Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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Cocaine, Schizophrenia, and Nuclear Reactors: Life as an RCC Editor


By Brenda Black

Our work as editors at the RCC requires us to be generalists (because of the wide variety of topics encountered), but also capable of interpreting highly specialized texts (because it is impossible to edit what one does not understand).

For one issue of Perspectives, my google search history included: cocaine, schizophrenia, bottlenecking, sermons, Hitler, synapses, placebo effects, Hume, slave rebellions, and peacocks. For other articles, I have found myself researching topics such as: How does a nuclear reactor work, or, more mundanely, how do automobile engines work. Another time I desperately wished I had taken a course in organic chemistry so that I could understand a discussion of industrial chemicals, and yet another article had me researching different agricultural methods such as no-till farming.

One of the most interesting and challenging articles I have edited was concerned with palynology, the study of pollen, something I hadn’t known even existed. This scientific field can provide intriguing insights into environments of the past through analysis of the pollen contained in the sediments of bogs and other natural archives. Used in combination with archaeological records and geochemical analysis of metals in the environment, palynology can help us reconstruct the history of human activities such as agriculture and mining. Continue reading


Assessing the Success of Silent Spring

Post by Katie Ritson, posted in conjunction with the publication of the RCC Perspectives issue, “Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring: Encounters and Legacies”

Working for a center named after Rachel Carson and in the fiftieth anniversary year of her book Silent Spring, it’s easy to wax fulsome on the great woman and the role she played in creating an environmental awareness for our modern age. Certainly, the influence of Silent Spring and Carson’s continuing, albeit posthumous, ability to inspire legions to take up the green banner is undeniable and wonderful.

But the danger of the closed narrative that this kind of hagiography inspires is that it ties up the story too neatly. There seems to be a deep human need to seek out reductive and causal fables to underpin our understanding of the world, and Carson’s success is too easily readable as a turning point in human history: the moment when the world’s population, with Rachel at its head, started to see sense, and moved to stem the tide of pollution and anthropogenic damage.

Continue reading