led to massive deforestation in the colonial period. An exploration of an immense topic, it does many tasks in a short time. The article locates the Mexican mines geographically and ecologically, discusses the economics and efficiency of charcoal burning, the chemistry of mercury amalgamation for smelting, the effects of deforestation on the land and the people who lived from the land, and the mining industry’s relation to a developing European agricultural sector. Research required work on colonial governments, indigenous economies, the ecology of Mexico, and the world economy of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. …It uses a variety of disciplinary perspectives, pulling together history, the history of technology, geography, and ecology. Editorial board members noted “its smooth integration of quantitative analysis and scientific data into its historical argument,” and were impressed by the collaborative nature of the project. The clear argument and innovative use of sources offer readers compelling new insights into the ways that deforestation associated with mining in New Spain transformed indigenous ecologies and societies.

— Nancy Langston, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 14.1

Emily Yeh: “From Wasteland to Wetland?: From Nature to Nation in China’s Tibet”

The 2010 recipient is Emily T. Yeh for the essay, “From Wasteland to Wetland? Nature and Nation in China’s Tibet,” which appeared in the January 2009 issue. Her essay focuses on Lhasa’s Lhalu wetlands and explores the competing ecological national narratives of the Chinese state and Tibetian exiles regarding this region. She approaches the topic from the unique perspective of the conflict that has raged since the 1950s over the Lhalu wetland of western Tibet. Editorial board members’ comments included high praise for her “innovative research methods and deft analysis” and calling her work a “tour-de-force of subtle, exacting, and methodologically sophisticated historical writing.” One noted: “This article is a brilliant examination of the social construction of nature and its deployment in the service of political goals.

— Mark Cioc, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 13.1

Nancy Langston: “The retreat from precaution: Regulating Diethylstilbestrol (DES), endocrine disruptors, and environmental health”

Nancy Langston has been chosen as the recipient of the Leopold-Hidy Award for 2008 for her essay, “The Retreat from Precaution: Regulating Diethylstilbestrol (DES), Endocrine Disruptors, and Environmental Health,” (Vol. 13, no. 1, January 2008: 41-65).

Nancy argues that endocrine disruptors—industrial pollutants that mimic hormones—have played a key role in increasing the rates of intersexuality, reproductive cancers, and infertility.  Focusing on debates in the 1930s and 1940s, she demonstrates how political pressures, scientific uncertainties, and evolving models of gender and health, made it all but impossible for the U.S. government to regulate these chemicals effectively.  This led to a retreat from the precautionary principle that was supposed to prevail in the handling of toxic chemicals.

The members of the Editorial Board of Environmental History determine the winner by secret ballot.  One member noted: “The topic and the prose lured me into reading this piece as soon as I received the January issue in the mail.  But it was Nancy’s keen analytic mind that kept me engrossed, and ultimately it was the high level of her argumentation that elevated it above the other fine essays of 2008.”  Another wrote: “This is a rare example of an interdisciplinary approach that actually works.  Its appeal extends beyond the field of environmental history to include the fields of gender history and medical history.”  A third stated: “One of the many things I liked about this essay is that it is (to borrow a phrase from the current economic crisis) ‘shovel ready.’ Its focus is on the historical dimension, but it is really the perfect primer for policymakers.  I hope some of her ideas find their way into the Obama administration’s health policies.”

— Mark Cioc, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 12.3

Mark Carey: “The history of ice: How glaciers became an endangered species”

Mark Carey’s essay “The History of Ice: How Glaciers Became an Endangered Species” is the 2007 winner of the Leopold-Hidy Prize for best article published in Environmental History. It was a highly competitive year, but what made Carey’s piece stand out was its fresh approach to a familiar (if long underappreciated) topic. Using global warming as his backdrop, Carey’s essay traces the emergence of a metadiscourse that tends to treat glaciers as “endangered species.”

His piece, of course, does a good deal more than just put the spotlight on the glacial meltdown. As he notes, to understand why people lament the loss of ice, one must first place glaciers within their political, cultural, and historical contexts. “Probing historical views of glaciers demonstrates that the recent emergence of an ‘endangered glacier’ narrative stemmed from various glacier perspectives dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: glaciers as menace, scientific laboratories, sublime scenery, recreation sites, places to explore and conquer, and symbols of wilderness. By encompassing so many diverse meanings, glacier and global warming discourse can thus offer a platform to implement historical ideologies about nature, science, imperialism, race, recreation, wilderness, and global power dynamics.”

The Editorial Board acts as the judges for this award. Members praised Carey’s lucid and compelling style, his knack for handling multiple story lines, and his innovative approach to environmental history. “This is an unusually insightful piece written in an elegant style,” one Board member wrote. “I especially liked the way he tackled the issue from multiple perspectives,” wrote another. “It’s easily the most memorable of the essays that were published in 2007,” wrote a third.

—  Mark Cioc, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 11.1

Richard W. Judd: “Natural history and the beginnings of forest conservation in America, 1730–1830”

The winner of 2006 Leopold-Hidy Prize for best article in Environmental History has been awarded to Richard Judd, author of “‘A Wonderfull Order and Ballance’: Natural History and the Beginnings of Forest Conservation in America, 1730-1830,” which appeared in the January issue.  Judd’s essay examines the origins of conservationist thought among a group of scientists who explored the trans-Appalachian frontier in the late colonial and early republic period and suggest the lines of continuity to later thinkers.  One member of the selection committee called it a “masterful narrative that takes a group of early conservationists on their own terms and not merely as precursors to John Muir and other conservationists.”  Another said: “I had no idea the degree to which late eighteenth century scientific discourse informed and affected later generations. Judd has, as E. P. Thompson would say, rescued a group of conservationists ‘from the enormous condescension of posterity.'”  A third noted: “Among other things, this essay serves as a reminder that colonial and early republic America remains a fruitful and yet woefully under-appreciated field.”

— Mark Cioc, Editor, Environmental History

Issue 10.2

Gregg Mitman: “Landscape and disease in American environmental history”

The winner of the Leopold-Hidy Prize for 2005 is Gregg Mitman for the essay, “In Search of Health: Landscape and Disease in American Environmental History,” which appeared in the April 2005 issue of Environmental History.

Using Aldo Leopold’s concept of “land health” as an overarching metaphor, Gregg Mitman’s essay provides a survey of landscape and disease.  As he notes: “Health acquires meaning only by virtue of the relationships between and among living organisms—be they the cells of the human body or the species of a biotic community—and their environments…..In cutting across the categories of the human and non-human, health offers a useful means for rethinking nature and how we come to know the natural world….Air and water, microbes and pollen, toxic chemicals and radiation move in and out of urban and rural landscapes, through bodies, both human and non-human.  How such matter takes on form, acquires agency in bodies and landscapes, becomes a commodity in the consumption of health, or is turned into danger and risk, these are all topics worthy of much more thorough study.” (quotes from various parts of Mitman’s article)

Editorial Board members were effusive in their praise of this essay.  One wrote:  “Gregg Mitman’s well written essay challenges environmental historians to expand their conceptions of the scope of our field, while providing an excellent synthesis of the historiography of the intersection of the body and landscapes. Of all the articles, this one is most valuable for opening up vistas toward new areas of study.”  A second wrote: “This essay did a splendid job integrating the seemingly divergent topics of medicine and conservation.”  A third wrote (and here I want to underscore how much I agree with this sentiment): “It stood out for its sweeping breadth and innovative approach even among a group of essays that were outstanding in quality and sophistication.”

Issue 9.2

Brett L. Walker: “Meiji modernization, scientific agriculture, and the destruction of Japan’s Hokkaido wolf”

The Leopold-Hidy Award goes to Brett Walker for his article “Meiji Restoration, Scientific Agriculture and the Destruction of Japan’s Hokkaido Wolf,” which appeared in the April 2004 issue.

In my editor’s note to that issue, I wrote that Brett’s article demonstrated that “new conceptions of nature were part of the self-conscious modernization program of Japan’s Meiji rulers in the late nineteenth century.  To be modern, the Meiji decided, the people of Japan needed to eat beef.  Accordingly, the Meiji sought to develop a ranching industry on the island of Hokkaido.  That effort led to a systematic campaign to exterminate wolves — a campaign that went against powerful traditions.  Because the Meiji relied on American advisers, Walker’s work adds to our understanding of the globalization of western ideas about progress.”

Members of the Environmental History editorial board praised Brett’s work as “fresh,” “provocative,” “impressively researched,” and “well written.”  One board summarized the article’s virtues with these words of praise: “Like ‘The Last Samurai,’ this article tells a great story of a transplanted American in nineteenth-century Japan and, in that telling, illuminates both nations and their converging histories.  It is exceptionally well-crafted and brilliantly organized from the first sentence to the last.  The added bonus is that Walker also expands our moral vision to include a fellow creature who is normally missing from conventional history.”

—  Editorial Board, Environmental History

Issue 8.2

Edmund Russell: “Evolutionary History: Prospectus for a new field”

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