Potatoes and the Foods of the Poor

Reposted with kind permission of Marion Elizabeth Diamond from Historians are Past Caring. © Marion Elizabeth Diamond and Historians are Past Caring, 2012.

I bought two kilograms of potatoes last weekend. Four days later, I took out the bag to peel some for dinner, and found that every single potato in the bag had shoots on it.

I spent a minute or so muttering about supermarkets and their appalling buying policies, but then I realized that, in a funny way, I felt quite happy for those potatoes. It’s cold at the moment (by Brisbane standards), but we passed the shortest day three weeks ago. In their plastic bag, deep in the darkness of my pantry, those potatoes knew that spring is only a week or so away.

We ask a lot of potatoes. There are some basic foodstuffs we expect to be on hand all year – potatoes and onions, apples and bananas, eggs and milk – yet even the humble spud is really a seasonal vegetable. Read More

Colloquia Videos Roundup

The RCC Lunchtime Colloquium series allows fellows of the Rachel Carson Center to present their research to other fellows, to staff, and to the general public. Over the last month we have been trialling a livestream of the talks to make them available to a wider audience. The videos are subsequently uploaded to our youtube channel. Below are three of the talks from July.

If you are interested in watching more of this series (which will restart later this year), please keep an eye on our facebook and twitter pages for information on the streams and uploads. We are always looking to improve the process, so if you have any feedback, please let us know in the comments. Read More

CfP: “From Fossil to Renewable Energies?”

Submissions are invited for a one-day workshop entitled “From Fossil to Renewable Energies? Energy Regimes, the Environment and International Relations, 1970s to Today”.

The Workshop will take place in Bologna in May 2014 (exact date and location to be confirmed), and will be divided in two panels, one focused on the impact of energy issues on international relations and the other devoted to studies on environmental history.

Proposals should consist of a 400-word abstract of the proposed paper and a one-page CV. The deadline for submission is 1 October 2013.

For more information, please click here.

“Very Old Stone With Fire Inside”: Kindergarten Explorers Visit the RCC

Post by Katie Ritson (Managing Editor, RCC)

DSC_0406I am used to explaining what exactly the Rachel Carson Center is, and what my work there involves, but I don’t usually have to do it to a room full of five and six-year-olds. However, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that it’s actually much easier to explain the workings of a research institute to a kindergarten class than it is to most adults. Kids are natural researchers and the pursuit of knowledge is an entirely logical one from their point of view. Moreover, they don’t worry much about what things actually cost – the idea of having visiting fellows from all over the world living and working in Munich in order to share their research was one they seemed to grasp with no trouble at all, presumably since they weren’t busy working out who is footing the bill and in whose national or international interest this could possibly be. So for once, there was no need to launch into a spirited defence of the humanities in our pragmatic solution-defined knowledge economy. Read More

Cicadian Rhythms: How Suburbs Saved – and Threaten – the US’s 17-Year Cicadas

Post by Christopher Sellers

With piercing red eyes and a song like the soundtrack from a 50’s science-fiction film, the 17-year cicadas have stormed up out of the soils of the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. for their single month or so of adult life. Though their brief otherworldly chorus is, in human terms, ancient, only over the last century have Americans started to listen less with rank fear, more in annoyance or wonder.

Cicadia maniaFrom the first English settlers, startling upsurges in what were popularly known as “locusts” drew many comparisons between their visits and that biblical plague visited upon the Egyptians. Early New England colonists thought that their arrival to portend the advent of “pestilent Fever,” a belief they attributed to Native Americans. Far into the nineteenth century, as most Americans continued to farm for living, the cicada grub, sustaining itself underground for years off plant roots, was thought to be an “old enemy” of agriculture.   While some naturalists claimed the mature insects to be harmless, that did not stop New Jersey orchardists from blaming a brood which crawled up out of the ground in summer of 1860 for damaging their fruit trees. Into the early twentieth century, reporters recorded the “stories…told everywhere of broods which ate the lumber on houses and barns ‘until they looked like boards fresh from the mill,’ of crops devasted [sic] in a few hours, and of numerous children who died instantly from the poison of ‘locust stings.’” As late as 1911, the New York Times deemed “the seventeen year locust” to be “the most dreaded of our home-grown pests.”

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Job: Digital Humanities Research Specialist

The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society seeks a part-time digital humanities research specialist to join our small team working on the Environment & Society Portal. This is a flexible, 20h/week position. Negotiable start date between November 2013 and January 2014.

• Serve as liaison between the team and the developer; track project development
• Propose future developments based on digital humanities best practices
• Assist team with the more complex features of the Drupal backend
• Contribute to digital environmental humanities scholarship and outreach
• Evaluate, edit, and publish environmental humanities content; opportunity to create content
• Support project director in research and project management activities as required Read More

Extracting Stories

Workshop: Environmental History of Latin America and the Caribbean – Saisama, Colombia, 8-10 June 2013

Post by Katie Ritson (Managing Editor, RCC)

Sasaima is in the Andean hills of the Magdalena valley, in the region of Colombia called Cundinamarca; walking through these rich, green hills is an object lesson in environmental history. You can see the remains of old plantations, and colonial roads, and fields where coffee is being tended; bananas being grown on smallholdings owned by families from Bogotá; pigs, cows and goats left free to graze at the sides of roads. And eucalyptus trees, huge areas of them, silvery-green against the sky – trees brought here from Australia by idealistic agricultural scientists with little awareness of the irreversibility and the possible consequences of their actions.

I was in Sasaima for a meeting of the authors of a forthcoming book and issue of RCC Perspectives on the environmental history of Latin America and the Caribbean. Within the first hour or two of this workshop, sitting in the book-lined meeting room in Sasaima with a view of the Andes, the term extractivism was being hotly debated. Read More

Research Roundup #2

Welcome to the second installment of the Research Roundup, Seeing the Woods’ quarterly listing of recent publications in the environmental humanities by staff and fellows at the Rachel Carson Center. (For the first installment, please click here.)

Please use the following links to jump between the five sections.

Academic Journal Articles
Edited Special Journal Issues
Popular Media Articles
Book Chapters

Without further ado, here are the fruits of another productive few months for RCC fellows and alumni…
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Five Minutes with a Fellow: Matt Kelly

Five Minutes with a Fellow offers a brief glimpse into what inspires researchers in the environmental humanities. The interviews feature current and former fellows from the Rachel Carson Center.


Matthew Kelly is a senior lecturer in the history department of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. A historian of Ireland by training and with considerable interest in the history of Poland, he has developed his interest in the history of landscape during the past few years. He completed his PhD at the University of Oxford, where he was also a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow.

How does your research contribute to discussions around solving environmental challenges?

By focusing on the recent history of Dartmoor National Park, my work seeks to say something about the complexity of land use politics, exposing not only the various interests that seemingly have to be accommodated in a democratic society but also the statutory limits placed on what governments can do. Campaigners enjoyed a degree of success when they understood the intricacies of the policy-making process and took seriously the influence of public opinion, particularly when the material interests of ordinary people were at stake. For instance, it was not easy to persuade a community that suffers water shortages on an annual basis that constructing a reservoir in an apparently barren upland or “waste” was a bad thing. My work suggests conservationists and preservationists rarely succeeded when they took a blasé attitude towards people’s livelihoods or failed to recognize that environmentally harmful occupations embed practices and values that shape community identity.

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Nice Weather (If You’re a Newt)

Chaos and Resilience in Human and Natural Ecosystems

Post by Kieko Matteson

Spring 2013 saw some of the worst flooding in central European history. After a relentlessly rainy May, in which nearly every day of the month was marked by unseasonably cold temperatures and steady downpours, the swollen streams and water-logged soils of Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia were subjected to one more deluge the first weekend of June. The results proved disastrous.

Meteorologists who noted in May that it was the rainiest month on record in Germany in fifty years revised their remarks, then revised them again, first comparing the floods of June to the “hundred-year flood” of 2002, then declaring that this month’s torrents had been the worst in five hundred years. Even now, as the flood waters of the Danube (which reached 8.91 meters in Budapest) have largely receded and politicians have begun to estimate the cost of the damage, the Elbe River continues to surge through northeastern Germany, and thousands of people remain evacuated from their homes.

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For me, as a Carson Fellow in Munich this spring, the experience of seeing the dramatic rise and rapid abatement of the Isar River and the equally sudden transition from dreary daily inundations to spirit-lifting sunshine in the span of a week called to mind my encounter two years ago, on August 29, 2011, with the sudden rains and massive flooding of Hurricane Irene.

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