January 17, 2018

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

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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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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

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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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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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