Making Tracks: Giacomo Parrinello

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

An Initiation Into Environmental History
By Giacomo Parrinello

I first heard of something called “environmental history” as a new MA graduate in history. I had completed an MA thesis on the political cultures, experiences, and languages of radical left organizations in Italy from 1968 to 1977, and I was tired of endless documents on upcoming revolutions that never happened. Crazy enough to aspire to a doctorate in Italy in the late 2000s, I was looking for a new topic, possibly with a stronger anchorage on the materiality of human social life. I ended up with earthquakes—so much for the anchorage. Yet it was certainly different from what I had done up to that point, and I was inexplicably happy about the idea of dealing with crumbling houses, reconstructions, and experimental urbanism. I asked for the advice of a friend, at that time a lecturer in history in Bologna, and we went out for a beer to discuss my rather vague ideas. He seemed enthusiastic about the project. He told me the topic could relate to a new branch of historical studies called environmental history. It’s new, it’s growing and it’s interesting, he said; you should have a look at it. I followed his advice, and began with an Italian book suggested by my friend. After reading the book, I was convinced that I wanted to be supervised by the author. I succeeded in convincing the author and managed to get a three-year doctoral scholarship in Siena, and so it all began.

Old center of Santa Margherita Belice, Sicily, abandoned after the 1968 earthquake. Photo: Giacomo Parrinello.
Old center of Santa Margherita Belice, Sicily, abandoned after the 1968 earthquake. Photo: Giacomo Parrinello.

Read More

Videos: RCC Lunchtime Colloquia, November

We have had four great presentations this month by fellows and guests at the weekly RCC lunchtime colloquium. Here are the videos – we hope they are of interest!

John Agbonifo (Osun State University, Nigeria): “Environmental Governance and Civil Society in Nigeria”

Klaus Gestwa (Tübingen University, Germany): “(Post) Soviet Contemporary Environmental History: Ecological Globalization and Regional Dynamics”

Ruth Oldenziel (Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands): “Century of Cycling: Pathways towards Sustainability”

Pernille Gooch (Lund University, Sweden): “Pastoral Communities in the Himalayas”

CfP: Linking Biological and Cultural Diversity in Europe

1st European Conference for the Implementation of the UNESCO-SCBD Joint Programme on Biological and Cultural Diversity

Dates: 8-11 April 2014, Florence, Italy

The Conference Scientific Committee welcomes submission of abstracts for presentations in technical and poster sessions.

For more information please download the CfP here (PDF).

Arctic Dreaming? History, Resource Development, and the Future of the Arctic Meltdown

By John Sandlos

We have all heard the news stories: a warming climate is destined to melt huge sections of the multi-year polar sea ice, potentially unlocking the last great untapped reservoirs of oil and natural gas in the world. The media has been preoccupied with this prediction, in part because of the controversy surrounding the Prirazlomnaya oil platform and Russia’s subsequent arrest and imprisonment of the 30 Greenpeace “Arctic Sunrise” activists on charges of piracy (now reduced to hooliganism), some of whom attempted to scale the giant rig to protest the safety and environmental concerns surrounding Arctic drilling. Environmental risks associated with the Prirazlomnaya platform stem in part from specific worries about the safety of the rig. Any resulting oil spill has catastrophic potential as the oil becomes locked under the ice for long periods of time in a cold ocean environment where hydrocarbons will biodegrade only very slowly. The platform is also symbolically important as the first to drill in the icy waters above the Arctic Circle, the vanguard of what environmentalists and many in the media have described as the “madness” of designating the melting pack ice as an opportunity for a resource boom; one that will only further exacerbate the problem of climate change in this most delicate of regions. The Prirazlomnaya platform has, in many ways, become a global flashpoint for competing visions of the Arctic future in the face of rapid environmental change. Will the oil boom bring an Arctic utopia where the economic benefits of oil development produce spinoff industries and spread wealth through the region, or will the exploitation of the potentially vast Arctic oil and gas deposits accelerate the warming process that threatens to severely and rapidly disrupt environmental conditions in the region? Read More

A Moment of your Time – A Verbatim Poem On Climate Change

This poem was created by Emily Hinshlewood. All of the lines in the poem were responses to her questions on climate change from people she met as she walked across Wales.

Fog. Fug. Smog

Cough. Smother. Choke

The planet in nasty grey-blue smoke from

factories with chimneys, from scratching out coal;

big lumps of ice falling off the North Pole, so the

sea levels rise,

the polar bear dies

the Houses of Parliament tip, then capsize.

Whole blinkin’ islands wiped off the map

and over here…. the summers are crap

it’s been pissing for weeks now, the drain’s overflowing

and the sparrows don’t know if they’re coming or going

the daffodil blooms  – then he shivers with cold

we do our recycling – we do what we’re told

but the haycrop’s all ruined, the riverbank’s burst –

d’you know

since I’ve recycled, it’s only got worse Read More

Photo of the Week: Christof Mauch

Photo: Christof Mauch
Photo: Christof Mauch

A female fire crew from a Malibu penitentiary is on its way to work in the park of Adamson House in Malibu, California. Wildfires regularly rage through this part of California and the inmates are involved in brush clean-up, felling trees, weeding, and the clearing of roads. Firefighting is typically a male domain in the U.S., but several “nonviolent female prisoners” are involved every year in Malibu with fire prevention and firefighting.

The Battle To Define “Avatar Spirituality”

RCC alumnus Bron Taylor has been interviewed by RD10Q on his most recent book, Avatar and Nature Spirituality. Taylor’s book contains essays from leading scholars on the environmental dimensions of James Cameron’s hugely popular film. Asked about the “take-home” message, Taylor comments:

In my own wrap up to the book I argue that, despite the many disagreements about the film, there are important truths in the film’s central themes, namely, that the spread of what we call civilization (first agricultural, later agro-industrial) has inexorably led to the destruction of both biological and cultural diversity. This is a reality that is seldom expressed in any nation today, for they are all wrapped up in pursuing economic growth with little concern for the damage this entails for peoples at the social margins let alone other species and environmental systems.

Click here to read the entire interview – highly recommended!

Making Tracks: Patrick Kupper

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

Question the Obvious: On the Benefits of Transnational Research
By Patrick Kupper

For the past few years I have been working on the global history of national parks. It has been a time of fruitful research. But why national parks? Why did I choose that topic? In fact, it was not me that chose the topic; rather, the topic chose me.

National park history first approached me in the spring of 2006 in the person of Thomas Scheurer, secretary of the Swiss National Park’s scientific research commission. Thomas wanted to discuss the possibilities of investigating the history of the Swiss National Park. The background was the park’s centennial forthcoming in 2014. Thomas was exceptionally forward-thinking—in 2006 the centennial was still eight years away! By being well ahead of the celebration, he wanted to make sure that the investigation was independent, based only on scientific rationale, and not constrained or directed by any needs for representation or popularization. Such a scientific approach seemed all the more appropriate as the Swiss National Park (unlike other national parks) had been driven by research throughout its history. Park research, however, had been concentrating on the sciences; the humanities had barely been involved and historical investigations were lacking.

Sign in National Park. Photo: Patrick Kupper.
Sign in Swiss National Park. Photo: Patrick Kupper.

Read More

Green Me Up, JJ

It’s hard work being an environmentally-conscious American citizen in the twenty-first century. How can one source green guns? Is it an environmentally-sound decision to have children? And how far is too far for Little League?

Such questions can overwhelm the good-hearted, CSA-loving eco-warrior. Fortunately, Carson Fellow Jenny Price writes an occasional advice column addressing just these issues. Click here to read expert advice that is guaranteed to guide you through the maze of responsible citizenship. For instance, have you considered that if you have children, you will probably die sooner of stress and sleep deprivation-related maladies, thus relieving the strain on our overburdened planet?

(Warning: Price’s column may display satirical tendencies.)

Photo of the Week: Francis Ludlow

Photo: Francis Ludlow
Photo: Francis Ludlow
Photo: Francis Ludlow
Photo: Francis Ludlow

These images show a piece of ancient Irish oak wood, in which the ring-widths can be counted and measured for size. Bigger size equals better growing conditions, and this piece of wood happens to span one of the most famous episodes of extreme climate globally in the past two millennia, occurring from c.536-550 AD. There is an ongoing debate about whether the event was caused by a massive volcanic eruption and/or a comet loading the Earth’s atmosphere with particles that reflected incoming light and dramatically cooled the Earth’s surface. In the image, the year 532 is marked, in which the tree grew very well. But starting shortly afterwards (and especially from 536) you can see how the rings become narrower and narrower, and even become difficult to see. This reflects the environmental downturn that was in progress globally at this time, and which has been linked to famines and mortality in written sources from Ireland to China. One report in early medieval Irish chronicles for 538 notes a “failure of bread”. That this event was noted at all at this early period of Irish history, when written records are very scarce, suggests the seriousness of the conditions experienced at the time. This image also reveals the environmental background against which the great sixth-century plague of Justinian occurred.

We thank David Brown of Queen’s University Belfast for permission to photograph this oak sample.