Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Making Tracks: Gregg Mitman

By Gregg Mitman

MitmanSequoiaNationalPark

In Sequoia National Park on a family trip. Photo courtesy of author.

My journey to the Rachel Carson Center began in 1967 in the backseat of a blue Dodge sedan, packed with my father’s engineering precision, headed west on the American interstate highway system. It was a momentous trip in the eyes of my six-year old self, who had spent the better part of his early childhood in doctors’ offices and hospital oxygen tents struggling to breathe. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in America, many an asthmatic had left the East coast and headed West in search of health. But this was not what drove our family to the painted deserts of Arizona, to the giant sequoias of Yosemite, and to the geysers of Yellowstone. We had come from Pennsylvania across the Continental Divide to see the splendor of America’s national parks. For the next six weeks, home was a car, canvas tent, Coleman cook stove, and campgrounds on and off the beaten path. I didn’t know it then, but we were living a textbook chapter in American environmental history, one focused on the history of leisure, a growing middle-class, and the consumption of nature in postwar America.  Continue reading


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Doktorandentag 2017!

Eight new members of the RCC’s doctoral program and two visiting doctoral students presented their projects at the center’s annual “Doktorandentag.” Organized and moderated by members of the program, the format allowed each student to present a *snapshot* of their research followed by a discussion with their peers, doctoral program board members, RCC fellows, and staff. Eight different nationalities, at least six different disciplines/interdisciplines, and 10 very different topics made for a fascinating and enriching day for everyone involved!


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The Taproom

Everyone’s Favorite Topic: Beer and the Rest of the World”

By Pavla Šimková

beer-a-pint-cup-alcohol-65210When I started doing research in beer history, I had no idea what I was getting into.

I doubt there is a beer pun in the world I haven’t heard yet. People have wished me hoppy holidays. They can barley contain their excitement about interesting beer articles they have just read. They collapse in fits of laughter when talking about the first draft of my project.

I have gotten used to people treating my research as something of a joke, a topic growing out of a personal fondness for the malt beverage. Mostly I play along: When I go to a pub, I’m conducting empirical research. When my pint arrives, I sniff and swirl the glass as if it were Château Lafite and pontificate about strong hoppy-citrus flavors and dark malts with just a touch of smoke. (My friend Malcolm can actually do this—wait until you read his contribution to this blog!) Continue reading


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Communicating the Climate: How to Communicate Scholarly Findings on Climate and Weather in a Controversial Time

Workshop Report (Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Germany, 18 August 2017)

by Katrin Kleemann

climate-cold-glacier-iceberg

On 18 August 2017, the RCC hosted a workshop on the challenges and goals of communicating climate research. The workshop was organized by two RCC doctoral candidates, Jeroen Oomen and Katrin Kleemann, and financed by the European Commission through the Marie Curie ENHANCE ITN Program.

The workshop’s call for participants was mainly aimed at early-stage researchers working on climate-related issues from social science and humanities perspectives. The workshop’s goal was to discuss how to effectively communicate climate science, climate research, and other issues relating to climate change, as well as how to engage with climate science from a humanities perspective, and most importantly, how to communicate work in this field in a way that could make a difference.

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Day 7. Danube Excursion: Bratislava—Munich

by Lea Wiser


Bratislava → Munich


 

Spending a night on a boat and waking up to views over the glimmering river is not something that happens every day. After a long night, a hearty breakfast helped us to regain our energy for the last guided tour with Peter Pisut, who specializes in the historical geography of Slovak rivers. Even though we did not have much time, it is mandatory to walk up to Bratislava Castle, which overlooks the Danube.

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Uses of Environmental History: Sandra Swart

This is the final post in the uses of environmental history series. The series has been adapted from contributions to a roundtable forum published in the first issue of the new Journal for Ecological History, edited by Renmin University’s Center for Ecological History.


“Feral Historians?”

By Sandra Swart

The greatest strength we have as historians—our secret superpower—is the ability to take an apparently immutable existing status quo and show that “it was not always so.” We can look at the present and expose the seemingly “natural order” for just how “unnatural” (how anthropogenically constructed) it really is. For example, gender historians have exploded the static, apparently unchanging, and ostensibly biological dualism between men and women—thereby opening up new ways of understanding the social order. After all, a key value of learning about the past is to defamiliarize the present. To simply know that “it was not always so” is amazingly potent. It can empower humans to challenge the existing order that we are otherwise taught to believe is “natural,” “biological,” “incontrovertible.” If it has changed before, it can be changed further.

Yet if this ability to complicate the seemingly natural is our superpower, it is also our kryptonite. Many historians have been effectively self-silenced in today’s debate over critical environmental issues simply because we do not think or communicate in soundbites. We’re trained to understand nuance, uncover complexity, and eschew partisanship. These are some of our fundamental values as a discipline and I am not suggesting we jettison them—but I do think we leave too much of our research to be interpreted by interlocutors and politicians. Instead, we need to insert ourselves into those public debates. The role of professional historians in the making of public policy is a contested terrain. We need to extend our home ranges and escape the safely domesticated university, where we feel at home and where there’s always a warm fire and a bowl of milk. We must run feral in the wilder public spaces. Continue reading


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Day 6. Danube Excursion: Vienna—Bratislava

by Laura Kuen


Vienna → Orth → Gabčíkovo → Bratislava


Traveling from Vienna to Bratislava, our day’s topics branched in quite different directions: water power and nature conservation. We first visited the Austrian National Park Donau-Auen in Orth and later the Gabčíkovo Dams, Slovakia’s biggest hydroelectric plant.

Conservation in the Donau-Auen

The national park, which spans the distance between Vienna and Bratislava, finds its roots in a story of resistance, years of struggle, and constant negotiations between opposing forces. Our guide, Manfred Rosenberger, whose personal biography is deeply interwoven with the park, vividly recounted the park’s history.

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Map of the Donau-Auen National Park, reaching from Vienna to the Slovakian border near Bratislava.

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