Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Uses of Environmental History: Stefania Barca

This is the second in a series of posts exploring the uses of environmental history. 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 the Renmin University’s Center for Ecological History.


“On ‘The Political’ in Environmental History”

By Stefania Barca

“Only mass social movements can save us now.”

Naomi Klein makes this point in This Changes Everything, and I couldn’t agree more. Since their emergence in the global political arena in the 1960s and 1970s, mainstream environmental organizations have devoted more attention in the past three decades to governmental politics, corporate greenwashing, and lobbying, and less to popular pressure and coalition building from below. But it’s time to realize that this strategy has failed and that a new, stronger wave of popular mobilization based on a solid articulation between environmental and social justice claims is badly needed to produce radical ecological politics.

Environmental historians have been part and parcel of this story. Even when they have practiced this field of inquiry with politically detached attitudes, rejecting the idea of environmental history as an environmental-ist approach, they have in fact participated in the broader counter-movement of the 1980s and 1990s, shifting scholars’ attention away from “the political” and towards environmental “policy,” “governance” or “management.” In other words, it is impossible for environmental historians to be left alone in their academic ivory towers (or even in their favorite fields): they are inevitably involved in what is going on in society. Like all history writing—and much of science making itself—environmental history cannot help but be political. Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Chris Conte

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.

“Rust Belt Recollections and a Winding Road to Munich”

by Chris Conte

By the time I arrived at the Rachel Carson Center in May of 2015, I felt ready to write local landscape history. My preparation began in southwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s. My hometown, Washington, occupies a pocket of an area aptly referred to in the United States as the Rust Belt. One can certainly find the corroding remains of lead smelters, steel mills, and abandoned coke ovens— especially along the banks of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers—but beyond the industrial valleys, a bucolic and rolling topography extends into the river hinterlands. Childhood left with me contradictory sensory imprints, especially the smell of smokestack sulfur and the sight of pasture and forest. Continue reading