All posts filed under: Environment

“From Stars to Microbes:” The Natureness of Nature

“What is nature?” This may seem like a strange question. It is early spring in Pennsylvania and you would be hard pressed to find someone who is not talking about or thinking about nature in some manner these days. “The weather is beautiful today!” “Oh awesome – I can’t wait to go for a bike ride after work.” “Do you want to go to dinner where we can sit outside?” “Yes! Definitely. Let’s go to that restaurant with the great tree in the backyard.” “I am so happy that my bulbs are finally appearing. I love spring.” Ok. OK. So, I made these conversations up on the fly. But I guarantee someone in PA is saying something like this right now. I have the “what is nature” question on my mind often these days because it is the driving force behind my academic work. So, out of curiosity, I posted the question to my Facebook friends this afternoon in a seriously unofficial “poll.” The first answer appeared within seconds from a long-time friend: “Bugs!” I …

“Trees and the Wild”: Matt Pond, the American Pastoral and the Sublime [Condensed Version]

*The article below is a shortened version of a conference paper of the same name that I presented at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference held in New Orleans, LA on April 4, 2015. Additionally, the presentation is portion a longer work exploring the role of musicians in the twenty-first century speaking to the idea of the landscape in American culture. Scholars show that American culture, in part, developed around the people’s reaction to nature and the wilderness. Americanist Henry Nash Smith describes the pull of the frontier in Virgin Land (1950), Perry Miller depicts a nature-manipulated change in the Puritan mind in Errand into the Wilderness (1956), and cultural variations are explored in Roderick Frazier Nash’s meticulous search for American interpretation and interaction with the outdoors in Wilderness and the American Mind (1965). This nature-driven response permeates American cultural production. American nature, and the wilderness, serves as an unavoidable topic of discussion when asking the question, “Who – or what – is America?” In the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson reflected on …

ASEH 2015: A Grad Student Walks into a Room…

In the following days after the ASEH I began to think more broadly about the experience in Washington D.C. with the environmental historians. Somehow, I need a way to debrief myself from the event and file the most important information in my memory within close reach. It might sound like hyperbole, but the weekend was a kind of renewal for me as a scholar – a scholar who is in the “mid life crisis” portion of her doctorate: finishing coursework, preparing for the comprehensive exam, and on the cusp of the dissertation. After eight years of college, my brain is fried and there are moments where I feel emotionally and mentally dry. How can I begin the dissertation process if I feel like this? Well, the ASEH was the answer and I will tell you why. My venerable advisor constantly points over his shoulder and tells me “the conversation is out there.” And proceeds to elaborate on the frustration of the graduate school myth of settlement. We are not in grad school to find our …

ASEH 2015, Day 4: It’s what you DO.

From my perspective, the final session day of the 2015 American Society of Environmental History national conference connected general threads of conversation, rounded the jagged edges of exchange, and ultimately set us up for new work this year. National conferences are fantastic because clearly they function as the literal meeting ground for wide-scattered scholars. Colleagues who worked together for decades “caught up” socially and professionally, while newbies like me met other graduate students and season veterans, and we cherish these connections. The sessions I attended today seemed to tie up loose ends and touch on topics that might be on the periphery, but also topics that hold a continual place in academic conversation. This was a long week and the morning sessions materialized early. Early. Normally a morning person, there was a real struggle to get out of the hotel bed. I was glad I did, though, because the EnviroTech breakfast was well worth it. I had the opportunity to talk with numerous ASEH members – professors and graduate students alike – which is extremely …

ASEH 2015, Day 3: Questions of Activism and Engagement

All are getting into the groove of the American Society of Environmental History 2015 conference. Today contained a half day of sessions and followed by an afternoon of field trips. Unfortunately, I did not attend an excursion, but can speak to the morning panels. From the talk in the lobby (an exciting gathering that lit up the lounge like a house party on a dreary Friday afternoon) it sounds like the trips were a success, even in the rain and cold. The downside to a conference like the national ASEH is that one cannot hear each and every paper presented. There must be a way to access the content in our twenty-first century digital world. I implore the organizers of ASEH to consider posting abstracts on their website for the benefit of attendees. Alas, this synopsis will contain only the sessions I attended, but again – I was not disappointed. “Art into Activism, Activism into Art,” Chris Wilhelm (moderator, College of Coastal Georgia), Elizabeth (Scout) Blum (Troy University), Michael Commito (McMaster University), and Britanny Luby …

ASEH 2015 national conference, Washington D.C.

At the end of Day One of the 2015 American Society for Environmental History national conference titled “Turning Protest into Policy: Environmental Values and Governance in Changing Societies,” I can see that it will be a real “branching out” for this Americanist. While my home base at Penn State Harrisburg provides a varied and deeply rooted study of American culture, this conference allows me to extend my reach beyond American studies into other realms of environmental history: transnationalism, legal history, and the sciences. The conference also (clearly) provides an opportunity to interact with academics and non-academics alike. A few environmental “celebrities” (well, at least in my mind!) are in town [including Donald Worster, who wrote Nature’s Economy (1977) which is on my comprehensive exam reading list]. The first session today was a workshop hosted by the National Archives and facilitated by a historian at the NA, a retired historian for the Army Corps of Engineers, and a scholar from Wellesley. Immensely informative, this session presented the details, challenges, and benefits of working with federal records. …

Some Thoughts on the Landscape in American Culture

Rarely do humans stop thinking about nature for large swaths of time. More specifically, we continually think about the landscape – what it looks like, what is on it, and our interaction with it. Sometimes we desperately pull ourselves toward the landscape, as if its power could make us whole. Other moments we push and push and push away, settling our gaze on human-made artifacts embedded with promises of physical and mental improvements. Maybe we can transcend our humanity for true perfection. Either way, we define our place in the world in relation to the land we walk upon. The push-pull underscores human history and its future. Who are we? Where do we live? What are our limits? How can we burst through those restrictions? To say Americans have an affinity for the natural world may be an understatement. The first settlers and explorers arrived with the belief that the land was a wilderness. (Though, before we raise criticism and remind ourselves that there were thousands of humans living in the Western hemisphere, remember that …