The case of Southern Öland provides a rather dramatic case where visions of heritage preservation and renewable energy development collided, but it is certainly not unique. Other communities have faced similar challenges, including the World Heritage sites of Mont-Saint-Michel in France (where an off-shore wind project was blocked by the French courts), and Britain’s Jurassic Coast. In the United States, the Cape Wind project proposed for Nantucket Bay off of Martha’s Vineyard has generated a fierce legal and political struggle that has spanned more than a dozen years. Cape Wind’s Construction and Operation plans received approval from the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in 2011 despite a determination by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that the wind farm would negatively affect thirty-six historic sites and districts, and six resources of cultural and religious significance to the region’s Indian tribes.
The many compelling arguments in favor of renewable energy projects makes opposing them challenging. Continue reading →
How are public history and environmental history connected?
As this year’s liaison between the National Council on Public History’s Annual Meeting in Monterey and the annual Conference of the American Society for Environmental History in San Francisco, I am tasked with this question. And how appropriate—this year’s theme for the NCPH meeting is “Sustainable Public History,” the ASEH’s is “Crossing Divides.” If the environmental historians will pardon my flippant use of the term, to me the connections seem “natural.” Continue reading →
Öland’s landscape reflects 5,000 years of human habitation. Photo source: Kim Bach
Off the east coast of Southern Sweden, a battle is raging between competing visions of sustainability. On the most unlikely of battlegrounds, bucolic Öland island, a desire to promote renewable energy has brought local officials committed to promoting a sustainable society into conflict with island residents, preservationists, farmers, environmentalists, and local business owners who believe that protecting the island’s character and cultural resources is incompatible with a proposal to expand industrially generated wind power on the island. Continue reading →
I am generally not a fan of sound-bite history. In this age of information overload and attention deficits, however, I suppose we must consider ways of packaging history in short, audio-visual formats in order to reach a larger public audience. Richard Heinberg’s Post Carbon Institute video, “The Ultimate Roller Coast Ride,” is a worthy effort in this regard. A creatively animated survey of “300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Growth in Five Minutes,” the video opens and closes with the distinctive bass line from the late Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” The disturbing environmental message of another Reed song, “The Last Great American Whale,” might have better served the purposes of this production, which is to frighten us about the grim future we face barring radical changes to our energy lifestyle. Continue reading →
Ironbound residents march up Ferry St. June 1, 1984, in opposition to the construction of a huge garbage incinerator in the neighborhood which would have emitted dioxin and other toxic chemicals. Photo credit: Ironbound Community Corporation
Ironbound Community Corporation, a non-profit community organization in Newark, New Jersey, which celebrates its 45th anniversary in 2014, began working on an archive in 2011, partnering with the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. ICC’s unique environmental justice history, which gained it an early national reputation, is important to its city, state, and the country at large. Over the years, ICC has been the subject of inquiry from residents, organizers, and students of all ages throughout the US and even beyond.
From the beginning, those of us working at ICC knew that when we said ”archive,” we wanted something accessible, which would not just gather dust. A key partner has been the local branch of the Newark Public Library, which agreed to house the archive, help with the public access, and host special kick-off events for each part of the project. Each year ICC has added something new to the archive, and it now has three parts: Continue reading →
In her November 4, 2013, History@Work post, “My carbon offset piggybank: Thoughts on sustainability and professional conference-going,” Cathy Stanton opened a conversation about balancing the good that comes only from face-to-face meetings of peers with the harm to the environment that large national conferences can cause. As a professional conference-planner, and as an individual committed to responsible living, striking that balance is important to me. The NCPH office has been working for years to consider green practices alongside the financial health and staff capacity of the organization, as well as the registration and travel costs our attendees can afford to pay. And we try to make the meeting great, too! Continue reading →
Some of the garden features which a team of volunteers researched and restored using archival materials at Long Hill in Beverly. Credit: Kate Preissler
I’ve written before about differences I see between education and engagement as strategies (and goals) for programming at cultural sites. Two features crucial to making programs “engaging” as well as “educational” are:
The inclusion of activities that encourage visitors to use multiple senses and their full concentration, freeing the mind from other thoughts and distractions; and
Information or activities that cause some type of positive change in individuals beyond their visit to the site.
At The Trustees of Reservations, the staff members at many of its historic and cultural sites have been implementing a range of projects which allow visitors, volunteers, and community members to become involved in planting, tending, and harvesting gardens of all sorts. In some cases the gardening activities are clearly part of the work of “doing history” while in others the gardening activities make use of the site’s landscape to offer engaging opportunities for participants and benefits for the host community. Continue reading →
I teach a course in material culture studies, so I am in the habit of using historic artifacts to think about our changing relationship with the environment. But nothing made this lesson clearer to me than a 1950s Hotpoint refrigerator.
When I acquired the refrigerator it was over 50 years old and looked it–there were dents, scratches, and rust decorating its exterior. Inside was a layer of grime, somehow impossible to remove. I had bought it in an act of desperation, having just purchased a foreclosed house without any appliances. The refrigerator was only $85 and came with a stove of the same vintage. I lived with those appliances for many years while my husband and I waited to rebuild the kitchen.
Over time, I came to love the old stove. It had built-in storage areas and well-designed gas burners. But my relationship with the refrigerator was much more strained. Continue reading →
As part of a 350.org demonstration of the effects of climate change, people in Mongolia point out a drought-diminished river. (Photo: 350.org)
Public historians have long engaged with environmental topics and environmental historians to explore the long-term material effects of the decisions, actions, and conceptions of people in the past. As we move toward the 2014 NCPH conference, with its theme of “Sustainable Public History,” this is a good moment to take stock of some of those disciplinary conversations and to think about how to move them forward in a time of accelerating environmental challenges and crises. Continue reading →
Michael Arad’s “Reflecting Absence” fountain in the footprint of the North Tower at Ground Zero, New York. Photo: Kai Brinker (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kbrinker/6156711439/in/photostream/)
Was I the only one who noticed this? There was an eerie similarity between Michael Arad’s “Reflecting Absence” memorial in the footprint of the Twin Towers and the virally-circulating AP photo of seawater rushing into the foundations of new skyscrapers at the World Trade Center construction site during Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge last week. “Something powerful about this image,” one tweet noted. “Zeitgeist moment.”
John Minchillo’s photo for AP circulated virally during the height of the storm.
To my eye, the picture’s resonance came from the troubling layers of meaning and memory within the World Trade Center complex. The site reflects both the broadest extensions of American economic and technological power and the ways that that power has been spectacularly rebuked in recent years, both by those who have pushed back against the U.S.’s political and military presence in so many other parts of the world and–increasingly–by a planetary ecology saturated with the by-products of two hundred years of industrialism.
And yet we continue to build and rebuild, extending our reach outward and upward even as we’re also creating spectacular memorials to some of the most striking costs of our own power. Those parallel processes–commemorating without any real intention of changing direction–are what I see when I look at these two images together, and it makes me wonder, not for the first time, about how memorials can close off thought and memory as well as provoking them. Last week, it almost seemed to me that the hurricane itself was trying to underscore that point.