comments on 2015 award recipients
The following awards were presented at ASEH’s annual conference in Washington, DC on March 21, 2015:
Distinguished Service Award
Joel Tarr has been active in the ASEH since the early days – and his influence is vast. He has perhaps attended more ASEH conferences than anyone, and in 1993 he organized a pivotal meeting in Pittsburgh (the place where ASEH was founded) that marked the beginning of ASEH conference expansion and growth – in terms of numbers and intellectual reach. Joel has always extended his generosity to ASEH as an organization, contributing funds as well as his time.
Joel has served as an advisor to many young scholars in ASEH, both formally and informally. As one of them recently observed, “Joel is always kind, generous, and encouraging.” In short, he is a “model of collegiality.” Moreover, Joel has introduced many students to applied history, developing research projects that address urban environmental issues in practical and useful ways.
His considerable contributions to scholarship are related to his service to both ASEH and to the field. As the author of many publications and as the editor or co-editor of numerous special journal issues, and of several academic book series, Joel has been instrumental in the intellectual cross-fertilization between environmental history and urban history, between environmental history and the history of technology, and between environmental history and policy history. The subfield of "Envirotech" was fostered by numerous scholars, but none more influential than Joel. And he has a long record of collaboration with engineers and public policy people at Carnegie Mellon University.
In summary, ASEH would not be the same without Joel Tarr.
Public Outreach Career Award
It seems especially fitting that Martin Reuss is the first recipient of ASEH’s new Public Outreach Career Award. Marty was a pioneer in public history and public outreach. After receiving his PhD from Duke University in 1971, he joined the US Army Corps of Engineers as a historian specializing in water resources development and the history of technology. Throughout his career Dr. Reuss has published countless books and articles (Designing the Bayous The Control of Water in the Atchafalaya Basin, 1800-1995 – published by Texas A&M Press – for example). He is well known as a meticulous and thorough researcher and writer.
Most important for this award, Marty has cultivated these skills in young scholars. As one of his colleagues commented recently, “Marty shaped generations of environmental historians working in water resources development and policy.” Marty encouraged the Corps of Engineers to fund environmental histories – and he oversaw the research and writing of those histories and ensured that they received a wide distribution. ASEH members – including Jeffrey Stine and Craig Colten – have worked with Marty in preparing contract histories on water resources development.
Marty has also been instrumental in bringing water resources development and policy before the public. He has appeared in History Channel broadcasts (“Modern Marvels,” for instance) and has led many tours of hydroelectric projects that engaged the public and policy makers.
One of Marty’s longtime colleagues recently summarized, “As a historian of water resources development, Marty has made an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the topic. His carefully researched and well-written studies of the Army Corps of Engineers’ work have revealed the key role of that agency in the development of the nation’s water resources infrastructure. The body of his scholarly work has not only reflected rigorous scholarship but also served to influence policy makers as well as his fellow historians.”
Public Outreach Career Award Committee: James Pritchard, chair, Iowa State University; Heather Lee Miller, Historical Research Associates, Inc.-Seattle; and Melissa Wiedenfeld
George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book
Catherine McNeur’s Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City (Harvard University Press, 2014) explores the contentious negotiations about what came to be known as ‘urban’ New York City between 1815 and 1865. Over these years, New Yorkers came to define their city as a place with pets and parks, not livestock and pastures, and they removed human and animal waste rather than make use of it. In lively prose grounded in deep research, McNeur recounts class-based and at times race-based conflicts that pitted the rich and working classes against each other. The wealthy passed ordinances and regulations, while commoners fought back by means of vigilante violence and riot. As governance became more effective and pervasive, the city came to be defined as a space strictly distinct from rural quarters.
George Perkins March Prize Committee: Jacob Hamblin, Oregon State University, chair; Kate Brown, University of Maryland-Baltimore County; and Ian Miller, Harvard University
Alice Hamilton Prize for Best Article outside Environmental History
Winner: Molly A. Warsh, “A Political Ecology in the Early Spanish Caribbean,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 71, no. 4 (October 2014): 517-548. This article, through its historiographical engagement with diverse literatures on imperialism, indigenous history, and marine environmental history, tells an original and fascinating story about the European presence in the Americas through an examination of the history of pearl fisheries in the early Spanish Caribbean. Warsh demonstrates how the politics of racialized labor shaped preferred methods of extraction and by extension the ecological consequences of pearl harvesting. She argues that the process of colonization did not simply entail Spanish domination and control of pearl harvesting, but that environmental knowledge held by locals and diasporic ethnicities within the Spanish Empire combined with the ambiguousness of pearls as both precious jewels and renewable resources led to a negotiation of power and interdependence all too often obscured in historical narratives of European imperialism. Warsh indeed succeeds in showing how indigenous New World knowledges and practices informed European approaches to nature, economic production, and science. Along the way, she offers empirically rich and revealing stories of such varied topics as coerced labor, oyster agency in the face of a changing world of increased boat traffic, early modern dredging, and even modern-day Venezuelan economic policy. Especially admirable is the depth of original research, the breadth of historiographical engagement and analysis, and the sense of place and of local actors engaging with a marine environment – and in particular the importance of sound – all of which makes this article a major contribution to environmental history and beyond.
Honorable Mention: James Tejani, “Harbor Lines: Connecting the Histories of Borderlands and Pacific Imperialism in the Making of the Port of Los Angeles, 1858-1908,” Western Historical Quarterly 45 (Summer 2014): 125-146.
Alice Hamilton Prize Committee: Liza Piper, University of Alberta, chair; Alan Mikhail, Yale University; and Bradley Skopyk, Binghamton University
Leopold-Hidy Prize for Best Article in Environmental History
This year’s Leopold-Hidy Prize goes to Mr. Faisal Husain, a PhD Candidate at Georgetown University, for his article “In the Bellies of the Marshes: Water and Power in the Countryside of Ottoman Baghdad.” In this deeply researched study, Mr. Husain examines Ottoman attempts to dominate people by exerting power over nature. He takes us into the marshy world of the Khazāʿil, a tribe that had long been a thorn in the Ottoman side. After failed efforts to bring the Khazāʿil into the fold by traditional means, Ottoman authorities in Baghdad implemented extensive dam and canal projects aimed at draining the wetlands that gave the Khazāʿil security and sustenance. What began as a military expedient, however, had longer-term political and religious repercussions; as Husain deftly shows, draining the marshes not only transformed them from places reflective of Khazāʿil culture, it opened the way for the region to become deeply and strongly associated with Shi’a Islam, a greater challenge to the Ottomans in later years.
Each year, editorial board members are encouraged to comment on the articles they chose for the top spot. One called Husain’s article “noteworthy” because “it shows not only how imperial powers - the Ottomans in this case - attempted to use the landscape as a means of warfare, but how this strategy led to an unexpected yet transcendent consequence - namely, the rise of Shi'ism in Iraq. Most of all, I appreciate the use of environmental history to link the local with the global in a way that attends to geopolitics as well as to village-level uses of the land.”
Another wrote, “The article is impressive for its temporal sweep, integration of ecological analysis and hydrological concepts, and use of a range of primary materials.” Others highlighted Husain’s thorough research, with one stating that the article “was based on very substantial research, had an innovative and convincing argument, and teaches some new lessons about ‘seeing like a state’.”
In an excellent summary of why Mr. Husain’s article won the award, a board member wrote, “Faisal Husain demonstrates remarkable fluidity in analyzing the politics surrounding the marshes of the Euphrates at the heart of the Ottoman Empire. He reveals the intricate dynamic between the ecology of a marsh ecosystem, those who depended on it, and the Ottoman state.”
When evaluating articles for the Leopold-Hidy Prize, editorial board members are asked to assess each one based on elegance of writing, insightfulness of argument, novelty of premise, and rigor of scholarship. In every one of these criteria, Mr. Husain hit the mark perfectly. Please join me in congratulating Mr. Faisal Husain on his selection and in thanking him for contributing such excellent work to our journal.
-Lisa Brady, editor, and editorial board, Environmental History
Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation
This was a difficult decision. The committee was impressed by the quality of the work of all the nominees. For those of us who have seen the expansion of the field, in terms of internationalization as well as interdisciplinary, in the last twenty years, it was a wonderful experience. Some of them made us laugh, or sober up, or murmur expletives. All of them made us think and reflect on the amazing breadth of our field – and there’s no little satisfaction in that.
This year’s award goes to Philipp N. Lehmann, whose dissertation’s title is “Changing Climates: Deserts, Desiccation, and the Rise of Climate Engineering 1870-1950.” This dissertation recovers a forgotten chapter in the history of climate change and climate science. In engaging prose, and meticulous detail, Lehmann shows how geologists and geographers of the late 1800s came to understand the mutability of the earth system long before studies of the high atmosphere after World War II. Lehmann recasts the desert environments of North Africa as crucial to the development of earth sciences in Europe and integral to the widespread (and contemporary) belief that humans could effectively reengineer the climate.
Lehmann's dissertation is beautifully written - clear, intelligent, and succinct. He asks the reader to reconsider the origins of climate science and the implications of evolving ideas about what climate is, how change occurs, and where human intervention fits in the picture.
Further, Lehmann offers a caution to contemporary engineers, policy-makers, and perhaps historians as well. By pulling us back to the nineteenth century and then walking us through both the evolution of climate change ideas and the evolution of proposals to intervene, Lehmann reminds us of the ways in which human endeavor do not change…We continue to design interventions that we hope will purposely reconfigure our climate(s). This dissertation brings together environmental history and the history of science, advancing both fields. More than that, this dissertation intervenes in current climate change discussions by noting the deep roots--and complexities--of the human project to know and master the climate.
Honorable Mention: Joseph Horan, “Fibers of Empire: Cotton Cultivation in France and Italy during the Age of Napoleon."
Rachel Carson Prize Committee: Lise Sedrez, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, chair; Julie Cohn, University of Houston; and Andrew Stuhl, Bucknell University