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|From the President's Desk|
Agents of Change: People, Climate, and History
Last year was a remarkable year for scientific understandings of climate change and for public concern about global warming, and some politicians even seemed aware of the threats posed by climate change. The theme for ASEH's Boise conference, "Agents of Change: People, Climate, and History" reflected this increasing societal concern about the risks presented by climate change.
For over two decades, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has done a tremendous job in helping us grasp the complexities and uncertainties of climate change. In 2007, the IPCC and Al Gore Jr. were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. At the Boise conference, we were honored to have two of the authors and participants in the IPCC process, Stephen Schneider and Patricia Romeo-Lankao, join us for a lively plenary discussion about the role of the humanities in understanding climate change. The enthusiastic participation by audience members attests to how concerned environmental historians are about global warming, even if we're often uncertain how to work with scientists or how to bring our voices into the policy-making process.
Patricia Romero-Lankao, a sociologist, talked at the plenary about the importance of narratives in interpreting the causes of climate change. Narratives are central to the work of environmental historians, and our training can help scientists understand the ways competing narratives influence climate change-both the causes and the responses (or lack of responses) to evidence of global warming.
Historical narratives can illuminate long-term processes in climate dynamics, and historical approaches can also help understand how different societies have responded to climate processes. Economic and social disparities have shaped the ability of past societies to adapt to climate change. Humanities can help frame more equitable responses to climate change, while avoiding the environmental determinism that scientists can sometimes veer toward.
Stephen Schneider's research career has focused on uncertainty, a topic of great interest to many environmental historians. When historians and climate scientists begin to work together, we can use our understandings of historical contingency and unpredictability to illuminate the dynamic interrelationships between environment, climate change, culture, and history.
As the historian Mark Carey writes, "These scholars have understood that there has always been a complex dialectic between climate and society, that other human factors worked alongside climate in shaping the past, and that nature and culture can never be separated into neatly divided camps. Further, researchers are uncovering diverse sources and unique data to help reconstruct past climates. Studies on the history of climate science have become more varied and go back deeper in time, while they are also scrutinizing science as a discursive construction by particular societies at particular times in history. Scholars have also examined ways in which climate interacts with other forces to affect human history and shape societies. Yet climatic conditions affect different groups differently-and those holding power or those atop social hierarchies can often withstand climatic changes and weather disasters more than marginalized populations"(Mark Carey, "Beyond Weather: The Culture and Politics of Climate History," forthcoming in Andrew Isenberg, Ed., The Oxford Handbook of Environmental History (Oxford University Press).
Stephen Schneider and Patricia Romeo-Lankao urged environmental historians to collaborate with scientists. But they warned us that the different perspectives of humanists and scientists can lead to real misunderstandings. Historians do need to learn scientific language and models, Patricia argued, to better communicate the kinds of perspectives we can offer scientists. We also need to understand that scientists are often quite willing to learn our language, particularly when we can give them clear examples of how historical perspectives can help throw light on common concerns.
This past fall, I taught a month-long case study on climate change in an environmental humanities survey course. This experience made me reflect both on the importance of avoiding despair when we confront global warming, and the ways historical narratives can help us find alternatives to despair. My undergraduates were immediately intrigued by the varied ways societies have responded to past climate changes.
Interestingly, this historical work also gave my students hope that we could make choices to avoid catastrophe. Brian Fagan's research on varied European responses to the Little Ice Age engaged the students in ways that Elizabeth Kolbert's examples in Field Notes from a Catastrophe could not. Kolbert's examples focused repeatedly on societal collapse in the face of past climate change, and while her examples persuaded students that climate change could indeed affect society, they didn't give students much sense that alternatives might exist.
Fagan's work, in contrast, allowed the class to explore the ways that social institutions, technology, power, perceptions, and culture influenced the different choices that societies made when climate change. As Fagan writes: "Climate is, and always has been, a powerful catalyst in human history, a pebble cast in a pond whose ripples triggered all manner of economic, political and social changes" (Brian Fagan, The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization, Basic Books, 2004, p. XIV). Contrasting the different ways societies responded to climate change showed students that climate influenced, but did not determine, human history. Why did some cultures persist and even thrive in the face of environmental change, while other societies disintegrated? What explained the differences? What can learn from those narratives?
These are all historical questions, and they are also part of a larger societal conversation about climate change that is finally getting underway. I look forward to learning more about the ways ASEH members are engaging in these conversations.
Nancy Langston, ASEH President
(pictured below: Patricia Romero-Lankao and Stephen Schneider, plenary session speakers in Boise)
|The Profession: How to Find an Internship in Environmental History|
By Mark Madison, Historian for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A great deal of our usable (and unexplored) environmental history lay on federal lands administered by the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). All of these agencies have internship programs that can provide valuable experience to students and new professionals, but they can be difficult to navigate.
For example, the vast majority of NPS and FWS internships are offered through the individual parks, refuges, or offices lacking a centralized location for information about opportunities. These require finding a likely refuge or park and inquiring directly about internships that might support your scholarship and your career aspirations. One exception is internships involving museums, archives, and historic preservation. A number of these internship opportunities are conveniently located at a centralized database cleverly named PreserveNet at: http://www.preservenet.cornell.edu/employ/ncpe.html.
Another program that we use in the FWS and other federal agencies is called the STEP/SCEP program, which offers hands-on internships/jobs on parks, refuges, and forests. The Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) attempts to bring bright students into the FWS to work on a variety of projects, ranging from the biological to education and outreach - and many of these projects have a historical component. The Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) brings students into the FWS workforce from undergraduate through graduate and postgraduate levels to give them hands-on experience directly related to their field of study. The SCEP program can and often does lead to a full-time appointment with the agency. In this way, STEP functions like a traditional internship, whereas SCEP may be more of an apprenticeship program. Once again finding the internships available is often a challenge. Although some of these are listed on USAJOBS (http://jobsearch.usajobs.gov/) many can only be found through local sites.
Alas, finding the internship is only the beginning of the job (pun intended). Working at the Fish and Wildlife Service's museum and archives (http://training.fws.gov/history/index.html), I have hired a number of paid and unpaid interns in the last 10 years and have a few suggestions that may be of some use when applying for an internship:
1). Do your research. Just as you would do background research before a school or job interview, it is always a good idea to know as much as possible about the agency you want to work with. Interns who tell me they want to work for the Forest and Wildlife Service are more likely to find an internship there than with the correctly named Fish and Wildlife Service.
2). Be interested in the agency's work. Or at least feign interest. Doing an internship as a class requirement or to build a resume may be important to you, but your potential supervisor will expect more. You can assume that supervisors are working in that refuge, office, or artifact-crammed archive because they are enthused about their work and their agency's mission, not for the pay or paperwork. As collegial animals we like to surround ourselves by likeminded individuals whom we believe share our passion. Allow your supervisor to maintain this illusion.
3). Be confident as an environmental historian. Environmental history is a vibrant and growing field whose scholarship has permeated many of the government natural resource agencies. As scholars in the field, you have a wide array of talents useful and critical to all our land-management agencies. You know how to interpret landscapes and make their stories accessible to the public. You know how to research both the human and natural artifacts and intertwine the two through history. You understand the broad sweep of ecological change in landscapes that may have undergone numerous management regimes. You have exactly the type of skills needed to explain and conserve our public lands - in writing and verbally. Your training has made you an ideal intern-a point worth making in every interview.
So seek out these opportunities. As our environmental needs evolve, federal agencies increasingly require historians to help make sense of these changes and explain them. Many government natural resource agencies have increasingly humanistic needs in education, research, and historical outreach. They are beginning to heed former Forest Service employee, and later environmental historian, Aldo Leopold's prophetic words: "Wildlife management is comparatively easy; human management is difficult."
Owing to the generous donations of our members, ASEH can now offer two new annual fellowships:
Samuel P. Hays Research Fellowship
$1,000/year for a practicing historian (non-students). Ph.D. not required. Submissions will be accepted June-September 2008, and the evaluation committee will select the recipient in December 2008, for funding in January 2009. We are still forming the evaluation committee and will post the requirements and instructions for submission on ASEH's website in June 2008 (www.aseh.net
"Awards and Funding").
Hal Rothman Research Fellowship
$1,000/year for graduate student reserach. Submissions will be accepted June-September 2008, and the evaluation committee will select the recipient in December 2008, for funding in January 2009. We are still forming the evaluation committee and will post the requirements and instructions for submission on ASEH's website in June 2008 (www.aseh.net
"Awards and Funding").
Additional donations would make these fellowships more secure. If you are interested in donating to either of these fellowships, please send your contribution to:
Dr. Mark Madison, Chief Historian
National Conservation Training Center
698 Conservation Way
Shepherdstown, WV 25443
February 25 - March 1, 2009
Click here for Call for Papers - Due June 30, 2008
World Congress, Environmental History
International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations
August 4-8, 2009
Click here for Call for Papers - Deadline extended to April 20, 2008
Note: Deadline for changes to panels is April 14.
Travel Grants for 2009 Meetings
Call for Nominations for ASEH's Next Election
ASEH's next election will take place in the winter of 2009, and our nominating committee is now considering a slate of candidates. If you have suggestions for candidates for the executive committee or nominating committee, please contact Melissa Wiedenfeld at
by August 29, 2008. Click here to view current committee members.
Note from Boise Teacher on Attending ASEH's Boise Conference
ASEH's Education Committee obtained a grant from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies to bring a teacher to our conference in Boise. The committee selected Elizabeth Caughlin, who teaches ninth-grade history at North Junior High School. Below is her brief summary of her experience:
Thank you so much for including me in the recent ASEH conference in Boise. It was wonderful meeting so many academics and professionals engaged in meaningful and enlightening projects. Your society's members were warm and welcoming, and happy to take time to share the fruits of their labors.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about research challenging old ways of interpreting history and about new ways of understanding our roles in shaping our future. My students, children of fire fighters and smoke jumpers, river rafters and kayakers, who breathe the smoke of Western wildland fires, have a very real understanding of environmental change and the role of humans in shaping the environment. The workshops and presentations I attended provided me with new impetus to recraft my curriculum to address their concerns for our future, and to give them an understanding of how we, as a people, created and overcame past environmental challenges.
Compliments to your fantastic Society, and thank you for coming to Boise!
Linda Lear's Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, will be available in Paperback in February 2008 (in the US by St.Martin's Press, and in the UK by Penguin Books, with the new subtitle Beatrix Potter: The extraordinary life of a Victorian genius). It won the prize for the best biography and the Lakeland Book of the Year in May 2007, England's only regional book prize.
Conevery Bolton Valencius, an Associate of the Department of History of Science, Harvard University, has been awarded a 2008 National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship for work on Sciences of the Shaking Earth, an exploration of how we know what we think we know about the New Madrid earthquakes, a series of temblors that were centered in the Mississippi Valley in the winter of 1811-1812 and were experienced across eastern North America.
Ann Vileisis's new book, Kitchen Literacy: How we lost knowledge of food and why we need to get it back, was recently published by Island Press. The book recounts the story of Americans' declining awareness about food production and explores how this trend has affected our awareness and thinking about nature. Ann recently completed an extensive book tour and had fun taking environmental history to such unlikely venues as the "Martha Stewart Living" and "West Coast Live" radio shows.
|ASEH Award Recipients 2008|
Congratulations to this year's award recipients!
Bill Cronon received ASEH's Distinguished Scholar Award in Boise.
The following prizes were also awarded in Boise:
Diana K. Davis was awarded the George Perkins Marsh Prize for the best book for
Resurrecting the Granary of Rome: Environmental History and French Colonial Expansion in North Africa (Ohio University Press)
Tyler Priest was awarded the Alice Hamilton Prize for the best article outside Environmental History for "Extraction Not Creation: The History of Offshore Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico," Enterprise and Society 8 (June 2007)
Mark Carey was awarded the Leopold-Hidy Prize for the best article in Environmental History for "The History of Ice: How Glaciers Became an Endangered Species" (July 2007)
Gwendolyn Verhoff was awarded the Rachel Carson Prize for the best dissertation for
"The Intractable Atom: The Challenge of Radiation and Radioactive Waste in American Life, 1942 to Present"
Click here to read the comments of the evaluation committees on these awards.
Graeme Wynn, chair of the Rachel Carson Prize Committee, presented the award for best dissertation to Gwendolyn Verhoff.
|ASEH Awards Submissions for 2008 - First Notice |
This year ASEH's prize committees will evaluate submissions (published books and articles and completed dissertations) that appear between November 1, 2007 and October 31, 2008. Please send three copies of each submission (these must be hard copies, or paper copies) by November 7, 2008 to:
c/o Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Program
University of Washington
1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma, WA 98402-3100
|Attention Graduate Students|
Graduate Student Liaisons and New Discussion Board
In 2007, ASEH's Executive Committee voted to explore the option of adding a graduate student liaison to the Executive Committee. This year, graduate students Merritt McKinney and Bradley Skopyk - both recipients of ASEH travel grants in 2008 - will serve as acting liaisons. They met with attendees at the graduate student reception in Boise, where they discussed ideas about how to establish the position of liaison more formally, along with issues that graduate students would like to see our executive committee address. If you have ideas or suggestions, please contact Merritt and Bradley at:
ASEH has created a discussion board on our website for graduate students. To learn more, see:
Travel Grants Available
Click here to learn more about travel grants available for the Tallahassee and Copenhagen conferences.
|Boise Conference Photos|
More than 500 people attended ASEH's annual conference in Boise. The exhibit area is pictured left and below. Scroll down for additional photos.
Photos courtesy Bradley Skopyk, Lisa Mighetto, Merrit McKinney, and Jerry Williams.
Exhibit area in Boise.
This year's fundraiser, which raised $2,000 for ASEH's minority grant, was held at the Basque Cultural Center and included live music (pictured above and below).
Overlook during birding field trip (pictured below).
Raffle winners at the graduate student reception (below).
A graduate student reception was held at the Idaho History Museum (below).
Our fire workshop included a tour of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise (pictured below).
We are grateful to the Boise team:
Lynne Heasley, Program Chair
Lisa Brady, Local Arrangements Co-Chair
Kevin Marsh, Local Arrangements Co-Chair
Adam Sowards, Local Arrangements Co-Chair
And their committees
ASEH News is a publication of the American Society for Environmental History.
- Nancy Langston, Department of Forest Ecology and Management, University of Wisconsin-Madison, President
- Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Vice President/President Elect
- Mark Madison, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Treasurer
- Ellen Stroud, Bryn Mawr College, Secretary
- Kathleen Bronson, University of Houston
- Peter Coates, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
- Paul Hirt, Arizona State University
- Nancy Jacobs, Brown University
- Katherine Morrissey, University of Arizona
- Mark Stoll, Texas Tech University
- Verena Winiwarter, University of Vienna, Austria
Ex Officio, Past Presidents:
- Carolyn Merchant, University of California-Berkeley
- Stephen Pyne, Arizona State University
- Douglas Weiner, University of Arizona
Ex Officio, Executive Director and Editor, ASEH News:
- Lisa Mighetto, University of Washington-Tacoma
Ex Officio, H-Environment Representative:
Ex Officio, Editor, Environmental History:
- Mark Cioc, University of California-Santa Cruz
ASEH Annual Conference,
Tallahassee, Feb. 25-March 1, 2009
for Tallahassee Call for Papers (due June 30, 2008).
Conference will include field trips to the Wade Tract (Tall Timbers), birding at a local wildlife refuge, kayaking, a boat ride at Wakulla Springs, and more.
Click here to read how Congress recently ordered the EPA to restore its library system. Click here to read ASEH's resolution against EPA library clostures, issued last year.
Click here to add your info. to our Directory of Members and Experts.
|This newsletter is a quarterly publication of the American Society for Environmental History. If you have questions, or if you would like to submit an article or announcement, contact Lisa Mighetto, editor, at
The deadline for the summer issue is June 13, 2008.