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City, Country, Empire

City, Country, Empire

Jeffry M. Diefendorf
Kurk Dorsey
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    City, Country, Empire
    Book Description:

    In the urgently expanding field of environmental history, two trends are emerging. Research has internationalized, crossing political and historical borders. And urban spaces are increasingly seen as part of, not apart from, the global environment. In this book, Jeffry Diefendorf and Kurk Dorsey have gathered much of the important work pushing the field in new directions. Eleven essays by prominent and regionally diverse scholars address how human and natural forces collaborate in the creation of cities, the countryside, and empires.

    The Cities section features essays that examine pollution and its aftermath in Pittsburgh, the Ruhr Valley (Germany), and Los Angeles. These urban areas are far apart on the globe but closely linked in their histories of how human decision making has affected the environment.

    Changing rural and suburban spaces are the focus of Countryside. Elizabeth Blackmar "follows the money" in order to understand why the financing of suburban mall developments makes local resistance difficult. Studies of the fractious history of the creation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon and the ongoing impact of hydraulic mining in the early California goldmining era emphasize the misuse of technology in rural spaces.

    Such misuse is a central idea of Empires. In "When Stalin Learned to Fish," Paul R. Josephson tells the story of Soviet fishing technology designed to "harness fish to the engine of socialism." Other essays explore the failures of Western agricultural technology in Africa and the relationship between such technology and disease in European attempts to conquer the Caribbean. In a stirring, wide-ranging consideration of the neo-European colonies (the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand), Thomas R. Dunlap observes the ongoing, unsettled interaction of lands and dreams. An afterword by Alfred W. Crosby, an eminent scholar of environmental history, closes the book with a broad and insightful synthesis of the history and future of this critical field.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7277-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Challenges for Environmental History
    (pp. 1-10)
    Jeffry M. Diefendorf and Kurk Dorsey

    In the June 2002 edition ofThe American Historical Review, Ted Steinberg’s forum essay urged historians to take environmental history more seriously.¹ Nature, he argued, had too often been marginalized, either as mere scenery for human actors or as the foundation upon which humans built things of historical interest. Steinberg’s lament, while perhaps a bit overstated, had the ring of truth to it. Nature has not penetrated the mainstream of historical thinking to the same extent that race, class, and gender have, even though all four were being hailed as “new” fields of history about the same time. Further evidence...


    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 11-14)

      The chapters in the first part of this volume cover a range of locations in the industrial era, from Pittsburgh to the Ruhr, but they share some common themes. The impact on the environment of industrial development and large human populations runs through all three chapters, as each author attempts to explain how nature and culture came together to shape a particular urban area. The three chapters fall along different points of a spectrum but all focus more on human decision-making than on environmental forces. Pollution is a common problem in Pittsburgh, the cities of the Ruhr Valley, and Los...

    • 1 The Metabolism of the Industrial City: The Case of Pittsburgh
      (pp. 15-37)
      Joel A. Tarr

      The concept ofmetabolismhas been adopted from biology and refers to physiological processes within living things that provide the energy and nutrients required by an organism as the conditions of life itself. These processes can be described in terms of the transformation of inputs (sunlight, chemical energy, nutrients, water, and air) into biomass and waste products. While essentially a concept originating in science, I have found it useful as a means to comprehend the environmental history of cities. Just as living things require the inputs of light, energy; nutrients, water, and air, so do cities. That is, cities cannot...

    • 2 Los Angeles’s Nature: Urban Environmental Politics in the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 38-51)
      Sarah S. Elkind

      In the summer of 1943, an acrid cloud settled over downtown Los Angeles. On the streets below, cars collided as “lacrimous fumes” blinded drivers. City officials received letter after letter complaining that the smoke destroyed the community, “depressed ... [the] spirits,” interfered with vital war production and the pursuit of happiness, and threatened the public health.¹ A municipal judge found conditions so unbearable that he considered adjourning court until the fumes lifted, while the tuberculosis ward at General Hospital reported increased hemorrhages and death. As one angry resident complained, the fumes threatened to tum Los Angeles into a “‘stinka-roo’ neighborhood.”²...

    • 3 The Environmental Transformation of the Ruhr
      (pp. 52-76)
      Ursula von Petz

      Visitors to the Ruhr, expecting to find what has often been called a “black country,” are today usually amazed by the remarkable amount of greenery that the region offers. This impression of green everywhere, combined with the lack of a continuous, high-density cityscape characterized by high-rise buildings and multistory housing blocks, apart from a few dense urban cores like the inner cities of Essen and Dortmund, makes the area as a whole seem rather like a large garden city.¹ Those who know it best, however, would still perceive the Ruhr as a worn-out urban landscape, with all its unused brownfield...


    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 77-80)

      Ursula von Petz’s chapter in the previous part of this volume provides a useful bridge to thinking about the areas beyond the industrial cores. Byaddressing regional concerns, Petz reminds us that cities themselves are parts of larger geographical units. The chapters in this part extend the analysis beyond the city borders, first into the suburbs and then into the rural areas of the western United States. The three authors show how law and technology have allowed reconfigurations of the landscape, whether through suburban sprawl, hydraulic mining with its concurrent erosion, or attempts to regulate recurrent floods. In each case, human...

    • 4 Of REITS and Rights: Absentee Ownership in the Periphery
      (pp. 81-98)
      Elizabeth Blackmar

      For more than thirty years environmentalists have identified suburban sprawl as a source of ecological degradation. Since the 1970s, half a million miles of new roads have paved the way to new houses, office buildings, industrial parks, and more than forty-three thousand shopping centers.¹ Between 1970 and 1990, developed land in metropolitan areas grew by 74 percent while population grew by 31 percent, an ongoing trend that can be verified by looking out the window during any transcontinental flight.² New phrases have been coined to characterize ever-extending suburban landscapes—exurbia, edge cities, urban fringe—which are widely understood to waste...

    • 5 Floods and Landscapes in the Inland West
      (pp. 99-121)
      Nancy Langston

      Conflicts between ranchers, irrigation developers, and government scientists over the control of flood waters have a long history at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. My focus is on the ways different groups have responded to floods. Floods shaped, and continue to shape, human responses to landscapes. One piece of land is never entirely separate from another, even if we think that a string of barbed wire forms an effective barrier between them. A bit of dirt kicked free by a cow finds its way into a stream and eventually gets deposited miles away. That sediment clogs the gills...

    • 6 The Industrial Alchemy of Hydraulic Mining: Law, Technology, and Resource-Intensive Industrialization
      (pp. 122-138)
      Andrew C. Isenberg

      Since the 1850s, the popular icon of the California gold rush has been the lone prospector panning by a stream. In American iconography, the prospector is mining’s version of the homesteader: a symbol of simple, virtuous labor, coaxing wealth from a bountiful nature. In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner incorporated the prospector into his central narrative of American history: settlers’ transformation of (in his terms) “wilderness” to “civilization.” While the icon of the prospector fit nicely into Turner’s frontier thesis, a narrative that centered on farm families progressively moving westward as they established homesteads, the gold rush itself was less well...


    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 139-142)

      The processes of resource use and the power of nature to alter human plans that were so evident in the first two parts have a place in the final part as well. Here, four authors tackle the problems of empires and the environment, whether the ability of disease to wreck imperial military plans in the 1700s or the problems of a huge totalitarian state seeking food in international waters. Together, they provide interesting perspectives on the interaction of culture and nature on a larger scale. The Soviet state believed that it could control nature through heavy applications of applied science,...

    • 7 West Africa’s Colonial Fungus: Globalization and Science at the End of Empire, 1949–2000
      (pp. 143-161)
      James C. McCann

      In September 1949, a colonial plant pathologist at Sierra Leone’s Njala research station reported with alarm the presence of a brownish-red fungus on the leaves of that colony’s maize crop. He thought it to be a variant of the fungusPuccinia sorghiand called it the “American rust.” Within the next three years this highly virulent crop disease had spread throughout West Africa’s humid zone to Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria, and then across the entire African maize belt west to east, destroying as much as 50 percent of vital maize harvests. In 1950 the effects of this new...

    • 8 When Stalin Learned to Fish: Natural Resources, Technology, and Industry under Socialism
      (pp. 162-192)
      Paul R. Josephson

      No less than other branches of the economy; Soviet planners intended the fishing industry to become mechanized, modernized, and functioning according to plan. Building on the research of oceanographers, limnologists, ichthyologists, and other specialists, planners sought to harness fish to the engine of socialism, making them contribute to the national diet on a greater scale than in the Tsarist era. To achieve this end, a revolution in all manner of fishing was required. Whether inland bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and ponds, or on the high seas, the Soviet state had to introduce fundamental changes in the training...

    • 9 Yellow Jack and Geopolitics: Environment, Epidemics, and the Struggles for Empire in the American Tropics, 1650–1900
      (pp. 193-206)
      J. R. McNeill

      In recent years environmental history has enjoyed an enviable climb to respectability within the historical profession. That happy trajectory has allowed a measure of specialization among environmental historians, which carries the inevitable risk that other historians will cease to pay attention. For this reason, I think, environmental historians would do well to pursue the links between their findings and the concerns of other historians. In this chapter I attempt just that, joining ecological and epidemiological history to one of the most venerable of historical interests, international and military competition, in the context of European imperial struggles, and American anti-imperial struggles,...

    • 10 Creation and Destruction in Landscapes of Empire
      (pp. 207-225)
      Thomas R. Dunlap

      We think of dreams as insubstantial, calling something a dream to place it outside the “real” world, and we see land as solid, giving property in land the special status of “real estate.” In theory the two should not meet. In fact they do. Our dreams shape the land and the land our dreams, and the creation and destruction of landscapes on the ground and in our minds is central to our history. This thinking is particularly true in the Anglo neo-Europes—the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand—the places where English-speaking immigrants so completely displaced the indigenous...

  5. Afterword: Environmental History, Past, Present, and Future
    (pp. 226-232)
    Alfred W. Crosby

    Environmental history is the story of humanity’s interaction with its physical surroundings: that is, a narrative of humanity in geological, meteorological, and biological context, rather than, as is typical of the usual textbook history, a narrative of its political and military affairs. Environmental history has always existed (more than two thousand years ago Plato remarked on the effects of deforestation on the hills of Attica), but not as a recognized field of inquiry; with courses identified as such in the catalogue and chairs in the subject and professors sitting in them.

    A half century ago when I wandered onto the...