Two days before world leaders converged to Marrakech for the U.N. climate summit, a smaller and cozier meeting took place in Washington, DC with a shared interest in, and concern for, humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature. The meeting was the first conference for graduate students that Georgetown University hosted on world environmental history, titled: “Humanity & Other Forms of Life: Environmental Histories of the World.” The conference took place at the Mortara Center for International Studies on a cold Saturday (November 5) and featured the work of students from eight universities (Cornell, Georgetown, Indiana, NYU, Ohio State, Princeton, Stony Brook, and Yale). Environmental history graduate students at Georgetown organized the event with generous support from the Georgetown Institute for Global History, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Provost Office, and the Mortara Center. Doctoral candidate Faisal Husain masterminded the day’s events, supported by several students and faculty members. It was a polished, friendly conference that covered an impressive range of topics with grace and thematic cohesion.
The Ottoman History Podcast has published an interview with Dr. Gábor Ágoston, associate professor of history at Georgetown and a specialist in the history of the Ottoman Empire. Dr. Graham Auman Pitts and doctoral candidate Faisal Husain conducted the interview, which is a part of OHP's forthcoming 'Political Ecologies' series.
'Whereas military histories once focused narrowly on armies, battles, and technologies, the new approach to military history emphasizes how armies and navies were linked to issues such as political economy, gender, and environment. In this episode, we sit down with Gábor Ágoston to discuss the principal issues concerning the relationship between the Ottoman-Habsburg military frontier in Hungary and the environmental history of the early modern period. From the battle of Mohacs in 1526, through the dramatic battle of Vienna 1683, and until the Treaty of Sistova 1791, the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier was the site of fighting, fortification, and mobilization. In our conversation, we consider the environmental dimensions of these centuries of conflict and contact, focusing on how the military revolution transformed the way in which armies used and managed resources and the role of both anthropogenic and climatic factors in reshaping the Hungarian landscape.'
You can stream the podcast below via Soundcloud, or download it in iTunes or Google Play.
The blog of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences at Rice University has published an interview with Georgetown Professor J.R. McNeill, on his participation in the Anthropocene Working Group, which recently recommended the recognition of the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch to the International Geological Congress. The conversation also addressed the question of the Anthropocene as a concept for historians and humanities scholars more broadly. Dr. McNeill is the author of several publications on the subject of the Anthropocene, most recently The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945, co-authored with Peter Engelke.
The start of the interview is featured below. For the complete conversation, please visit the CENHS blog.
Kevin MacDonnell: The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) is made up of a couple of dozen scholars from across the natural and human sciences, ranging from atmospheric chemists to geologists to historians like yourself. What do you think led the AWG to seek out an interdisciplinary collective? The work of identifying a so-called ‘golden spike’ could presumably be carried out by a team of geologists or paleobiologists, yet the AWG is nonetheless a mixed bag of scholars from numerous fields. Why do you think that is?
J. R. McNeill: I have never been consulted about who should be invited to take part and it has never been clear to me how it is one is chosen. In my own case, the chair of the AWG (Jan Zalaciewicz) asked me personally to join, but I did not ask him why he did so. It happened after we met at a conference some years ago. And he was aware I had co-authored some pieces with Crutzen. Whether he consulted anyone before asking me to join, I do not know. I am aware only of the following: the core of the group are stratigraphers and geologists, mainly from Britain. By the time I joined, it already included a handful of archeologists, soil scientists, and even one lawyer. No other social scientists so far as I know, but I could easily be wrong (I haven’t bothered charting the evolution of the membership). Not too long after I joined, another historian (Naomi Oreskes) also joined. At some point the AWG leadership decided to seek out members from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and to seek out women who might join. That expanded the membership a fair bit, although I couldn’t tell you by how much. And then, it could be said, there are members and there are members. Some of them never take part in the email discussions; some are commenting on every issue that comes up. The center of gravity of the group, however, is firmly in Britain and in stratigraphy/geology.
Robynne Mellor, a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University, researches the environmental history of uranium mining in North America and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The article excerpted here was originally published at NICHE-Canada.org.
Elliot Lake over the past sixty years has had two unofficial titles. The first is “Jewel in the Wilderness,” and the second is “the Uranium Capital of the World.” In the 1950s, the U.S. push for uranium production prompted exploitation of local uranium deposits. Very quickly a town sprang up where before there was none. For over 40 years, Elliot Lake was a significant producer of uranium. All through the period of exploitation, and especially after, Elliot Lake promoted itself as a beautiful destination for nature-lovers and outdoor adventurers. Today, the town continues to reconcile its two legacies as a paradoxically thoroughly modern wilderness, trying to become a destination for ecotourism while clinging to its nuclear role. But can a place be both nuclear and natural? Can it be thoroughly polluted with radiation and naturally beautiful at the same time? And if so—if Canadians can accept it as such—what does Elliot Lake say about the Canada’s acceptance or denial of its nuclear history?
Today, upon first glance, one might not know that Elliot Lake was the leading producer of Canadian uranium in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a small town, roughly 20 miles north of Lake Huron, reached by driving north off of the main highway between Sudbury and Sault St. Marie and up a sharp, winding road. Trees crowd around the road, until they clear around the town’s namesake, which is Elliot Lake itself. When viewing the lake, it is easy to see how the town received its first unofficial title. It is a large sapphire-coloured lake surrounded by rock outcroppings and trees, and the mining infrastructure—mills, headframes, tailings ponds, dams—are mostly gone.
Read the rest of the article at NICHE.
'Earth Day: Are we at the beginning of a new geological era?': Peter Engelke and John McNeill in the Washington Post
Peter Engelke (PhD 2011) is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and John McNeill is a University Professor of history at Georgetown University.
The first Earth Day, held April 22, 1970, was designed to draw popular attention to environmental causes and the need to protect nature. It succeeded. At age 46, Earth Day continues to focus our minds on preserving the natural world, if only for a brief moment each year.
But what if a basic assumption about our planet, one that we all make on Earth Day and every other day, is wrong? What if, in 2016, we no longer inhabit the Earth we once did? What if the nature we seek to protect has already been profoundly altered — by us? Would that undercut the logic of Earth Day?
Read the rest of this article at The Washington Post.