comments on 2013 award recipients
The following awards were presented at ASEH’s annual conference in Toronto on April 6, 2013:
Few scholars have influenced environmental history as extensively as Richard White. An early contributor and member of ASEH, he has shaped the field and in many ways. Books such as Land Use, Environment, and Social Change; The Roots of Dependency; The Middle Ground; It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own; The Organic Machine; and Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America have pushed the field both topically and methodologically - as have his conceptual and historiographical essays. He has been among the most important scholars in extending the influence of environmental history to fields such as Native American history, labor history, and science and technology studies. Scholars in disciplines as diverse as geographers, literary studies, and science cite his insights.
Richard also believes strongly in service and teaching both in the academy and beyond. He is a decorated classroom teacher committed to undergraduate education, but he has also served as an expert witness for Native American tribes involved in treaty recognition cases. He has generously mentored several generations of scholars, and his many and astonishingly varied students from Michigan State University, University of Utah, University of Washington, and Stanford University have become active members in the profession and award winning scholars. He has given public talks, appeared in historical documentaries, and served as an officer for several professional organizations. He was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and was a Pulitzer Prize nominated finalist, and has received countless other awards. By any criteria, Richard White exemplifies the ideal of a Distinguished Scholar – and ASEH is proud to present this award to him tonight….
Distinguished Service Award
It is difficult to think of an ASEH member who has contributed more than Kathleen Brosnan. She served as the local arrangements chair for the 2005 meeting in Houston, devoting countless hours to fundraising and organizing one of our most efficient conferences to date. In 2006 she established the Hal Rothman Dissertation Fellowship and became the first contributor. That year, she also began preparing an environmental history encyclopedia, promising a percentage of the profits to ASEH (we received a donation check for $4,000 in 2011). In 2007 she began serving a four-year term on the executive committee, becoming an especially active and valued member. As a former attorney, she has reviewed many contracts for ASEH, ranging from hotel agreements to publishing agreements. Recently, Kathy headed the search committee for our new editor (and she has served on the editorial board). Her years of service have been characterized by a rare combination of graciousness, intelligence, efficiency, and common sense. ASEH would not be the same organization without her. And now she’s the vice president elect! Please join me in thanking her for her service…
George Perkins Marsh Prize (best book)
This year’s award for best book goes to Daniel Schneider, Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem (Cambridge: MIT Press). Biological sewage treatment, like electricity, power generation, telephones, and mass transit, has been a key technology and a major part of the urban infrastructure since the late nineteenth century. But sewage treatment plants are not only a ubiquitous component of the modern city, they are also ecosystems - a hybrid variety that incorporates elements of both nature and industry and embodies multiple contradictions. In Hybrid Nature, Daniel Schneider offers an environmental history of the biological sewage treatment plant in the United States and England, viewing it as an early and influential example of an industrial ecosystem.
Alice Hamilton Prize (best article outside Environmental History)
The Alice Hamilton Prize Committee had the enjoyable task of selecting the best article published outside of the journal Environmental History. The committee reviewed very fine examples of scholarship that demonstrated careful research, engaging argumentation, and creativity.
The committee concluded that this year’s Alice Hamilton Prize goes to Edward (Ted) Melillo for his article entitled, “The First Green Revolution: Debt Peonage and the Making of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Trade, 1840-1930,” American Historical Review (Oct. 2012): 1028-1060.
With painstaking care Ted Melillo recreates the First Green Revolution and illustrates how it “represented an unprecedented human intervention in the global nitrogen cycle” (1030). The author succeeds in his goal to make visible the “social and environmental contexts” of major agricultural transitions as well as “the labor regimes that propelled them” (1059).
Ted Melillo’s article is encompassing in scope. It spans one century and links four continents--Asia, South America, North America, Europe—with its captivating analysis of the flows of capital, labor, and chemicals (including the nitrogen-rich “turds of . . . birds). Equally impressive is the breadth and depth of research. The article integrates insights from a staggering array of primary and secondary sources that examine labor, agriculture, and economic developments in several regions. It is an exemplary model of transnational history that creatively expands our definition of environmental history and opens up a range of possibilities for future research.
Alice Hamilton Prize Committee:
Sandy Chaney, Chair
Leopold-Hidy Prize (best article in Environmental History)
This year’s best article award goes to Cynthia Radding, “The Children
of Mayahuel: Agaves, Human Cultures, and Desert Landscapes in Northern Mexico,” Environmental History (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 mutually formative
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, and editorial board of Environmental History
Rachel Carson Prize (best dissertation)
Catherine McNeur’s dissertation, “The ‘Swinish Multitude’ and Fashionable Promenades: Battles over Public Space in New York City, 1815-1865,” is an environmental history of Manhattan that investigates the ways New Yorkers fought over natural resources and public space during the first half of the nineteenth century.
In her dissertation McNeur exposes the dirty biology of quotidian life in one of the most important cities in the world. Waste and filth were actually valuable resources contested across class and ethnic lines. The thesis directs our attention to local places and social ecologies, and adds to this historiography by exposing so well the social dynamics of these social-metabolic processes. The committee found it exciting to imagine how her analysis could be extended to study similar dynamics in other cities, tracing not just social-biological processes and products, but also social divisions that structured how these processes and products moved back through ecosystems. Her dissertation is especially well-written, and her use of images is stunning. The award committee looks forward to seeing this dissertation become a book and reach a larger audience.
Rachel Carson Prize Committee:
Emily Brock, chair