Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Tales from Piplantri

“A Fable for Today…”

By Vidya Sarveswaran

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Way to Piplantri: the road not taken…

We are just beginning to hear the murmurs of a nervous street. The sky above is like handmade parchment. Powder blue with swirls of crimped clouds. The air is heavy with the cloying smell of equally heavy flowers that attract snakes. But they do not worry about snakes here. This is the land of the brave desert warriors. Rajasthan, a state in the northwest of India and the only desert state in the country.

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Cow lounging in the marble dust!

Our dusty SUV swerves around to avoid a cow, who looks rather annoyed that we are in her way. We wait for our escort, Champalal: he arrives on his noisy Royal Enfield Bullet motorbike wearing a blood-red turban and an obsequious smile. As we drive through several alleys of this town called Piplantri in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, we cannot help but notice the squeaky clean roads, the vibrant signposts and wall graffiti drawn by the children of the village. The houses that pass us are all splendidly bright and wear a medieval look. And suddenly, the motorbike is lost in the raucous voices of villagers and vendors who have all come out to meet us.

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Uses of Environmental History: Lise Sedrez

This is the sixth 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 Renmin University’s Center for Ecological History.


“Of Water, Narratives, and the Uses of Environmental History”

By Lise Sedrez (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro), 2015

São Paulo, the largest city in South America, is going through a historical drought. So is California, in the USA. That is how newspapers refer to these droughts: “historical,” a “once in a lifetime” drought or, even more dramatically, “an unheard of” drought. By describing droughts in these ways, journalists aim to stress the terrifying and absolute power of nature. But is this really  the case? Droughts may simply be part of the dynamics of a dry and fragile ecosystem (like California’s), or extremely rare— but not unprecedented—events in a wet region (like São Paulo). These descriptors, however— historical, once in a lifetime, unheard of—don’t refer merely to levels of rain and pluviometric records. Were these the only indicators, climate scientists could do a much better job than historians of drafting a history of droughts. But “history,” “lifetime,” and “hearing” are directly connected to social relations, to narratives and memory—and this is where we, environmental historians, have much to offer.

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Flooding in Rio in April 2010. Phot: Leonardo Fonseca [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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