Peer-reviewed scholarly works published by Georgetown Environmental History doctoral students before their thesis defense.
ONDER AKGUL (PHD 2022)
“Batı Anadolu’da Köylüler, Keresteciler ve Müşterekler” (“Villagers, Timber Merchants and Commons in Western Anatolia”), Toplumsal Tarih 312 (2019): 50-64.
Editor of Special Issue: “Osmanlı’da Çevre, İklim, ve İnsanlar” (“Environment, Climate, and People in the Ottoman Empire”), Toplumsal Tarih 312 (2019).
ROB CHRISTENSEN (PHD 2022)
“Environment and the Conquest of the Desert, 1876-1881,” in The Conquest of the Desert: History and Memory, ed. C. R. Larson (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2020), 71-96.
“Maize on the Move: The Diffusion of a Tropical Cultivar across Europe,” Environment and History (2021), https://doi.org/10.3197/096734021X16076828553386.
Abstract: This article examines the transfer and reception of maize into Europe in the wake of the Columbian Exchange. Treating maize as a plant – and reviewing familiar historical sources through the lens of the plant’s likes and dislikes, its requirements and inherent traits – provides us with a novel source of information about how maize might have moved through European spaces, even in cases where the traditional historical record is silent. This article will make use of such data, employing current genetic research to interpret art and textual sources. I will show that all maize originally transported to Europe hailed from one slim gene pool. I will argue that the unique characteristics of those seeds impacted on the way maize fit into European ecosystems, and consequently into European cultures.
CHRIS GRATIEN (PHD 2015)
“Ecological Exchanges and Environmental History,” in Explorations in History and Globalization, ed. Catia Antunes and Karwan Fatah-Black (London: Routledge, 2016).
With G. Pitts, “Towards an Environmental History of World War I: Human and Natural Disasters in the Ottoman Mediterranean,” in The World during the First World War, ed. Helmut Bley and Anorthe Kremers (Essen: Klartext, 2014), 237-250.
“Ottoman Environmental History: A New Area of Middle East Studies,” Arab Studies Journal 20 (2012): 246-254.
FAISAL HUSAIN (PHD 2018)
“Changes in the Euphrates River: Ecology and Politics in a Rural Ottoman Periphery, 1687-1702,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 47 (2016): 1-25.
Abstract: Between 1687 and 1702, the Euphrates River changed course and jeopardized the stability of the eastern Ottoman Empire when a large segment of it changed course. The abrupt channel shift became entangled in a complex web of troubles (climatic, epidemiological, political, and financial) that reinforced each other and left behind a profoundly altered ecological and political landscape in a rural region southwest of Baghdad. It facilitated the fall of a traditional center of power in the region and accelerated the rise of the Khaza’il tribe.
“In the Bellies of the Marshes: Water and Power in the Countryside of Ottoman Baghdad,” Environmental History 19 (2014): 638-664.
[Won Leopold-Hidy Award for best article in Environmental History, 2014.]
Abstract: The economic fortunes of states and grain farmers in the Iraqi alluvium plummeted following the deterioration of the Sasanian irrigation system during the early medieval period, giving scholars the impression that the region’s environment went through a period of perpetual decline. This essay utilizes the flood pulse concept and argues that the deterioration of comprehensive waterworks restored the natural unmodified flood regime of the Euphrates and reinvigorated different species and natural systems, particularly the Iraqi marshes and their biota. Vibrant and reviving, marshes provided the material basis for the rise of the Khaza‘il’s tribal confederation to political dominance in Iraq’s Middle Euphrates region at the turn of the eighteenth century and served it as an ecological niche and political ally during its struggle with the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman provincial authorities in Baghdad repeatedly dammed the Middle Euphrates and drained its marshes in order to break the basis of the Khaza‘il’s power in the countryside. Ottoman hydraulic warfare weakened their tribal foes, but it produced unexpected outcomes in the long term that changed the history of the Ottoman Empire and its Iraqi provinces forever. Most notably, it facilitated a westward channel shift in the Euphrates and the consolidation of Shi‘ism as a majority religion in the region.
MATTHEW JOHNSON (PHD 2021)
“‘Thirsty Sugar Lands’: Environmental Impacts of Dams and Empire in Puerto Rico since 1898,” Environment and History 27 (2021): 337-365.
Abstract: The story of North American dam building is incomplete without the United States’ Caribbean territories because the motivations and consequences of building dams there were different from on the mainland. Between 1910 and 1914, the Puerto Rican Irrigation Service built three large dams in the island’s south-east to irrigate canefields owned by North American sugar companies. The water harnessed by the South Coast Irrigation Project (SCIP) doubled sugar yields in its district in the decades following the project’s completion, generating huge profits for North American sugar interests. However, the sugar boom did not lead to sustained economic growth on the island and did little to increase the standard of living for many Puerto Rican fieldworkers and their families. The project also brought a bumper crop of unforeseen environmental consequences. North American engineers underestimated the vagaries of Puerto Rico’s climate. Droughts and extended dry periods led to water shortages that continually menaced irrigation. Stormy weather created another unanticipated problem for the dams. Hurricanes and heavy rains in the mountains north of the sugar lands contributed to high erosion rates that accelerated sediment accumulation in the reservoirs and reduced their storage capacity. Together, drought and siltation threatened to render the dams obsolete. Hydroelectric turbines, installed as an incidental part of the project, provided affordable electricity that powered groundwater pumps to make up for surface water shortages. Groundwater saved the sugar boom, but sediments continued to build in reservoirs, an enduring legacy of US imperialism that is expensive to mitigate. The SCIP preserved socioeconomic and racial inequalities, but re-engineered the island’s hydrosphere, turning the parched south-east into a giant canefield and its rivers into repositories for sediments.
“Black Gold of Paradise: Negotiating Oil Pollution in the US Virgin Islands, 1966-2012,” Environmental History 24 (2019): 766-792.
[Mentioned in the Washington Post, 25 March 2021; and cited in a legal brief filed with the EPA in February 2021.]
Abstract: In 1966, North American oilman Leon Hess built a large petroleum refinery on the south shore of St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands. Once expanded in 1975, the refinery became the largest in the world and provided decent-paying jobs to local and immigrant workers and filled government coffers with tax revenue. Environmental protection measures loomed large in the agreement to build and expand the refinery, but such safeguards did not prevent pollution. The refinery destroyed the territory’s largest mangrove forest, fouled coastal waters, contaminated groundwater, and sent clouds of carcinogens into neighboring communities. This article argues that the government of the US Virgin Islands viewed the south shore as a sacrifice zone, an area where severe environmental degradation was an acceptable tradeoff for economic progress. Hess took advantage of this attitude and was able to get away with heavy pollution so long as the worst offenses were contained within the south shore industrial zone or towed offshore. For a time, this strategy worked to satisfy many residents and government officials, who valued the economic benefits that refining brought. However, after the turn of the century, the refinery’s reputation soured. Its environmental footprint widened as accidental releases of airborne pollutants that engulfed nearby communities became more frequent. Then, in 2012, Hess Corporation closed the refinery, eliminating all of its benefits. These concurrent developments led many US Virgin Islanders to reconsider their costbenefit accounting, as it became apparent that the refinery’s extensive environmental costs were more enduring than its economic benefits.
“Swampy Sugar Lands: Irrigation Dams and the Rise and Fall of Malaria in Puerto Rico, 1898-1962,” Journal of Latin American Studies 51 (2019): 243-271.
Abstract: Two environmental re-engineering projects clashed in south-eastern Puerto Rico in the early twentieth century. Between 1910 and 1914 the Puerto Rican Irrigation Service built three large dams to water canefields owned by US sugar companies. The new canals and holding ponds created ideal breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and demand for fieldworkers encouraged greater numbers of Puerto Ricans to work and live near these mosquito swarms. Malaria rates soared as a result. Meanwhile, public health officials tried to control malaria, but their efforts faltered, especially when efficient irrigation was prioritised above all else. It was not until the 1940s and 1950s that health officials controlled and then eliminated malaria. In Puerto Rico, malaria rose with the commitment to irrigated canefields and remained tenacious until wartime exigencies inspired greater control efforts, DDT became available and, most importantly, manufacturing eclipsed sugar production as the island's dominant economic activity.
MARC LANDRY (PHD 2013)
“How Brown were the Conservationists? Naturism, Conservation, and National Socialism, 1900- 1945,” Contemporary European History 19 (2010): 83-93.
ERIN STEWART MAULDIN (PHD 2014)
Co-Editor, Companion to Global Environmental History (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).
With John R. McNeill, “Global Environmental History: An Introduction,” in Companion to Global Environmental History, ed. John R. McNeill and Erin S. Mauldin (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), xvi-xxiv.
“The Environmental History of the United States,” in Companion to Global Environmental History, ed. John R. McNeill and Erin S. Mauldin (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 132-152.
DOUGLAS MCRAE (PHD 2021)
“Monuments, Urbanism, and Power in Urban Spaces: Looking at New Orleans, Louisiana from São Paulo, Brazil,” in Demand the Impossible: Essays in History as Activism, ed. N. Wuertenberg and W. Horne (Washington, DC: Westphalia Press, 2018), 71-88.
“Citizenship and Water-Spigot Politics in Rio de Janeiro, 1960-1990,” in Urban Solutions: Metropolitan Approaches, Innovations in Urban Water and Sanitation, and Inclusive Smart Cities, ed. A. Garland (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2016), 31-55.
“El hombre hicotea y la ecología de los paisajes acuáticos en Resistencia en el San Jorge,” Tabula Rasa 23 (2015): 79-103.
Abstract: This article examines representations of waterscapes (rivers, tributaries, swamps) in Resistencia en el San Jorge, the third volume of Historia doble de la costa by Orlando Fals Borda. Using the text as well as Fals Borda’s field notes, this article argues that Historia doble de la costa consciously incorporates the ecology of the natural environment of the Depresión Momposina into the region’s history of popular resistance. The ecological crisis perpetrated by historical capitalist expansion is presented in Resistencia en el San Jorge as part of the larger history of struggles for land and social justice in the Atlantic Coast region of Colombia.
ROBYNNE MELLOR (PHD 2018)
“A Comparative Case Study of Uranium Mine and Mill Tailings Regulation in Canada and the United States,” in Mining North America, ed. George Vrtis and John R. McNeill (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 256-279.
“‘To Keep All the Year:’ Women’s Experiences of Climate in the Everyday Eighteenth Century,” in “Forum: Early Modern Women and Climate,” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal, forthcoming.
With Dagomar Degroot, Kevin J. Anchukaitis, Jessica E. Tierney, Felix Riede, Andrea Manica, Emma Moesswilde, and Nicolas Gauthier, “The History of Climate and Society: A Review of the Influence of Climate Change on the Human Past,” Environmental Research Letters 17, no. 10 (2022): 103001.
Abstract: Recent decades have seen the rapid expansion of scholarship that identifies societal responses to past climatic fluctuations. This fast-changing scholarship, which was recently synthesized as the History of Climate and Society (HCS), is today undertaken primary by archaeologists, economists, geneticists, geographers, historians and paleoclimatologists. This review is the first to consider how scholars in all of these disciplines approach HCS studies. It begins by explaining how climatic changes and anomalies are reconstructed by paleoclimatologists and historical climatologists. It then provides a broad overview of major changes and anomalies over the 300,000-year history of Homo sapiens, explaining both the causes and environmental consequences of these fluctuations. Next, it introduces the sources, methods, and models employed by scholars in major HCS disciplines. It continues by describing the debates, themes, and findings of HCS scholarship in its major disciplines, and then outlines the potential of transdisciplinary, 'consilient' approaches to the field. It concludes by explaining how HCS studies can inform policy and activism that confronts anthropogenic global warming.
With Dagomar Degroot, Kevin Anchukaitis, Martin Bauch, Jakob Burnham, Fred Carnegy, Jianxin Cui, Kathryn de Luna, Piotr Guzowski, George Hambrecht, Heli Huhtamaa, Adam Izdebski, Katrin Kleemann, Naresh Neupane, Timothy Newfield, Qing Pei, Elena Xoplaki, and Natale Zappia, “Towards a Rigorous Understanding of Societal Responses to Climate Change,” Nature 591, no. 7851 (2021): 539-550.
[Covered by news media in Brazil, China, Germany, Greece, Poland, and the United States, among other countries.]
Abstract: A large scholarship currently holds that before the onset of anthropogenic global warming, natural climatic changes long provoked subsistence crises and, occasionally, civilizational collapses among human societies. This scholarship, which we term the ‘history of climate and society’ (HCS), is pursued by researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including archaeologists, economists, geneticists, geographers, historians, linguists and palaeoclimatologists. We argue that, despite the wide interest in HCS, the field suffers from numerous biases, and often does not account for the local effects and spatiotemporal heterogeneity of past climate changes or the challenges of interpreting historical sources. Here we propose an interdisciplinary framework for uncovering climate–society interactions that emphasizes the mechanics by which climate change has influenced human history, and the uncertainties inherent in discerning that influence across different spatiotemporal scales. Although we acknowledge that climate change has sometimes had destructive effects on past societies, the application of our framework to numerous case studies uncovers five pathways by which populations survived—and often thrived—in the face of climatic pressures.
“Petroleum and Science: The National Petroleum Council and the Development of Oil Geology in Brazil,” in History, Exploration & Exploitation of Oil and Gas, ed. S. F. Figueirôa, G. A. Good, and D. Peyerl (Cham: Springer, 2019), 37-49.
Abstract: Oil geology as a scientific field has developed in parallel with the start of oil exploration in Brazil at the end of the 1930s. This chapter analyzes some features of this process. It focuses on different aspects of the activities of the National Petroleum Council (CNP in Portuguese). In Brazil, the development of this scientific field was supported by a State agency, networks of scientists, private companies, and universities—both Brazilian and foreign. This suggests that there were political, economic, and ideological interests at stake in the production of new scientific knowledge. The political context of scientific production, the networks through which this production circulates, and the purposes for which it is used are crucial to the understanding of a creole science. A term coined by environmental historian Stuart McCook creole science encompasses both the impact other spheres have in the production of scientific knowledge and the on-the-ground experience of this production. It also considers the intersections of nature, scientific discoveries, politics, economics, and nationalism. Such reflections are essential for an analysis of the development of the Brazilian field of oil geology. Here we will analyze a previously unreleased collection of documents of the CNP. The studies, exchanges, and breakthroughs made by both Brazilian and foreign scientists reveal these interactions and contribute to a broader understanding of the field.
“Oil in 20th century Brazil: Energy Dependence in the Second World War,” Varia Historia 34 (2018): 347-374.
Abstract: In August 1942, Brazil joined the Allied Forces in World War II. Part of the agreement was that the United States would help develop heavy industries in the country, mainly steel and oil. By that time, roughly 90% of Brazil's oil was imported from the US, a fact that had a direct impact on the oil scenario of the country. The war effort meant that fuel was redirected to military use, which generated great restrictions to civilian consumption. In the face of scarcity, thousands of Brazilians wrote the National Petroleum Council to request fuel quotas and traffic licenses. In doing so, they also shared the reasons why they needed gasoline, diesel, kerosene and other oil products. Such letters provide valuable insight into the Brazilian social landscape of the period, how people used different oil products and the meanings of progress and modernity they attributed to the access and consumption of such products. It is a moment that marks the deep fossil dependence that underpins this ideal of modernity - connecting, in the same arc, human activity and creativity, the use of machines and fossil fuels, seen as indispensable to bring about the desired progress of a modern nation.
JACKSON PERRY (PHD 2021)
“‘Conquered by Sparrows’: Avian Invasions in French North Africa, circa 1871-1920,” Environmental History 25 (2020): 310-334.
Abstract: Wheat and barley farmers in North Africa during the French colonial period often experienced plagues of migrating Spanish sparrows (Passer hispaniolensis) that significantly affected the rural economy. Each spring, breeding sparrows nested near fields to raise their young and to consume the winter crop as it matured. This article documents the extent of the avian nuisance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focusing especially on eastern Algeria. It argues that changes in rural infrastructure and land use, notably the establishment of large farms and the wide-scale planting of eucalyptus trees, made many European settlements more attractive to the migrating sparrows. A warmer climate following the Little Ice Age may also have contributed to an increase in the size and range of Spanish sparrow populations in North Africa. Demonstrating a deep understanding of the environmental challenge that they faced, settler communities enacted a range of collective responses to the bird plagues, which resembled local forms of an “environmental management state.” They also consistently demanded state action in response to these plagues, but metropolitan bird protection laws appear to have limited the colonial government’s options and appetite for action in French Algeria. The sparrow problem could be managed but not overcome.
GRAHAM PITTS (PHD 2016)
“‘Les rendre odieux dans tous les pays Arabes’: La France et la famine au Liban 1914-1918,” Cahiers de l’Orient 117 (2015): 33-47.
Abstract: One in three Lebanese, around 150,000 souls, did not survive World War I; famine and related diseases ravaged the country from 1915. The British and French governments would ultimately find in the wartime famines a political opportunity, hoping to blame grain scarcity on the Ottomans despite their own blockade.
With C. Gratien, “Towards an Environmental History of World War I: Human and Natural Disasters in the Ottoman Mediterranean,” in The World during the First World War, ed. Helmut Bley and Anorthe Kremers (Essen: Klartext, 2014), 237-250.
JOSÉ C. PONS
With R. Bouwmeester, G. Kerametsidis, and S. Maniatakou, “First Integrated Marine Ecological Assessment of Samothraki,” Sustainable Mediterranean 73 (2016): 49-51.
DYLAN PROCTOR (PHD 2022)
“Testing the Waters: Syndemic Gastrointestinal Distress in Lambaréné, Gabon, 1926-1932,” Social Science & Medicine (2020): 113405.
Abstract: This paper argues that a cluster of pathogens, hazardous labor conditions, and environmental constraints rendered chronic gastrointestinal distress fatal for African laborers living near Lambaréné, Gabon during the 1920s. Application of syndemic theory and epidemiological methods on patient records at Hospital Schweitzer, the central hospital of the region, explain how a seemingly simple diagnosis of chronic gastrointestinal distress belied a complex web of worsening biological and social outcomes for laborers in the tropical forests of central Gabon. An analysis of the syndemic suffering of GI patients reveals how the dysentery pathogen became tied to the peaks and valleys of the colonial economy, and in particular, the colonial extraction of tropical hardwoods. These processes culminated in the summer of 1929 when the highest number of timber exports coincided with the deadliest months of dysentery outbreak for the patient population at Hospital Schweitzer. This case study proposes syndemics as an effective theoretical framework to research historical precedents of the entanglement of people, pathogens, and illness.
ALAN ROE (PHD 2016)
“Riverine Environments,” in Companion to Global Environmental History, ed. John R. McNeill and Erin S. Mauldin (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 297-318.
With John R. McNeill, Global Environmental History: An Introductory Reader (London: Routledge, 2012).
“An Icy Feud In Planetary Science: Carl Sagan, Edward Teller, and the Ideological Roots of the Nuclear Winter Debates, 1980–1984,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 52, no. 2 (2022): 190-222.
Abstract: This article examines the fault lines upon which two scientists, Carl Sagan and Edward Teller, debated the nuclear winter hypothesis in the 1980s. It investigates how Sagan and Teller practiced science and understood its social value through their analyses of the nuclear winter idea. Crucially, this article identifies a planetary method to both scientists’ analyses that incorporated both environmental and social components of changes to Earth systems. I describe how Teller promoted “terraformational science,” which utilized a nationalist framework of scientific knowledge production and valued the use of military and corporate power to achieve technological superiority and environmental control. Likewise, I suggest that Sagan advocated for “transplanetary science,” which prioritized a global or civilizational framework of scientific knowledge production and emphasized the social significance of Earth’s environmental and cosmic context. I contend that the disparities between these conceptualizations of science guided Sagan’s advocacy of and and Teller’s criticism against the nuclear winter hypothesis. This approach to the history of the nuclear winter hypothesis emphasizes the ideological motivations for both scientists’ involvement in the debate and foregrounds their publicly facing writings as informative to the conclusions they drew and the solutions they sought in science. Finally, I describe the continuity of Sagan’s and Teller’s work in public policy debates between nuclear winter and global warming, showing how they framed issues, assessed risks, and proposed solutions in nearly identical terms for both planetary crises.
“Preemptive Strikes: Women Strike for Peace, Antinuclear Pacifism, and the Movement for a Biological Democracy, 1961–1963,” Peace & Change 46, no. 2 (2021): 164-182.
Abstract: This article examines the social, political, and environmental features of the Women Strike for Peace (WSP) movement from its inception in 1961 to the passage of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963. I offer the analytical framework of “biological democracy” as a conceptual bridge between environmental and sociopolitical approaches to WSP. The movement’s gendered critiques of US foreign policymaking, its organizational structure, and its participation in the production and distribution of scientific knowledge demonstrate how progressive women used maternalist discourse to oppose US Cold War policies in the early-1960s. WSP participants leveraged their social proximity to the biological condition of the family as “givers and guardians” of life to dissent against the nuclear arms race, heighten female voices within Cold War geopolitics, and increase public awareness of the hazards of radioactive fallout caused by ongoing atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. By coopting conventions of maternalism and domesticity as justification for their cause, WSP women effectively mollified patriarchal and anti-communist attacks as they organized against Cold War militarism and nuclear irradiation. In so doing, they offered a vision of US democracy that responded to individualized, feminine activism and prioritized public health over nuclear armament.
“The Black Death in the Maghreb: A Call to Action,” Journal of Medieval Worlds 2 (2020): 115-123.
Abstract: The Black Death in the Maghreb is severely understudied. There is little scholarship on the Maghrebi experience of the second pandemic in general. That which exists bases its conclusions on Al-Andalusi and Middle Eastern sources and does not incorporate the paleoscientific data which has shed light on plague outbreaks for which there is less traditional evidence. As a result, little is known about the Maghrebi Black Death, and this ignorance is detrimental to our understanding of the Black Death in adjacent regions, especially Sub-Saharan Africa. This paper surveys the existing scholarship on plague in fourteenth-century North Africa and argues that the field both needs and deserves further attention. It then suggests directions for further study grounded in an interdisciplinary approach incorporating paleoscience, plague ecology, archaeology, and a reexamination of Maghrebi primary texts.
“Gregory’s Forgotten Rebel: The Portrayal of Basina by Gregory of Tours and its Implications,” Early Medieval Europe 30 (2022): 185-208.
Abstract: Scholars of Gregory of Tours have paid little regard to the specific role of Basina in the nuns’ rebellion at Sainte-Croix abbey in Poitiers. Their inattention mirrors Gregory’s narrative of the ‘scandal’, which presents Basina as Clotild’s more passive and reluctant sidekick, whereas the judgement of the bishops’ tribunal that tried the rebellion’s leaders characterizes them as equally blameworthy. This article examines Basina’s role in the ‘scandal’ in detail and argues that she was a more active participant than Gregory chose to suggest. It then seeks to explain why Gregory minimized Basina’s involvement and examines what his portrayal of her contributes to our understanding of his manipulation of historical events.
ELIZABETH WILLIAMS (PHD 2015)
“Mapping the Cadastre, Producing the Fellah: Technologies and Discourses of Rule in French Mandate Syria and Lebanon,” in The Routledge Handbook of the History of the Middle East Mandates, ed. C. Schayegh and A. Arsan (New York: Routledge, 2015).