comments on 2019 awards recipients
The following awards were presented at ASEH’s annual conference in Columbus, Ohio, April 13, 2019:
Distinguished Scholar Award
John McNeill has done as much as anyone to put environmental history on the global map and we are very happy to present him with the 2019 Distinguished Scholar Award.
The sun, mountains, and mosquitoes are all players in his award-winning histories and, as a result, his publications have encouraged so many scholars from far afield to consider non-human actors’ contributions to any history.
Likewise, he has inspired all of us in the field of environmental history to investigate the global networks of even the most narrowly focused topic. His combination of scholarly rigor, engaging prose, and wide public influence is a model to us all.
His books are familiar, classic, and numerous. They include: The Atlantic Empires of France and Spain, 1700–1765 (University of North Carolina Press, 1985); The Mountains of the Mediterranean World (Cambridge University Press, 1992); Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (Norton, 2000, which received the World History Association Book Prize in 2001, The Human Web: A Bird’s-eye View of World History (Norton, 2003), co-authored with his father William H. McNeill; Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620–1914 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), and most recently, with Peter Engelke The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945. (Harvard, 2016.) He also edited or co-edited seven more books and written numerous articles.
John is a faculty member at Georgetown University, where he serves in both the History Department and the Walsh School of Foreign Service. He has held two Fulbright Awards, a Guggenheim fellowship, a MacArthur Grant, a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and had a visiting appointment at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.
He is an inspired citizen of the academy. His devotion to nurturing young scholars and leading our institutions is unmatched. In 2010, he was awarded the AHA Beveridge Award for Mosquito Empiresand the Toynbee Prize for “academic and public contributions to humanity.” He was president of ASEH from 2011 to 2013 and is currently the president of the American Historical Association. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017.
Being a scholar is more than just publishing great books. So last but not least – we want to recognize his jokes. His legendary dry wit has reduced countless conference audiences to belly laughs – bringing joy to so many of us. For a few, the ASEH wouldn’t be the same without John putting his basketball skills to good use at his annual pick-up games.
Lisa Mighetto Award for Distinguished Service
The ASEH Distinguished Service Award, which we renamed last year in honor of our long-serving former Executive Director, Lisa Mighetto, is given every year to an individual who has contributed significantly to the development of ASEH as an organization.This year’s Distinguished Service Award goes to Stephen J. Pyne.
We have been blessed over the years with thousands of hours of volunteer effort, unselfishly given, by innumerable members of ASEH. This year’s meeting alone, with its multitude of exciting panels, posters, plenaries, field trips, committee meetings, formal and informal happy hours -- even a board game session! – and with many discussions and plans afoot for public engagement with the pressing issues of the day, is evidence of the ways that we all gain from this organization as much as we give to it.
The ASEH is built on service and is continually renewed and energized by it. The Lisa Mighetto Award recognizes and gratefully honors that service. The first recipient, in 1997, was John Opie. Last year’s honoree was Nancy Langston. There will be, many many more, I hope. But this year, it is my pleasure to recognize a scholar and longstanding ASEH member whose efforts helped light the spark at the ASEH’s inception and who has kept the fire burning lo these many years along. As you may be able to guess from the shameless pyro-puns, the 2019 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award is Steve Pyne.
Known to many as the world’s foremost historian of fire or, as some students and scholars simply call him, “the fire guy,” Pyne is a former wildland firefighter who turned his experience into scholarship and policy advising. Over a long career at Arizona State University, where he joined the faculty in 1985 and retired this year, Pyne supervised dozens of graduate students and wrote nearly thirty books, including fire histories of the U.S. Australia, Canada, Europe and the planet overall, textbooks on landscape fire and management, and histories of exploration and voyaging on earth and in space.
A tireless public speaker, Pyne has served as the public face of fire from an historical perspective for more than thirty-five years. He was recognized for his influence by a MacArthur Fellowship in 1988. In the process of promoting a more nuanced and informed approach to fire policy in the U.S. and elsewhere, Steve has also been a public face for environmental history and the ASEH.
One of the founding members of ASEH, Steve served as ASEH President from 2005 to 2007 and as a member of the Executive Committee for eight years. He has provided his expertise and volunteered his time at ASEH’s conferences, led numerous field trips, workshops, and writing sessions. In the early years, when ASEH was still finding its way through smoky hazards of a young organization still finding its footing, Steve helped keep the coals burning. It is in recognition of these efforts – to signal our appreciation for all he has contributed to the ASEH, and for helping to assure that our organization’s mission continues to burn brightly – that I bestow the Lisa Mighetto Distinguished Service Award on Stephen J. Pyne.
Steve is not with us at the conference today, but we are sending up a flare in his honor. Thank you, Steve!
Distinguished Career in Public Environmental History
The award for Distinguished Career in Public Environmental History is presented every two years to an individual who has promoted environmental history to the public over time. It was first awarded in 2015 to Marty Reuss. The 2017 recipient was Christof Mauch.
This year’s award honors not one person, but two: Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths, whose partnership in life and work has helped make environmental history part of the public discourse in Australia and New Zealand.
Professor Robin is an historian of science and environmental ideas whose wide-ranging publications and projects of public engagement have explored conservation history and policy, museums in the Anthropocene, scientific expertise, climate change and the humanities, and much more.
Recently retired from her Professorship at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, Dr. Robin has worked both locally and far from home to spread understanding of the ecological humanities, from a long stint as a Senior Fellow in the National Museum of Australia's Research Centre (2007-2015), to two multi-year stretches as a visiting and affiliated faculty member at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. She is also an advisor to the Center for Environmental History (KAJAK) at Tallinn University in Estonia.
Libby’s international efforts have also included fostering relationships around the globe among scholars and professionals in numerous fields. More than twenty years ago, she paid out of her own pocket to launch the Australia-New Zealand Environmental History Network, which continues to this day. Together with Verena Winiwarter, Steve Anderson, Jane Carruthers, and many others, she was also one of the founding organizers of the dynamic and growing International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations (ICEHO), of which she is the immediate past president and ongoing Bulletin editor. In 2014, Libby established with (Tom Van Dooren) the Australian Environmental Humanities Hub, a website for sharing and coordinating news and events in the field, with members and advisors from Taiwan to Iceland to British Columbia [Graeme!].
Libby’s partner, Tom Griffiths, is the more eremite of the two – unlike Libby, who doesn’t seem to mind the long-haul flights from Australia and who has thus graced us often with her presence at the ASEH over the years, Tom has stayed a bit closer to home. Nonetheless, his work has also had wide-ranging impact.
As the William Keith Hancock Professor of History in the Australian National University School College of Arts and Social Sciences and Director of the Centre for Environmental History at ANU, Tom’s research, writing, teaching and research have looked at the comparative environmental history of settler societies, the history of Antarctica, and the social, environmental, and cultural history of Australia.
His projects include an investigation of Australian engagement in the Antarctic Treaty System; the International IHOPE Project: An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth; Climate and Culture in Australia; and the ongoing Victorian Bushfire Project, a collaborative response to the devastating Black Saturday bushfires that roared across Steels Creek, Australia ten years ago. The collaboration between the Centre for Environmental History, Steels Creek community, and survivors of the fire emphasizes how environmental history can help heal people after a traumatic experience. Integrating understandings of the fire’s social, cultural and ecological dimensions, the project’s efforts are all the more timely and alarmingly relevant as climate change is bringing longer, hotter, and more ferocious fire seasons around the world, from Australia and the Americas to Europe and even north of the Arctic Circle [last July 2018].
Libby and Tom are both Fellows of the Australian Academy of Humanities. They have more publications and international and Australian prizes between them than it would be possible to list in this session. Together, they have organized numerous doctoral workshops for students from all over Australia, in which many ASEH members and scholars have participated.
Selfless and not self-promoting, in efforts both complementary and collaborative, Libby and Tom have worked tirelessly to establish environmental history in the public understanding in Australia, and their efforts have borne fruit far afield, as well. They have integrated antipodean perspectives and research into the international environmental discourse, as we see in so many contributions at this year’s conference and at the ICEHO and ESEH meetings, as well.
Without them [as Christof Mauch has noted], Australia environmental history might still be terra incognita.
It is my pleasure, therefore, to give this year’s Distinguished Career in Public Environmental History award to Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths.
George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book
This year’s winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize for best book in environmental history is Megan Black for The Global Interior: Mineral Frontiers and American Power, published by Harvard University Press. In this compelling book, Megan Black places twentieth-century U.S. resource policy in a global context, illuminating the significant yet little-recognized role that the Department of the Interior played in extending the reach of American power. She recasts conventional conceptions of the Interior Department, describing how the agency undertook both “the day-to-day work of [implementing] U.S. settler colonialism” in the American West and expanding U.S. intervention abroad. Commonly thought to be separate processes, these two missions are linked through the work of the Interior Department.
Covering a century and a half of the department’s work, Black’s perspective prompts a reconsideration, for example, of the parts played by department leaders such as Harold Ickes and Stewart Udall. Even leaders with reputations as conservationists were, in fact, in pursuit of “new zones of extraction” around the globe, articulating a conservation impulse at home while supporting private resource exploitation elsewhere. Technical assistance programs abroad were cast in “benevolent terms,” though Third World nationalist movements and indigenous social movements repeatedly challenged the department’s actions.
The book has strong relevance for contemporary debates about environmental politics and energy resource policy. Black touches on the role of conservative movements, for example, a rising theme in environmental history scholarship. Another key contribution of the book is recognizing that sovereign nations within the borders of the United States are significant protagonists in energy policy. Succinctly distilling a long history, Black acknowledges the “panoply of strategies mobilized” by Native American tribes, “including accommodation, alliance, defiance, hybridization, contest, and refusal, in the face of the …advance of federal and private interests.” Black not only critiques “Interior’s natural resource management policy in indigenous lands [, which] served the imperatives of global energy firms,” but also gives a nuanced account of the powerful resistance led in the 1970s by the Northern Cheyenne, Navajo, Blackfeet, Laguna Pueblo Fort Peck, and Jicarillo Apache, members of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT).
We are pleased to recognize Megan Black’s scholarship with this year’s George Perkins Marsh Prize. Megan, please come forward to receive the prize.
Alice Hamilton Prize for Best Article Outside Environmental History
The Alice Hamilton Prize Committee this year was comprised of Matthew Klingle, Jessica Van Horssen, and me, Michelle Mart. We had the enviable task of reading many thoughtful articles (26 in total) on a wide range of topics, ranging from childbirth to Caribbean timbering to the East Texas oil boom – among others. And, we had the unenviable task of choosing a prize winner from among so many fine entrants.
For the Alice Hamilton Prize 2019 the committee has chosen Christopher Sellers’ “To Place or Not to Place: Toward an Environmental History of Modern Medicine” published in The Bulletin of the History of Medicinein spring 2018. Sellers’ article examines the historiography of two distinct but overlapping fields: medical history and environmental history. He finds that what has been contested between the two is the relevance of “place” in understanding history. In particular, Sellers argues that “place neutrality” in medicine grew from the “pact between medicine and industry first forged in the nineteenth century.” In contrast, environmental history concluded no such pact and has denied place neutrality from its earliest origins, exploring, for example, the links between disease and chemical pollution. Sellers identifies a great irony in the development of the history of medicine: while the field as a whole was predicated on place neutrality in favor of the information measured in laboratory tests, subfields of medicine simultaneously developed that were defined by very specific places, such as tropical medicine or bacteriological public health. Taking a cue from these subfields, Sellers recognizes recent scholarship that puts place at the center of their stories and encourages the continuing “cross fertilization and blurring of the boundaries” between medical and environmental history. Sellers adds further poignancy to his critiques by linking his analysis to decades-long disputes over the effects of lead smelting pollution on the health of Latinx residents in El Paso, Texas. As polluting industries decamp from the United States and reports of health hazards mount, Sellers observes that “the old medico-industrial pact has been getting a new lease on life.” In its challenge to disciplinary boundaries, we believe that Sellers’s article will provoke fruitful discussions and encourage others to rethink the borders we have imposed between environment and medicine.
Leopold-Hidy Award for Best Article in Environmental History (joint award with Forest History Society) – remarks by Lisa Brady, journal editor
Paul Kreitman, “Attacked by Excrement: The Political Ecology of Shit in Wartime and Postwar Tokyo” 23.2 (April): 242-366.
Each year, Environmental History’s Editorial Board deliberates and votes on which among the research articles published in that volume of the journal best contributed to the fields of forest and environmental history. They make their selection based on the articles’ quality of argument, quality of research, and writing style. For volume 23, the Board selected Paul Kreitman’s study “Attacked by Excrement: The Political Ecology of Shit in Wartime and Postwar Tokyo” for the Leopold-Hidy Award.Kreitman is an assistant professor of 20th Century Japanese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. When not focusing his scholarly talents on the history of excrement, Kreitman explores the relationships between resource extraction, nature conservation, and state formation in the North Pacific.
In casting their votes, board members elaborate on their top choice. One noted, “Though he evinces no nostalgia for the days of honey buckets and train shipments of excrement in early twentieth-century Tokyo, Kreitman's article leaves me with a sense that something important has been lost now that that city’s sewage is carried away by sanitary sewers as mere waste product, while farmland nearby is now ever more dependent on chemical fertilizers for the nutrients once provided by the messy and unreliable night soil market.” Another wrote, “Kreitman's article is well written and even humorous at moments. By treating human excrement as both a resource with a political economy and [as] a sanitary hazard with health risk implications, the author takes seriously a subject that is often treated as peripheral, but is actually quite central. In doing so, his article models for environmental historians how to treat an uncomfortable subject with aplomb and how to historicize an element of urban society, the construction of sewers, that we often take for granted.” And a third stated, “This fantastic article combines sensory history, the history of war, medical history, and urban environmental history in prose so well written it could be accessible to undergrads while also being nourishing for senior scholars. I'll be assigning it next time I teach global environmental history.”
It is my pleasure to present the 2018 Leopold-Hidy Award to Paul Kreitman. Congratulations!
Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation