Environmental History

The “Animal Turn” in History

By Dan Vandersommers

Over the past few years, the humanities have been confronting a paradigm shift.

After the cultural and linguistic turns of the 1970s and 1980s, ideas about language, meaning, representation, power, agency, othering, and knowledge-production redefined the humanities. Now, in 2016, new media, climate change, environmental catastrophe, terrorism, biotechnology, population growth, and globalization are destabilizing the core of the humanities. These forces are larger-than-human—they are seismic and are shifting intellectual terrain. They also require a change of perception—a new, less anthropocentric, vision for a new century.

The Privatization of Animal Life and the Future of Circus Elephants in America

By Susan Nance

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has just retired elephants from its traveling shows, two years ahead of a previously announced schedule. On the first of this month—May Day—six of the Ringling elephants went through the motions for one last show in Providence before being shipped back to the company’s housing facility in central Florida, the Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC). Liberated from a schedule of travel and tricks, they will live with several dozen other elephants owned by the circus’s parent company, Feld Entertainment.

Teaching Environmental History in US and World History Survey Courses

By Allison Frickert-Murashige

Thermohaline circulation, Aedes aegypti, sodium nitrate, and CO2 uptake are all terms that four years ago I would not have envisioned using in my US and world history survey course classrooms. Let’s face it—even though some of us may have a hidden science nerd lurking within—most historians are not formally trained in biological, environmental, climate, and meteorological sciences. Moreover, historians, with our emphasis on human agency, tend to be a bit leery of environmental determinism. And yet, as a participant in the AHA’s three-year program “American History, Atlantic and Pacific,” supported by a grant from the NEH’s Bridging Cultures initiative, I found myself completely hooked by our environmental history presentations.

The “Depression Disease”: What the United States’ First National Lead Poisoning Crisis Can Teach Us about the Flint Water Disaster

By Leif Fredrickson

In 1932, a young girl showed up at the Johns Hopkins Hospital with dire symptoms suggesting lead poisoning. A physician who went to the girl’s home to locate the source initially suspected lead paint, but couldn’t find any. When a neighbor suggested that the source could be the battery casings that families in the neighborhood were burning for fuel and warmth, the physician tested them and found that they were saturated with lead. In the months following the discovery of that first case of lead poisoning, dozens more children showed up in Baltimore and other cities’ hospitals with similar symptoms.