Stanford University Press has published Dr. Thomas Apel's first book, Feverish Bodies, Enlightened Minds: Science and the Yellow Fever Controversy in the Early American Republic. Dr. Apel is a professor of history at Menlo College and received his PhD in history from Georgetown University in 2012. Sara Gronim, professor of American history at Long Island University writes of Feverish Bodies, Enlightened Minds: "While competing explanations for the yellow fever epidemics that swept the northeast are the primary subject, Apel persuasively shows how these understandings of disease were infused with theological and political assumptions. Lively and jargon-free, his book should find a wide readership among historians of medicine and of the Early Republic."
This month, University Professor John McNeill reflected on the pre-Zika history of mosquito-borne diseases in the Americas in TIME, and on the American peregrinations of the Aedes aegypti mosquito species in AHA Today.
The Ottoman History Podcast has published several excellent episodes relevant to environmental history scholars: interviews with Edna Bonhomme on bubonic plague in 18th-century Egypt, Yaron Ayalon on natural disasters in the Ottoman Empire, Alan Mikhail on the Laki eruptions' effects on Ottoman Egypt, and Valentina Pugliano on Venetian physicians who travelled through the early modern Middle East.
The early modern cooling period known as the Maunder Minimum appears to have been linked to a significant reduction in Caribbean hurricanes, according to dendrochronological research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month. Overlapping known shipwreck records with tree-ring data series from the Florida Keys, the authors have identified a 75 percent decrease on a decadal scale in Caribbean tropical cyclone activity during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
In "The Unnatural Kingdom," Daniel Duane considers the technology behind the return of bighorn sheep, the Sierra Nevada red fox, and the grey wolf to California. "Undeniably in the service of good, this technological revolution in the human relationship to wildlife is also accelerating the ancient human project of bringing the physical world under our control."
Getting to the Archives of Ontario is a chore. When the province decided to relocate the reading room to the York University campus in northern Toronto in 2009, it was expected that the University/Spadina subway line would arrive there within a year of the move. The subway site is still a yawning pit, and even with a fleet of dedicated buses, it never takes fewer than 50 minutes to reach the archives from downtown Toronto. Everyone who attends York U. is quietly, Canadian-ly simmering with irritation over this, so the transit authority has set up a small public reception room with a friendly human to listen to complaints and a large stock of cardboard model subway cars to give away. I’m not sure it placates anyone, but the models make dandy souvenirs.
Being situated on a university campus has advantages. York U. is big, busy, and self-sufficient. There are two food courts, a pub, a well-stocked library, a bookstore, a pharmacy, bank machines, and an ice rink with public skate, all within two blocks of the Archives. From my perspective as a travelling grad student, the best perks on offer were the bank of microwaves in the student centre food court, perfect for reheating a packed lunch, and the Treats cafe, which sold the cheapest hot tea (to keep warm while waiting for the bus in -20 Celsius).
The thing I appreciate most about the Archives of Ontario is the temperature. This could sound odd, since it’s in Canada, but it’s by far the warmest archive I’ve used. My research has taken me to half a dozen archives around the Great Lakes and I always look forward to the AO because I don’t leave it with icy hands and numb toes. The reading room is bright and peaceful, barring the occasional outspoken genealogist. The building is less than ten years old, and the sheer number of windows (one whole wall) and plugs onsite almost reconciles me to the unavoidable commute.
If you need to get there:
- Take the University/Spadina subway to Downsview station. (NB: sometimes trains short-turn at St. Clair station during morning rush hour. Check the front of the train for ‘Downsview’ or risk losing your cozy seat.)
- From Downsview, take the Route 196 York University Rocket. The 196A and 196B are the effectively the same. The route 106 will get you there, but it’s much less direct.
- Get off at York University Common, also called York Blvd North. From there, the archives are only a block away.
The best apps for the Toronto transit system are:
- Rocketman (includes the bike sharing stops, works in real time)
- Transit App
- Transit Now Toronto (Android only, made for Toronto)
It’s important to know that many Ontario government documents have access restrictions and the declassification unit is badly understaffed (two positions out of five were filled when I visited). Fortunately, the online catalogue is complete and accurate, so it’s easy to see which records are restricted. In the fall of 2014, I requested a lot of fairly innocuous material on water quality, fisheries policy, and pollution monitoring, ranging from 1906-1972. It took about six months to get a ‘research agreement’ (i.e., permission to see them), and a few months more before I could get back to Toronto.
I study how Canada and the United States managed the Great Lakes during the twentieth century. At first glance, this would appear to be a story of two nations, but in fact the states and provinces are the governments most closely interested in water management. When it comes to transboundary water policy, diplomacy and local affairs are one and the same. My research at the Ontario Archives drew on records from several provincial premiers, the Ministry of the Environment and its predecessors, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the Ontario Water Resources Commission, and the predecessors to Ontario Hydro.
My favourite sources from the A.O. deal with a court case from the early 1970s. These documents are well worth the wait for access and the commute. In 1969, a graduate student at the University of Western Ontario discovered high levels of mercury in ducks from Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. The levels were so high that he alerted the provincial government to the possibility that fish from those waters were dangerously contaminated. The province ran some tests, and closed the entire commercial and recreational fishery two days getting the results. The states around the Great Lakes followed suit and the fisheries were closed for two years.
My documents deal with the fallout from that decision: how to help fishermen weather the loss of their income, and how to assign responsibility for the problem. Ohio and Ontario both started lawsuits in their respective courts against Dow Chemical, arguing that it was the main culprit. Dow argued that it was impossible to tell which mercury had been released by which factory in the Detroit/Sarnia/Windsor area, and that in any case, transboundary litigation was not admissible. I find the legal arguments interesting, but the transboundary nature of the problem are the really compelling part. Though they were using exactly the same evidence and actively sharing data, Ohio and Ontario worked with different court systems. My dissertation chapter will explain the differing results in detail. To make a long story short, litigation seems to be an ineffective way to claim damages for environmental problems in the Great Lakes. Not because of the many jurisdictions, as I anticipated, but it is so difficult to produce adequate evidence for change over time when the biological processes in question are relatively newly discovered.
(Originally posted on Historical Climatology.com)
Ask most people about climate change, and you will soon find that even the relatively informed make two big assumptions. First: the world’s climate was more or less stable until recently, and second: human actions started changing our climate with the advent of industrialization. If you have spent any time reading through this website, you will know that the first assumption is false. For millions of years, changes in Earth’s climate, driven by natural forces, have radically transformed the conditions for life on Earth. Admittedly, the most recent geological epoch – the Holocene – is defined, in part, by its relatively stable climate. Nevertheless, regional and even global climates have still changed quickly, and often dramatically, in ways that influenced societies long before the recent onset of global warming.
Take, for example, the sixteenth century. Relative to early twentieth-century averages, the decades between 1530 and 1560 were relatively mild in much of the northern hemisphere. Yet, after 1565, average annual temperatures in the northern hemisphere fell to at least one degree Celsius below their early twentieth-century norms. Despite substantial interannual variations, temperatures remained generally cool until the aftermath of a bitterly cold “year without summer,” in 1628. Since the expansion of the glacier near Grindelwald, a Swiss town, was among the clearest signs of a chillier climate, these decades are collectively called the “Grindelwald Fluctuation.” It was one of the coldest periods in a generally cool climatic regime that is today known as the “Little Ice Age.”
Articles written by students and faculty in environmental history at Georgetown University.