comments on 2014 award recipients
The following awards were presented at ASEH’s annual conference in San Francisco on March 15, 2014:
As many of you know, James McCann is a well-known scholar on the history of the food, ecology, and agriculture of Africa. He joined the faculty of Boston University in 1984, and served as Director of the African Studies Center from 1992 through 2005.
His book Maize and Grace: Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop (2005) received ASEH’s George Perkins Marsh Prize. Additional books include Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa (1999); People of the Plow: An Agricultural History of Ethiopia (1995); and From Poverty to Famine in Northeast Ethiopia: A Rural History (1987).
Professor McCann has held residential fellowships at the DuBois Institute (Harvard University, 2005-2006), the Program of Agrarian Studies (Yale University, 1998–1999), and the National Humanities Center (1991–1992). His research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright-Hays, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He currently leads a joint research team investigating the link between malaria and maize cultivation in Africa supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and including the Harvard School of Public Health, the World Health Organization, and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. He has served as consultant to Oxfam America, Oxfam (UK), the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, the Carter Center, Norwegian Save the Children, the United Nations Environmental Program, American Jewish World Service, the International Livestock Research Institute, and the International Centre for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat. He has twice testified before the US Congress as well as to the UK House of Parliament. We are very pleased to present him with this award.
Distinguished Service Award
For the last three decades, Paul Hirt has attended nearly every ASEH conference. During the last several years, he was an active member of ASEH’s executive committee, drafting ASEH's first annual operating plan and creating a useful process that we still follow. Paul served as the local arrangements chair for ASEH's 2011 in Phoenix, for which he organized many events, including a three-day trip to the Grand Canyon. He has served on the journal’s editorial board. Paul recently volunteered to chair the new Advisory Board on Professional Development and Public Engagement and has already mobilized that group, establishing our new Public Outreach Project Award; helping ASEH to obtain a contract with the National Parks Service to research the endangered pupfish in Death Valley; and organizing a digital history workshop at this conference. He has consistently demonstrated dedication and commitment to our organization, often volunteering for behind-the-scenes work. Paul has been an asset to ASEH and it is an honor to present him with this award!
Public Outreach Project Award
The first recipient of this new award is Char Miller, Pomona College, for his blog Golden Green. This project provides an accessible, smart, relevant, and fascinating look at how the public and the environment have interacted in the past and today. It is a perfect first-time winner of the ASEH public outreach project award, melding the best of academic research, historical craft, and public commentary on a platform that’s clearly reaching a wide audience.
Public Outreach Project Award Committee:
James Pritchard, chair, Iowa State University
Heather Lee Miller, Historical Research Associates, Inc.-Seattle
Melissa Wiedenfeld, HDR
George Perkins Marsh Prize (best book)
This year’s award for best book goes to Kate Brown for Plutopia: Nuclear families, atomic cities, and the great Soviet and American plutonium disasters (Oxford University Press, 2013).
Drawing on declassified documents and oral histories of government officials as well as workers and their families in the United States and the former Soviet Union, Kate Brown captures the shared experiences of the Soviet and American experience with the production of a nuclear arsenal. Beyond the major accidents, Brown reveals how everyday operations exposed workers and their families to toxic radioisotopes. The cloak of secrecy that permeated the Cold War facilitated reckless attitudes towards nuclear weapons and wastes produced in both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Yet, the very nature of radioactive materials limited tracing back to sources thus producing insidious exposures in workers and their families. U.S. and Soviet officials focused on creating beautiful communities while ignoring the contamination produced in the outlying areas. Both wastes and exposures can be invisible in nature and invisible in terms of social action. Yet, Brown rediscovers their traces in the bodies of the exposed.
Brown drew upon a dazzling array of sources including official government and corporate documents as well as interviews with leaders, workers, and families in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Adding to the panoply of perspectives, Brown offers the historian’s view as she encountered her subjects.
Comparative studies are too rare in all fields of history, but Plutopia realizes the potential of such endeavors by making accessible both the American and the Soviet experience. Thus, we learn that exposures to radioactive isotopes are at once universal and deeply personal. Brown follows the pathways of the chemicals and radioactive isotopes through ecosystems and into bodies of workers and their families in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. In addition to brilliant research, Brown’s writing is both crystalline and beautiful.
For those of us who came of age during the Cold War, we imagined Soviet citizens to be alien and different from Americans in a vaguely menacing way. Kate Brown has revealed how misguided we were! In Plutopia we discover the shared American and Soviet experience of nuclear weapons production and the tragedies of exposures to byproducts thereof.
George Perkins Marsh Prize Committee:
Fritz Davis, Florida State University, chair
Cindy Ott, St. Louis University
Drew Swanson, Millsaps College
Alice Hamilton Prize (best article outside Environmental History)
This year's award goes to Alan Mikhail, for "Unleashing the Beast: Animals, Energy, and the Economy of Labor in Ottoman Egypt," American Historical Review 118, 2 (2013): 317-348.
Alan Mikhail’s deeply researched article offers a complex yet clearly written analysis of the importance of human-animal relationships in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Ottoman Egypt. He places domesticated animals at the center of the reasons for the transformation of Egypt from an agrarian province of the Ottoman Empire to a more centralized bureaucratic proto-state with a market-driven commercial economy. Mikhail convincingly argues that disease and climate disasters decimated Egypt’s domesticated animal population, depriving the peasantry of their traditional labor source, while at the same time allowing the province’s elites to amass considerable landholdings, greater political autonomy, and ultimately the labor of the now landless peasantry itself. Human labor, rather than animal labor, became the foundation of Egypt’s energy regime.
Mikhail argues further that this transition was not localized to Ottoman Egypt; rather, similar dynamics were at play in other early modern agrarian economies, including those of China and Europe. Grounded in extensive archival research and thorough engagement with the secondary literature, Mikhail’s provocative article both complements and challenges current assumptions for this crucial transition in Ottoman Egypt, and, more broadly, brings considerations of the importance of human-animal relationships to the forefront of explanations for the transformations of agricultural economies in the early modern world.
Alice Hamilton Prize Committee:
Tina Loo, University of British Columbia, chair
Matthew Evenden, University of British Columbia
Philip Garone, California State University-Stanislaus
Leopold-Hidy Prize (best article in Environmental History)
The winner of the 2013 Leopold-Hidy Award for Best Article in Environmental History is Natalia Milanesio for “The Liberating Flame: Natural Gas Production in Peronist Argentina" (July issue). 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, and editorial board of Environmental History
Rachel Carson Prize (best dissertation)
In "Empires on Ice: Science, Nature, and the Making of the Arctic," Andrew Stuhl (University of Wisconsin-Madison) gives history to what is often treated as an ahistorical place. In captivating prose, Stuhl artfully weaves together science, politics, private enterprise, and the physical environment, using scientific exploration to tell the story of imperial expansion in the North American Arctic from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. His range of archives and fieldwork was both extensive and impressive. Stuhl puts the pieces together in an illuminating transnational story that integrates American, Canadian, and Inuit perspectives and also provides the reader with a strong sense of place. The work is well written and theoretically sophisticated. This is an ideal dissertation and will prove to be a significant book for environmental history, global history, and the history of science.
Rachel Carson Prize Committee:
Mark Stoll, Texas Tech University, chair
Rob Gioielli, University of Cincinnati