January 19, 2018

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Editor’s Desk: April 2015

ENVHIS_20_2_frontcover_550

Issue 20.2 – April 2015

Lisa M. Brady

Climate change, catastrophic environmental events, and scientific discoveries long have spurred debates among and between secular, religious, scientific, and lay communities. All the articles and the Gallery essay in this issue examine some aspect of these frequently contentious conversations. Joshua Howe’s Gallery on the Keeling Curve—the graph that measures carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere—is decidedly grounded in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, whereas the other four authors draw our attention to developments in the early modern era. I’ve chosen to organize this issue in a roughly chronological order, not out of any Whiggish sense of progression, but because taken together in their temporal context, the four articles present a unique view into an important moment of change in scientific and environmental thought that, in turn, shaped both proximate and distant responses to material challenges.

Fig2-cut-550-RawsonIn “Discovering the Final Frontier,” Michael Rawson examines the wider implications of lunar science during the early seventeenth century. Rawson suggests that Galileo’s 1609 discovery and description of the lunar environment completely transformed “traditional understandings of the natural world.” This set in motion tremendous changes: “It influenced European literature, promoted new interactions between the celestial and earth sciences, stimulated colonialist thought, and sparked the first serious inquiry into the possibility of space travel,” Rawson persuasively argues. Moreover, Galileo’s work, and that of other early modern astronomers and thinkers, opened up possibilities for modern space exploration dedicated to discovering extraterrestrial life. In the end, Rawson urges environmental historians to turn their eyes to the stars and to think about the universe as nature, thereby creating “an enlarged intellectual space in which to make new connections and explore understudied questions.”

Lydia Barnett’s article, “The Theology of Climate Change,” also explores early modern changes to conceptions about the earth and its larger systems. Barnett suggests that in the early eighteenth century, scholars began to posit theories about global climate change with sin as the fulcrum for their explanations. Barnett centers her discussion on the ideas of Italian physician and naturalist Antonio Vallisneri (1661–1730), who proposed that physical human suffering is a symptom of climate changes wrought by human sin. Barnett convincingly argues that, far from being irrelevant to today’s discussion of global climate change, these theories demonstrate “how much Christian theology has influenced the narrative tropes and concepts we use to think about environmental disaster in general and climate change in particular” and that

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their authors’ “vision of the Anthropocene—a planet utterly transformed by human action—reveals a radically different yet not entirely unrelated way of understanding the relationship between the human species and the global environment.”

Figure1Sundberg-cut-550In “Claiming the Past,” Adam Sundberg delves into the history of the 1717 Christmas Flood on the North Sea coast, with particular emphasis on the Dutch province of Groninger. His analysis focuses on three related issues: how those affected interpreted the flood and how they adapted to its aftermath; political and fiscal debates about who was responsible for postdisaster recovery; and the technological, legal, historical, and cultural legacies the flood engendered. He argues that responses in Groninger drew on both “cumulative experience” and “the shock of catastrophe” and that the balance between tradition and invention “resulted in a dialogue that stressed continuity and convention while simultaneously facilitating technological innovation.” Sundberg provides vivid insight into the work of engineer Thomas van Seeratt, who looked to historical debates and cultural memory to justify new designs for protective dikes, which, Sundberg concludes, had both short- and long-term implications for flood response. “In the case of the Christmas Flood,” Sundberg ultimately contends, “claiming the past was as critical a response as offering an improved future.”

Fig4Mikhail-cut-550Like Sundberg’s, Alan Mikhail’s focus is intimately local, even as he examines the more global effects of a massive natural event. In “Ottoman Iceland: A Climate History,” Mikhail forwards the compelling argument that the Laki volcanic fissure eruption of 1783–84 in Iceland had not only climate ramifications across a large swath of the earth, but it had direct material and political implications for Ottoman Egypt. By analyzing Laki within the Egyptian context, Mikhail demonstrates that an event previously considered only for its Western European consequences resulted in important changes to hydrological systems, such as the Indian Ocean monsoons and the Nile’s flood patterns, which in turn contributed to a decrease in the Ottoman Empire’s hold over the most agriculturally important region in the Middle East. The eruption in Iceland, that is, played a significant role not only in global climate changes, but also in altering power structures in Egypt locally. As Mikhail cogently argues, “this one small slice of the history of just one nonanthropogenic climate event allows us to think about climate change’s individual causes and individual effects rather than seeing the phenomenon as only an abstract all-encompassing problem of planetary proportions.”

Gallery Editor´s Note: This Is Nature; This Is Un-Nature: Reading the Keeling Curve

Fig3HoweBy Neil M. Maher and Cindy Ott

In its Gallery essays, Environmental History has yet to examine the visual culture of scientific data. Joshua Howe corrects this oversight with a wonderful essay on the Keeling Curve, first made famous by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and now one of the most iconic images of scientific data worldwide. According to Howe, the Keeling

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Curve, that upward sloping oscillating line that documents global warming, tells two distinct narratives—one seemingly natural, the other cultural. Just as important, Howe reminds environmental historians that scientific data, whether presented visually in graphs, charts, or tables, can be read as cultural evidence much like historical photographs, works of art, or handwritten diaries.

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Ottoman Iceland: A Climate History

Fig4Mikhail-cut-550By Alan Mikhail

In June 1783, the Laki volcanic fissure began erupting in Iceland. It would continue to do so for the next eight months. One of the largest volcanic discharges in recorded history, the ash it produced led to cold summers across Europe, the Mediterranean, the Americas, and parts of Central Asia. This article examines the impacts of the explosions on Ottoman Egypt and uses this climate history of Iceland and Egypt to analyze ways of doing global environmental history. By focusing on the directly

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linked climate history of Iceland’s environmental and political impacts on Ottoman Egypt, the article attempts to show the utility of analyzing small-scale instances of global climate change. It moreover argues for the importance of the history of Laki for Middle Eastern history and also shows how considering the history of the Middle East adds to our understanding of the global history of Laki.

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Claiming the Past: History, Memory, and Innovation Following the Christmas Flood of 1717

Figure1Sundberg-cut-550

By Adam Sundberg

The Christmas Flood of 1717 affected much of the North Sea coastline between Denmark and the northern Netherlands and was one of the greatest disasters of the early modern era. This article investigates the impact of the flood in the northern Dutch province of Groningen and makes three interrelated claims. First, the flood showcased the contested nature of flood interpretation and adaptive decision making in the wake of disaster. Second, dialogues of conflict that developed in the aftermath of the flood focused on three issues: the divine causation of flooding, the financing of dike

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management, and the viability of technocratic solutions to flood risk. Third, the ultimate goal of much of the flood literature was to promote prescribed action but also to enshrine the motivations for those beliefs in legal precedent, history, and cultural memory. Rather than being defined by either cumulative experience or the shock of catastrophe, the Groninger response is a case study in the importance of both. This balance resulted in a dialogue that stressed continuity and convention while simultaneously facilitating technological innovation.

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The Theology of Climate Change: Sin as Agency in the Enlightenment’s Anthropocene

By Lydia Barnett

This article surveys a brief and forgotten episode in the history of climate science when a handful of European scholars at the turn of the eighteenth century formulated some of the first theories of global climate change. Appearing incidentally in several works of world history, these conjectural accounts of a dramatic downturn in the earth’s ancient climate following Noah’s Flood were intended to explain the physical and spiritual decline of humankind since biblical times. Although theories of local climate change were becoming widespread in this moment, theories of global climate change were distinguished by their emphasis on sin as a potent

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form of human agency capable of transforming the entire planet, a global force no less powerful and deadly for being largely unintentional. I focus on the Italian physician and naturalist Antonio Vallisneri (1661–1730), whose emphasis on the physical suffering of humans as a result of climate change highlighted the role of humans in bringing such a calamity about in the first place. Paying attention to these long-neglected theories illuminates the key role of religion in fostering the idea of a global climate capable of alteration by human activity.

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