comments on 2018 award recipients
The following awards were presented at ASEH’s annual conference in Riverside, California, March 17, 2018:
Distinguished Scholar Award
This year’s recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award is Jane Carruthers, who played a critical role in establishing the field of South African and comparative environmental history. Jane’s pioneering scholarship on Kruger National Park, published in 1995, engaged political and social history, along with the history of nationalism; her work challenged historians of parks to consider environmental justice and dispossession as well as preservation and recreation in national parks, and to consider the impact of parks beyond their immediate borders. Carruthers has also made important contributions to transnational research, comparing Australian and South African national parks. As Christof Mauch recently noted, “Jane’s South African stories, rich with the cultural complexities of her home country, have transformed and at times unsettled environmental understandings of science, national parks, and wildlife management.”
Jane has been active as a public intellectual, as well as an academic. She has advised South African National Parks on the human side of preservation efforts. She has collaborated with biologists and ecologists to engage policy-making.
Jane also served as president of the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations, which strengthens connections among international scholars. For her critical contributions to the fields of environmental justice, national parks and preservation, and transnational environmental history, we honor Jane Carruthers as an ASEH Distinguished Scholar.
Click here to read Jane Carruthers' comments.
Distinguished Service Award
This year’s Distinguished Service Award goes to Nancy Langston on the strength of her long, varied, and vital service to our organization. Nancy has earned many honors and distinctions, but this award recognizes service to ASEH specifically.
Nancy has been active in the leadership of ASEH for more than 15 years. She served as president of the organization from 2007 to 2009, as vice president for two years before that, and on the Executive Committee from 2003 to 2007. She edited the journal from 2011 to 2014, and was instrumental in moving the journal to Oxford University Press and establishing the journal web page. She helped negotiate the contract with Oxford, which strengthened ASEH’s financial position.
In addition, she chaired the Outreach Committee (2005-2007) and continues to volunteer for ASEH committees and activities, including the society’s efforts to find and transition to a new executive director. Nancy has contributed significantly to a number of ASEH conferences, chairing the Program Committee for the Victoria conference in 2004 and the Local Arrangements Committee for Madison in 2012. In numerous lectures and editorials, she has drawn academic and public attention to the field of environmental history as a whole.
For her distinguished career, and the many concrete steps she has taken to strengthen ASEH, Nancy Langston receives this year’s ASEH’s Distinguished Service Award. Nancy dedicated this award to her mother, JoAnn Langston.
Public Outreach Project Award
Recipient: Los Angeles Urban Rangers
For creating a wilderness safari of a downtown LA skyscraper and one of a vacant lot in Almere, Netherlands…For helping LA residents and tourists find and appreciate the LA River and helping to educate the public about historic inequities of local water supplies at their pop-up Water Bar, reminiscent of ubiquitous LA wine bar.
…For pissing off David Geffen and the other Hollywood luminaries by leading public tours that draws attention and, therefore, opens up public access points along Malibu Beach that residents have cordoned off as their own private property….
The selection committee of Kieko Matteson, Christof Mauch, and Cindy Ott were happy to present the 2018 ASEH Public Outreach Award to Emily Scott, Sara Daleiden, Therese Kelly, Jenny Price, and Cathy Gudis who make up the artist-collective LA Urban Rangers.
The award acknowledges all of their ingenious projects over the last 14 years that have helped the public have fun while thinking critically and historically about the environment and public space.
George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book
Landscapes of Hope: Nature and the Great Migration in Chicago (Harvard University Press) by Brian McCammack has earned this year’s George Perkins Marsh award for best book in environmental history. The book exemplifies the field’s best traditions, while modeling how to seamlessly weave environmental history into the broader fabric of social and cultural history.
The 20th century’s Great Migration of African Americans to the U.S. North has been understood by most historians through the lens of labor and politics. McCammack re-centers this narrative on nature. Fleeing a fertile but brutal South, black Americans moved north and imbued the landscapes they encountered with hope. Arriving in Chicago, African American families found nature in a range of categories and confronted more than polluted environmental inequalities and racialized spaces. They worked to make places in parks and resort towns, forging a hybrid environmental culture blending Southern folkways and urban modernity.
McCammack’s book recovers the voices of diverse African American migrants to Chicago for whom the struggle for space was an integral part of their struggle for freedom. He begins with early efforts to transplant and hybridize cultures of leisure in places like Chicago’s Washington Park. While working-class blacks forged public places within Chicago, African American elites sojourned to Idlewild, a premier resort in nearby Michigan participating in the same sort of wholesome escape from urban nature driving whites beyond the city limits. In such stories, McCammack illuminates how landscapes mediated class differences and mobility within Chicago’s black community. At the same time, he shows how northern agricultural landscapes were themselves reshaped by African American enrollees in the Civilian Conservation Corps––their labor reconnecting them to rural landscapes from which, paradoxically, their own communities would be excluded.
McCammack acknowledges and builds on the scholarship of (1) environmental historians of nature and race, including Colin Fisher, Kimberly Smith, Dianne Glave, Mark Stoll, and Carolyn Finney, as he further illustrates how “nature was materially and imaginatively important to the everyday lives of urban-dwelling African Americans” (262); (2) the literary tradition of Richard Wright and Lorraine Hansberry; and (3) migration histories by Isabel Wilkerson, James Grossman, James Gregory, Carole Marks, and others, noting that previous experiences and strong kinship networks eased the way for migrants reaching the city (263, 271). In doing so, he broadens how we might think about not only race and place in American history, but also the material and cultural experiences of human migration more broadly.
McCammack accomplishes all this with analytical rigor and stylistic flair. His book is alive with characters and landscapes, with a range of sources that reaches into Chicago’s black communities and neighborhoods and their extensive orbits, to show us new ways forward.
Alice Hamilton Prize for Best Article Outside Environmental History
Caroline Peyton, “Kentucky’s ‘Atomic Graveyard’: Maxey Flats and Environmental Inequity in Rural America,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 115, no. 2 (Spring 2017): 223-63.
Caroline Peyton’s lucid, elegant and powerful article revisits the topic of environmental justice but extends it from a focus on racial inequities towards an analysis of class privilege in environmental history. As Peyton argues, federal officials hawked Maxey Flats, created in 1962 as one of the nation’s first commercial nuclear waste sites, as an economic bonanza to rural Kentucky’s poor and mostly white residents. State agencies eager to boost the flagging fortunes of impoverished Appalachian citizens enthusiastically embraced and expanded the project. But in doing so, they frequently ignored the dangers of groundwater pollution or the potential risks to locals. What followed was decades of a toxic environment for the poor: radioactive contamination, environmental neglect, and persistent health problems. In an era when commercial nuclear power was ascendant, disposing of nuclear waste in so-called “flyover country” was seen as a necessary sacrifice for the greater national interest. The ensuing slow-motion catastrophe, Peyton concludes, is a powerful reminder that environmental injustices are legacies of socio-economic discrimination as much as racism. Peyton’s article is both timely and significant as citizens and historians alike rediscover the importance of rural America in an era of political reaction and cultural division.
Leopold-Hidy Award for Best Article in Environmental History (joint award with Forest History Society) – remarks by Lisa Brady, journal editor
Kate Wersan, “The Early Melon and the Mechanical Gardener: Toward an Environmental History of Timekeeping in the Long Eighteenth Century,” 22.2 (April): 282-310.
It is never an easy task to determine which among the research articles published in a given volume of Environmental History best contributed to the fields of forest and environmental history. Editorial Board members are asked to select just one each year, and vote for the article they consider to lead the pack in terms of quality of argument, quality of research, and writing style. For volume 22, that article is Kate Wersan’s “The Early Melon and the Mechanical Gardener.” Wersan is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin, where she is completing a dissertation titled “Between the Calendar and the Clock: An Environmental History of American Timekeeping, 1660-1920.”
I first became acquainted with Wersan’s work at the 2015 WHEATS conference held in Boulder, Colorado. I was impressed then, as I remain now, with her command of a wide range of historiographical literatures, her fluency with a number of analytical methods, and the creative and subtle ways she approaches and interprets primary evidence. Clearly, I am not alone in my admiration for Wersan’s work. One editorial board member noted, “Persuasively and creatively argued and supported, [Wersan’s] article breaks new ground by highlighting critical connections that facilitated fresh understandings of how time operates in the natural world.” Another wrote, Wersan’s “argument is surprising, the essay is wonderfully creative, and the writing is engaging. I was immediately drawn into the essay and it made me think more creatively about environmental history as a whole.” And finally, “Authors writing gardening manuals struggled to make their advice portable: the genres of the almanac, the calendar, and the encyclopedia each failed in some measure to allow adaption to new places and climates. Enter the melon: with careful, meticulous attention to the development of an early melon, a gardener could learn to read the very local conditions and calibrate the application of the rest of a manual’s advice. The melon would be the clock.” After that excellent summary of Wersan’s article, that same board member stated, “Environmental historians often laud local knowledge and skill at reading place; Wersan reveals an eighteenth-century pedagogy of such knowledge, one I am tempted to incorporate in the classroom three centuries later.”
It is my pleasure to present the 2017 Leopold-Hidy Award to Kate Wersan. May it be an auspicious start to your promising career.
Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation
The 2018 Rachel Carson Award for best dissertation goes to Milica Prokić, University of Bristol, for “Barren Island (Goli otok): A Trans-Corporeal History of the Former Yugoslav Political Prison Camp and Its Inmates, from the Cominform Period (1949-1956) to the Present.” Goli otok is a small island in the Croatian Adriatic and was the site of a political prison camp in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The author seeks to uncover what happened to the incarcerated inhabitants by analyzing their distinctive bodily experiences. She argues that their lives were shaped by an interplay between the island’s material and metaphorical traits and the forced labor demanded by authorities. The author positions this study within the framework of “nissology,” or the study of islands and islandness, to interrogate Goli otok as a laboratory of human-environmental relations and part of a global archipelago of carceral islands during the second half of the twentieth century.
The project impressed the committee as a fresh and exciting work with a writing style that was both accessible and compelling. It was well researched and utilized oral histories as a vehicle to transport the reader to Barren Island on a geographical, historical and emotional level. Prokić employed micro- and corporeal-scale analysis to describe the intertwined stories of ragged bodies, wind-blown earth, pulverized stones and abuses of power. Descriptions animating the movements of individuals to, on and from the island were at once evocative, affecting, beautiful and haunting. The rich prose used to describe "Barren Island" produced, for long stretches, a gripping and engaging account of a mysterious landscape refracted through the bodies of its prisoners.