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Best Practices for Writing History on the Web

Tablet Reading. Source: Pabak Sarkar, Flickr Commons

Tablet Reading. Source: Pabak Sarkar, Flickr Commons

As more of our reading moves from print to screens, learning how to write on the Web will become an increasingly important part of history writing skills. Just as we teach fundamental research and writing skills for print essays, we will likely begin to teach digital writing skills for the Web. Writing for the Web will also become an important component of teaching public history (as it has already).

These are some of the assumptions that have informed my current course on the history of Toronto at York University. I have asked students to write a Web essay for their Fall semester assignment, using WordPress on a course site that I set up at DevelopmentofToronto.com. This is not a unique or revolutionary idea. I have known several colleagues who have had students write Web essays and I have had students write optional Web assignments in the past. This is the first time that I will be asking all students in the class to write Web essays. As such, it is an opportunity to think about how to teach specific Web-based history writing skills.

I chose WordPress for a number of technical reasons, but mainly because I have been writing and editing history on the Web in WordPress for several years now at SeanKheraj.com, ActiveHistory.ca, and NiCHE-Canada.org. In my experience, I have identified a number of key skills for history writing on the Web. However, I am still looking for more ideas to generate a good list of best practices (please post in the comments). Here are some best practices that I have developed over the course of my own experience writing history on the Web:

 

Fundamental History Research and Writing Skills Still Apply

As with traditional print essays or articles, fundamental history research and writing skills should still apply to writing on the Web. I will still require my students to conduct original primary source research, contextualize that research with high-quality scholarly secondary sources, and situate their arguments within the relevant scholarly literature. Their writing should still be clear, well-organized, and persuasive in its argumentative structure. The writer should present evidence in such a manner that conveys to the reader adequate context, chronology, and a sense of change over time. Writing should be free of grammatical errors.

 

Write in an Accessible Manner

Again, this is often something I try to stress for print essays, but the imperative to write in an accessible manner is all the more significant when writing on the Web for a broad audience. The assignments students write for history courses in university are generally intended for a single reader, the instructor. A Web essay potentially has a much broader audience. This affords the opportunity to teach students about how to think of their audience when writing.

How can one convey nuanced arguments and ample historical evidence in an accessible manner? The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to write for an intelligent reader who does not necessarily know many of the specifics of your topic. George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” provides some additional good tips for accessible writing:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous. [1]

 

Hyperlinks as Super Footnotes

I wrote about this idea in a blog post a couple of years ago here. Writing on the Web provides historians with the opportunity to place their research sources directly before the reader through hyperlinks. With the abundance of digitized historical primary sources now available online, historians can link directly to the sources rather than just simply providing breadcrumbs in their footnotes. As I demonstrate below, when possible, historians should link their footnotes directly to their sources online. Rather than chasing down a copy of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” to confirm the accuracy of my citation or to consult the complete source, history on the Web can bring readers to the source immediately. With the growing abundance of online storage options and institutional digital repositories, we may one day require graduate students to upload digital copies of all of their research materials to be linked directly to the footnotes/endnotes in their dissertations.

This approach to citation on the Web can bring research to the forefront and expose the work of historians in stitching together complex narratives from disparate historical documents. It unveils, in part, the historian’s craft, but in ways that might strengthen scholarship and better facilitate future research and knowledge production. My link to Orwell’s essay below might be the beginning of a new research project for another scholar or support ongoing work.

 

Visualizing History

Writing history on the Web obviously creates new opportunities to incorporate visual sources into research and presentation. If you have ever flipped through the pages of an old dissertation and come across a photograph awkwardly pasted onto one of the pages, you know how far we have come with the integration of visual sources into historical research and writing. History on the Web can (and probably should, when possible) include large, high-resolution, and full-colour images. If a Web article is focused on the interpretation of visual historical sources, rather than including just a few examples of those sources, the historian can include a complete slideshow of all visual sources that she/he analyzed.

The fidelity of digital images in a Web format can potentially far exceed that which is possible in print. Take for example the following photograph of a 1935 streetcar accident in Toronto at the intersection of Danforth and Glebemount:

Truck and streetcar accident, Danforth Avenue, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1156

Clicking through to this large-format image, readers can see not only that a streetcar collided with a truck, but that emergency workers were still struggling to retrieve something (or someone) from beneath the vehicle. They can also see that the truck and streetcar caught fire. The shock and excitement of this event can be read on the faces of the by-standers lining Danforth Avenue, including the young children standing at the front of the crowd. And if they want to access this image from the City of Toronto Archives, they can click on the image and go directly to the source.

Photographs are just one type of visual source one might include in a history Web essay. Simple online mapping software, such as Google Maps Engine, makes it possible to build and embed interactive maps into your writing. For example, this is a map I produced to accompany a book chapter I wrote on the history of domestic animals in nineteenth-century Toronto:


View Finding Animals in Nineteenth-Century Toronto in a larger map

Again, this is a type of visual source that can be used both for research and presentation in ways that are not possible in print.

 

Audio and Video Sources

Finally, I think writing history on the Web should integrate audio and video sources, when possible. Oral history is an increasingly important part of historical scholarship. With permission from the interviewees, a historian could include audio or video clips from her/his oral history work in a Web essay. The complete archive of oral history interviews could also be linked to the essay online. This would provide an incredible resource for future researchers.

Video and audio sources could also include the growing archive of radio, television, and film as historical documents. For example, one could easily analyze the following 1975 PBS interview with Donald Rumsfeld as a historical document and present the full interview to the reader/viewer:


Or, one could include digital audio of the Nixon tapes directly in a Web essay on the history of the administration of Richard Nixon and its overthrow of the Allende government in Chile in 1973:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Sample from NixonTapes.org [Download here]

I am looking forward to seeing what my students come up with for their Web essays for DevelopmentofToronto.com later this year. There are numerous possibilities for history writing on the Web and I would also love to hear from readers of Active History about their own approaches and best practices. Please leave your ideas and suggestions in the comments section below.

Sean Kheraj is an assistant professor of Canadian and environmental history at York University. He writes at seankheraj.com.

[1] George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” Horizon (April 1946): 264.

 

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Nature’s Past Canadian Environmental History Podcast Episode 44 Available

Episode 44: The Second World Congress for Environmental History, 24 September 2014 [48:01]
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For five days this past July, environmental historians from around the world convened in Guimarães, Portugal for the Second World Congress for Environmental History. This is the main event for the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations. It brings together scholars from nearly every corner of the globe every five years to share new research in the field and to think about environmental history from a global perspective.

This year, several scholars from Canada attended the conference (as they did five years ago). They took the opportunity to learn from colleagues in other national fields and they shared research findings from the Canadian context.

There were dozens of panels and round tables, big plenary lectures, and a poster session, so much that no one person could see it all. On this episode of the podcast, we speak with a group of environmental historians who attended the Second World Congress for Environmental History.

 

The streets of Guimarães.

The streets of Guimarães.

Please be sure to take a moment to review this podcast on our iTunes page and to fill out a short listener survey here.

Visit the main page at http://niche-canada.org/naturespast and subscribe to our YouTube page here.

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Guests:

Stephen Bocking
Jessica DeWitt
Matthew Evenden
Alexander Hall
Tina Loo
John Thistle
Jocelyn Thorpe

Works Cited:

Music Credits:

Citation:

Kheraj, Sean. “Episode 44: The Second World Congress for Environmental History” Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast. 24 September 2014.

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Parks and Ecology: Stanley Park Nature and History Walk Guides, 1990

SPnaturehistoryguidecover

Cover of Stanley Park Nature and History Walk Guide 1

For most of its history, ecology has not been a guiding principle for the management of Stanley Park. This is one of the observations that I made in my book Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History. Throughout the twentieth century, Park Board officials and Vancouver residents struggled over how to manage the various uses of the park: passive leisure, active recreation, urban infrastructure, tourism promotion, scenic preservation. Ecological sciences and the desire to preserve ecosystems in this large urban park did not begin to influence park management policies until the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1990, Peter Hamilton published a series of pamphlets on the history and ecology of Stanley Park called Stanley Park: Nature and History Walks. Hamilton is the founder of Lifeforce, a local ecology organization in Vancouver that was established in 1981.  Along with other environmental organizations, Lifeforce began to pressure the Vancouver Park Board to protect the ecological values of Stanley Park. In particular, it was at the forefront of opposition to the Board’s plans to expand the Stanley Park Zoo in the early 1990s. That opposition resulted in a 1993 referendum decision to close the zoo. In the wake of the referendum, the Stanley Park Zoological Society reconstituted as the Stanley Park Ecology Society.

The pamphlets are a fascinating window into this period of Stanley Park’s history and the history of environmental activism in the Lower Mainland in the late twentieth century. With Hamilton’s permission, I have scanned and posted the ten-pamphlet series below. He also answered a few of my questions about the pamphlets and his own role in pushing the Park Board toward the adoption of ecology as a management principle for Stanley Park:

SK: Why did you produce these pamphlets? Why Stanley Park? What made this park of particular interest to you in the early 1990s?

PH: Throughout the decades Stanley Park faced many attempts to further commercialize it with intrusive businesses including an expanded zoo and the Vancouver Aquarium. It was time to raise public awareness of the need to protect the natural beauty and diversity of wildlife. Stanley Park has a diversity of wildlife living and migrating through. It was time that the public became aware of this free ecology classroom to enjoy and respect the wonders of nature.

SK: How would you characterize the state of the environment of Stanley Park in the early 1990s?

PH: In the 90s its natural beauty and diversity of wildlife was threatened by ongoing Vancouver Aquarium expansions and a new expanded zoo. The brochures and Lifeforce information about the plight of captive zoo animals helped educate the public. Vancouverites voted against a zoo and further encroachment on scarce Stanley Park that is a National Historic Site (this was applied for by Lifeforce). The zoo was closed but the battles continue with the Vancouver Aquarium’s zoo plans.

Parks Board Commissioners and many members of the public were not aware of the diversity of wildlife in Stanley Park. This includes seals, sea lions, and orcas off the shoreline. The Aquarium claimed it was too expensive to see orcas in the wild because people had to go north.

The last 1990 beluga pool expansion was to undergo a federal environmental review but the Vancouver Aquarium (VA) started construction and destroyed a popular historic duck habitat. The old 2006 plans were brought before the City and public, but present expansion plans have not been brought forward.

Residents and tourists can enjoy Stanley Park and the Aquarium without captives such as cetaceans.

SK: What were the most significant changes to the management of the park that you have seen since you produced these pamphlets?

Greater focus of “non-commercial” activities. The Stanley Park Zoological Society promoting the zoo changed to the Stanley Park Ecological Society with nature walks etc..

Why is Stanley Park and dolphin protection the same issue? It is because there are those who love the park, those who love dolphins and those who love both. Without these long time combined forces against the ongoing aquarium expansion we would have a SeaWorld-size building consuming the park. They could have won to build through Lumberman’s Arch to the waterfront or even take over Brockton Oval.

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s “crown jewel” and you do not cut up a precious treasure. Stanley Park is cherished and you protect what you love.

SK: Your pamphlets focus on nature and history. What do you see as the connection between the two?

PH: As nature was threatened with historic development in the park the brochures educated people about the past so the harmful destruction would not be repeated. There were negative things such as people building homes in the park and, in some cases, historic activities that fitted in with nature such as trail making.

If permitted, the present Vancouver Aquarium will double in size. The public said No More Zoo! and captivity that would include the present penguins and future river otters. They even want to include beaver who are living freely in the park. Others species could include Arctic fox.

The natural beauty of Stanley Park and wildlife inhabitants could be viewed on video cams. The well known “Eagle cam” David Hancock has proposed including ones at Beaver Lake to view the beaver dam. Why put them in Aquarium prisons? A lot can be learned from such observations in the wild. Apparently the new hummingbird one in Esquimalt discovered that they can have four nests annually not the one as previously thought.

Lifeforce has proposed to Parks Board staff several wildlife video cams throughout Stanley Park. The added benefits of such video cams include access to all people (locally and internationally), homebound people, public safety, animal protection, fire/arson monitoring, and much more. This free ecology classroom must be promoted and protected. We live in Super Natural BC and that is more spiritually and financially profitable.

Stanley Park itself is a major tourist attraction. It is a free ecology classroom with a diversity of resident and migrating wildlife for all to enjoy. Why imprison wildlife when they can be viewed in their natural homes? Why imprison river otters in the Aquarium when the residents said No More Zoo! Why imprison beaver in the Aquarium when they live freely in Beaver Lake?

SK: What are the most significant ecological characteristics of Stanley Park?

PH: See the brochures. There are many.

© Lifeforce/Peter Hamilton.

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A Brief History of the Laptop Ban

"Laptop Toss" by The B's

“Laptop Toss” by The B’s

In recent years, several scholars have expressed a desire to ban laptop computers and smartphones from the classroom. This urge to prohibit the use of computing devices, however, may be a reflection of our own shortcomings as educators. It may also be a future liability for higher education. What are the implications of excluding technologies that have revolutionized information gathering, analysis, and communication from our teaching?

As a historian, I am all too familiar with the sentiments expressed in a recent article on NewYorker.com, “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom,” by mathematics and computer science professor Dan Rockmore. To support his case, Rockmore points to a handful of studies of student performance, comparing students with laptops to students without. For example, he looks at an often-cited 2003 paper in Journal of Computing in Higher Education titled “The Laptop and the Lecture: The Effects of Multitasking in Learning Environments” [PDF], which found that students who multitasked on laptops during a lecture had poor performance on subsequent quizzes. A 2013 study by a team at York University found similar results. According to their conclusions:

We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.

Some university faculty have since relied on these kinds of studies as scientific evidence that proves that computing devices are detrimental to learning. Their solution? Ban computers from the classroom!

In recent years, some academics have publicly bragged about their respective laptop bans, proclaiming victory over a perceived classroom intruder. In 2010, Washington Post profiled David Cole’s Georgetown University law class  for its noticeable lack of laptop computers. Cole implemented his laptop ban as early as 2006 arguing that the devices were an “attractive nuisance.” In that same year, Paul Thagard, a professor of philosophy at University of Waterloo, explained his decision to ban laptops from his classes as follows: “According to reports from various students I’ve asked, the vast majority are doing things that are not class related: surfing the Web, sending text messages, checking email, and pursuing other social activities such as Facebook. I’ve even heard of cases of students watching movies or engaging in video chat.” He also cited a list of studies of cognitive science that examined the impact of digital distractions on learning. In October 2013, James Loeffler writing for Time.com proudly admitted “I’ve now gone on to ban laptops in several courses. And the result? Many students are relieved.” Rockmore himself has drawn much attention for banning laptops in computer science courses. He confessed, I banned laptops in the classroom after it became common practice to carry them to school.” Rockmore’s article has even inspired others to copy his laptop ban.

Some academics seem to be prone to hostility toward computing technologies in the classroom. In fact, university educators have been doing this for over a decade now. For example, in 2002, Tim Lougheed warned readers of University Affairs that “The Internet has many merits as an educational tool, but it can be a disruptive presence in the classroom.” In 2006, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a story about a law professor at the University of Memphis who banned laptops in her classroom. She said, “The computers interfere with making eye contact. You’ve got this picket fence between you and the students.” [1] In that same year, Dennis Adams from C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston claimed that the internet in the classroom, while a wonderful thing, “can also be a barrier to learning.” In 2007, a professor of strategic communication at University of Missouri exclaimed that her laptop ban was a great benefit to students who “have even mentioned that they feel like they are doing better without the laptop.” And in 2008, the law school at University of Chicago tried to shutdown wireless internet access in its classrooms in a bid to win back student attention.

"The times they are a changing" by Brett Jordan

“The times they are a changing” by Brett Jordan

This attitude toward laptops and the internet in the classroom was not always the case on university campuses. Believe it or not, there was actually a time when universities struggled to achieve “ubiquitous computing” on campus and implemented mandatory laptop computing programs for their students and faculty. For example, in 1995 Wake Forest University started a mandatory laptop program for students and professors. After initial faculty and student reluctance, according to one report, “the prevailing mood here is that the program is worthwhile. Professors are trying out new teaching methods; students do more work outside class, mostly by participating in on-line discussions; computer costs can now be figured into financial-aid calculations; and everyone in the program has equal access to computers.” [2] In Canada, Acadia University was a pioneer in the integration of computing and the internet in the classroom. In 1996, the university introduced a voluntary laptop program for first-year students called Acadia Advantage. According to a 1998 report on the program in Globe and Mail, “Lectures are spiced up with the use of CD ROMs, internet scoping and Power Point lectures that enable students to focus on the discussion and download the classnotes later.” Although attitudes toward these programs were not universally positive, there was a deliberate effort on the part of faculty and administrators to encourage both the integration of new technologies and experimentation in teaching methods. [3]

The optimism for computing and the internet in the classroom from the 1990s waned by the turn of the century. In 2001, Duke University rejected a policy of requiring students to use laptop computers in the classroom, primarily due to issues of costs and classroom distraction. In response to this decision, Julianna Gilbert (Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at University of Denver) and Ken Stafford (Vice Chancellor for University Technology Services at University of Denver) wrote the following to The Chronicle of Higher Education:

We have learned that for the university to move forward effectively into the arena of technology-assisted learning, faculty members must be involved from the ground up in exploring the uses of computers in the curriculum, and sufficient support for them to engage in this activity is a necessity.

If classroom time is primarily characterized by lectures, then laptops are probably a distraction, and if students bring them to class for note taking, it is quite likely that some will use them for activities unrelated to the class (e.g., surfing the Web, using e-mail, etc.). [4]

As campuses introduced wireless networks and laptops became low-cost, mass consumer commodities, universities across Canada and the United States eventually achieved ubiquitous computing without deliberate programs or initiatives. The advent of smartphones (essentially multi-sensory, geospatial networked pocket computers many times more powerful than the laptops that Acadia and Wake Forest distributed in the 1990s) has only further transformed university campuses. The primary difference between the initiatives of the 1990s and the present seems to be a lack of coordinated programs and resources to assist in the integration of these technologies into our teaching.

Not all scholars have jumped on the “ban”-wagon. In 2007, Terence Day wrote a thoughtful piece on different approaches to integrating computing technologies in the classroom. Berlin Fang, writing in Educase Review Online in 2009 argued that the issue of technological distractions in the classroom“gives educators a reason to reflect on their own teaching or, rather, the instructional process as a whole. Viewed this way, distractions caused by computers might be the result of a failure to involve students in the classroom rather than the reason they are not engaged.” Similarly, J. Ellis Bell, a professor of Chemistry at the University of Richmond wrote about this issue in 2010, suggesting that student laptop distractions might be the result of boring lectures and poor teaching approaches. “Rather than talking about banning laptops from class,” he argued, “we should be talking about how to constructively use them to engage students in classroom activities and active learning.” And Robert Talbert recently challenged some of Rockmore’s arguments and suggested that “The real problem is not laptops per se but the unstable mixture of a certain kind of technology with a certain kind of pedagogy – namely, lecture.”

One of the stumbling blocks to getting faculty to rethink the use of computing technology in the classroom has been the persistence of the “myth of the digital native.” Too many faculty assume that students are somehow naturally adept at the use of computing technologies and the internet by right of birth within the past twenty years or so. As such, they fail to recognize a need to integrate computing skills into their teaching. Eszter Hargittai’s research at Northwestern University over the past few years has shown this assumption to be false. Instead, it finds that “even when controlled for basic Internet access, among a group of young adults, socioeconomic status is an important predictor of how people are incorporating the Web into their everyday lives with those from more privileged backgrounds using it in more informed ways for a larger number of activities.” Such findings suggest that students do not enter the classroom with innate and uniform computing abilities. Rather than relying on the tired stereotype of “digital natives” faculty should be thinking about ways to integrate computing technologies and the internet into scholarship and learning as a way to provide students with a broader range of the computing skills.

Strict prohibition and regulatory compulsion has never struck me as good pedagogy. For more than a decade, reactionary prohibition of computing devices in the classroom has failed to restore the traditional lecture in much the same way as severe litigation against music piracy failed to save the recording industry. We cannot compel our students to learn by tossing their smartphones and laptops out the window. We should not seek to create artificial havens from information technologies and pretend that computing and the internet have not changed learning and education. University administrators should provide the programming and resources to encourage and support adaptation and experimentation with computing technologies in the classroom, as some did in the 1990s. We might be missing opportunities to improve student learning and make university education more responsive and relevant to our students. Banning laptops may seem like the simple answer, but it does not absolve educators and administrators from the difficult challenge of changing our teaching approach in the context of a changing world.

The internet has revolutionized information gathering, analysis, and communication, the very skills at the heart of scholarship. Yet, too many scholars view this technology as an impediment to education rather than an integral component of teaching and learning. I am regularly astonished by academics who express hesitance, hostility, and ignorance when it comes to computers and the internet. We should expect (and encourage) scholars to demonstrate intellectual curiosity about new computing technologies and their implications for human knowledge and understanding. When we see students use such powerful technologies as nothing more than tools of distraction and frivolity, we should strive to teach them how to  harness those technologies in better ways.

[1] Brock Read, “A Law Professor Bans Laptops from the Classroom” The Chronicle of Higher Education 52, no. 31 (April 2006): A43.

[2] Jeffrey R. Young, “Invasion of the Laptops: More Colleges Adopt Mandatory Computing Programs” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 44, no. 15 (December 1997): A33-A35.

[3] Meg Murphy, “Living the Acadian Experiment” Globe and Mail, 22 June 1998, p. C3.

[4] “Letters to the Editor: The Educational Benefits of Laptops” The Chronicle of Higher Education 48, no. 24 (February 2002): B22.

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Discussing Online Digital Communication at Second World Congress of Environmental History

"Guimaraes Portugal-4" by Fernando López

“Guimaraes Portugal-4″ by Fernando López

Next week, I will be participating on a roundtable at the Second World Congress of Environmental History in Guimarães, Portugal. Our roundtable is titled, “Beyond Texts and Archives: Experiments with New Sources and Methods in Environmental History” and it is scheduled for Tuesday, July 8, 2014 from 14:00-15:30 in CO-04 (CFPG). All the details about the roundtable can be found here.

I will be speaking about the use of online digital communications technologies in the global environmental history community. Based on my experiences as an editor and podcast producer for the Network in Canadian History and Environment, I will survey the use of online digital communications in environmental history from the advent of email listservs in the mid-1990s to the present.

Here is a round-up of all of the links and references that I may make in my remarks at the conference:

First H-ASEH message, 23, January 1996

Forest History Society website (ca. 1998)

ASEH website (ca. 2000)

ESEH website (ca. 2001)

Oosthoek’s Environmental History Homesite (ca. 1999)

Conquering the Highlands: A History of the Afforestation of the Scottish Uplands

Network in Canadian History and Environment website

Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast

The Otter: Canadian Environmental History Blog

H-Environment Roundtable Reviews

Geospatial Historian

Environment and Society Portal

Environmental Humanities Now

Wilko von Hardenberg, “#envhist: Social media and community-building in environmental history”

#EnvHist Tag Explorer Visualization

“Field Notes” on Environmental History

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Nature’s Past Canadian Environmental History Podcast Episode 43 Available

Episode 43: Environmental Scholarship and Environmental Advocacy, 2 July 2014 [47:04]
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Environmental history has been both friend and foe to environmentalism. Historians can provide important context for understanding contemporary environmental issues, but they can also offer a critique of environmentalism that could undermine the political and social goals of activists.

This is the subject of a recent review essay I wrote for Acadiensis. In that essay I ask, Are all environmental historians environmentalists? How should environmental scholarship relate to environmental activism? Should advocacy for environmental issues shape historical scholarship on the environment? Can history always inform contemporary environmental issues?

On this episode of the podcast, we explore these questions with a group of scholars from the Toronto Environmental History Network.

acadiensisspring2014Please be sure to take a moment to review this podcast on our iTunes page and to fill out a short listener survey here.

Visit the main page at http://niche-canada.org/naturespast and subscribe to our YouTube page here.

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Guests:

Jessica van Horssen
Alex Hall
David Zybelberg
Andrew Watson
Jonathan McQuarrie

Works Cited:

  • Sean Kheraj, Canadian History & Environment
  • Kheraj, Sean. “Scholarship and Environmentalism: The Influence of Environmental Advocacy on Canadian Environmental History” Acadiensis 43, no. 1 (Winter/Spring 2014): 195-206.
  • Donahue, Brian. Reclaiming the Commons: Community Farms and Forests in a New England Town. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.
  • Fiege, Mark. Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West. Seattle: Unviersity of Washington Press, 1999.
  • McNeill, J.R. “Drunks, Lampposts, and Environmental History” Environmental History 10.1 (January 2005): 64-66.
  • Parr, Joy. Sensing Changes: Technologies, Environments, and the Everyday, 1953-2003. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.
  • Ritvo, Harriet. The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • Wrigley, E. A. Energy and the English Industrial Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Music Credits:

Citation:

Kheraj, Sean. “Episode 43: Environmental Scholarship and Environmental Advocacy” Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast. 2 July 2014.

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#EnvHist Worth Reading: May 2014

Iqra Read

“IQRA: READ” by Farrukh

Better late than never, here are our picks for what was worth reading on the #envhist tag for the month of May 2014. We track this tag every month and try to pick out some of the more interesting articles, videos, and audio that Twitter users shared.

1. Backstory with the American History Guys podcast episode on US oil history

At the end of May, Backstory, a US history podcast, published an episode that examines America’s addition to oil. From the beginning of the twentieth century to the dawn of the twenty-first, this episode takes a broad look at US energy history and the rise of oil.

2. Dan Macfarlane on Asian Carp, invasive species, and the Great Lakes

Picking up on themes in his recently published book, Negotiating a River: Canada, the US, and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Macfarlane surveys the problem of invasive species on the Great Lakes in the years before and after the seaway in a new article on ActiveHistory.ca. He explores the social, ecological, and economic complexities of the impact of invasive species.

3. Public lectures on Indian environmental history from Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

For the past two years, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library has hosted a series of public lectures on different aspects of Indian environmental history. Topics include science and religion, climate change, elephants, ecological restoration, rivers, and much more. Curious? You can listen to them all online.

4. Dan Allosso’s US environmental history library

Anyone who has been following the #envhist tag over the past couple of months knows that Dan Allosso is reading a lot of books in US environmental history. Dan is a graduate student studying US and global environmental history. He also runs an amazing new website. Blogging your reading as a grad student is an excellent practice. If you’re looking for a model, check out Dan’s site.

5. The animals of Chernobyl

Last month, NYTimes.com published a video about the work of biologist Timothy Mousseau. He has been studying the long-term effects of radiation exposure on animals near the nuclear disaster site in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Watch this video.

 

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Inventing Stanley Park wins 2014 CHA Clio Prize for BC History

Jenkins and Kheraj celebrate dual Clio Prizes at CHA annual meeting at Brock University.

Jenkins and Kheraj celebrate dual Clio Prizes at CHA annual meeting at Brock University.

I am very happy to share the news that Inventing Stanley Park won the 2014 Canadian Historical Association Clio Prize for outstanding contribution to British Columbia history. Obviously, this is a tremendous honour and I am grateful to the prize committee and the rest of my colleagues in the CHA. This was very exciting news.

Here is the citation for my book:

Inventing Stanley Park is not just an environmental history of one of Canada’s great urban parks. It is also a story about Canadians’ complicated relationship with “Nature”. On the one hand we like our nature “virgin” and “wild” but we also want it “tidy” and “handy”. Kheraj tells a story of a tongue of land that falls just short of closing the mouth of Burrard Inlet, controlling access to what became Vancouver Harbour and its extension,Indian Arm: a location so strategic that for thousands of years it was home to Coast Salish people and then with the arrival of immigrants was quickly declared a military reserve. Harvested by First Nations and then by sawmill loggers, its strategic military value preserved it from urbanization until invasion threats passed and this much-used landscape was declared a natural refuge. Kheraj documents the interaction of humans and the environment of the park area from its early habitation through the response of Vancouverites to a dramatic blow-down in the park in 2006 focussing on how ideas of park changed over time. His work draws on a rich, recent literature on parks in general and on Stanley Park in particular, but he moves beyond the accepted premise that nature is a human construction and argues that ecosystems are, in their unpredictability and force, a key part of the historical record. He sees the physical environment as an actor that deserves independent attention, and yet cannot be disentangled from human actions in the park. In Stanley Park, Kheraj provides a microcosm of the contentious issues one sees in the creation of larger national parks, including the eviction of Indigenous People and the suppression of subsistence uses, along with the issues of urban parks influenced by the “city beautiful” movement with its bourgeois aesthetic and class components. Drawing on a sophisticated literature this accessible, well-illustrated volume overturns some popular understandings of the park and invites us to see it as a site with multiple histories still being written. It captures the flavour of a quintessential British Columbia landscape and the ongoing debate over how to define and defend it.

I was especially happy to have won the award alongside my colleague, William Jenkins, who won the Clio Prize for outstanding contribution to Ontario history for his book Between Raid and Rebellion: the Irish in Buffalo and Toronto, 1867-1916. Here’s the citation:

Using an innovative methodological approach which combines social historical methodology with historical geography, this book examines the lives and allegiances of Irish immigrants in Toronto and Buffalo in the period between the Fenian Raids and the 1916 Easter Uprising. Jenkins takes up the challenge of rendering the compelling allegiances of those communities intelligible through his examination of the transformations that took place over the politically-charged period of the narrative. The book is organized into two sections, both of which are grounded in a broad array of sources. In the first Jenkins examines the historical geography of the Irish immigrant experience in both Toronto and its American neighbor Buffalo, two rapidly growing cities that were both major destinations for Irish immigrants. In the second he provides an insightful analysis of the transformations and the ‘prevailing threads’ which run from the immigrants to their descendants. It is a work of remarkable complexity and it is firmly-rooted in the historical scholarship of both the Irish diaspora and Canadian and American politics. At one level, its insightful interpretations and its comparative structure add greatly to our understanding of a commonality of experience. More importantly, however, the subtlety and thoroughness of the argument and the skill of the author as a writer provide a richly nuanced study which accounts for national and transnational influences and for the power of geography as a vital historical determinant.

Also, you can read a new review of the book in BC Forest Professional here. 2 out of 5 cones!

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Re-Live #CHESS2014 on Twitter

If you missed last week’s Canadian History and Environment Summer School at York University, you can live the whole thing over again on Twitter. I have compiled an archive of all of the #CHESS2014 Tweets that captures almost every moment of the event. You will find comments, questions, photos, and even the audio from the keynote address.

This was a fantastic experience and I hope that we will continue such events in the future. Thanks again to NiCHE and the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies for their support. And I would like to extend special thanks to the organizers, Andrew Watson, Ben Bradley, Jessica van Horssen, and Jennifer Bonnell.

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#EnvHist Worth Reading: April 2014

"Read II" by ,a href="https://flic.kr/p/9dDD4c">Daniel Go.

“Read II” by ,a href=”https://flic.kr/p/9dDD4c”>Daniel Go.

It has been another full month of activity online in the environmental history community. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with the flurry of great work out there. To help you manage the flood of content, we keep track of the #envhist tag on Twitter for items of interest from around the world. Here is what was worth reading in April 2014:

1. Aerial views of the uneasy geometries of urban sprawl by Christoph Gielen

Just in time for CHESS 2014: Suburbia and Environmental History, TreeHugger.com profiled Christoph Gilen’s new book Ciphers. The book features amazing and hauntingly beautiful aerial photographs of global suburbs. Check it out and see suburbs from a different angle.

2. Why the Passenger Pigeon Went Extinct

AudubonMagazine.org published an excellent, lengthy piece on the history of the destruction of the Passenger Pigeon. Barry Yeoman traces the complicated, tragic history of this once abundant North American bird.

3. Journal of Canadian Studies Special Issue on Environmental Studies

Following an excellent conference at the University of British Columbia in 2012, Matthew Evenden has edited a selection of papers from that conference in this special issue of Journal of Canadian Studies. With the aim of moving beyond the “culture of nature” framework, the authors in this special issue examine a range of topics of relevance to bigger questions at the intersections of Canadian and environmental studies.

4. Asbestos Communities

Professor Jessica van Horssen sits down for a recorded chat about her research on asbestos and Asbestos, QC on the Commodity Histories website. This is an insightful interview and provides great background on this fascinating research topic.

5. Environmental History Climate Change Forum

Perhaps the greatest environmental challenge of the twenty-first century, climate change looms large in the field of environmental history. Ten environmental historians offer short essays in this special forum on climate change. Like many of the other special forum issues of Environmental History, this one is certainly worth reading.