Lectures & Seminars

Environmental History Lecture Series

About the Lecture Series

The History Department has launched Environmental History: A Lecture Series for the 2013-2014 academic year. The lecture series marks the department’s commmitment to environmental history as this field grows and offers more sophisticated perspectives for examining humans’ relationship with the world around us. The following lectures have been scheduled:

A Sinking Feeling: The Human Body as the Ultimate Radioactive Storage Site

Kate Brown, Associate Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

While both the American and Russian governments have been quick to recognize the contamination of territory exposed to nuclear production, there has been a far greater reluctance, especially in the United States, to acknowledge the existence of radioactive isotopes in the bodies of plant workers and neighbors. Kate Brown, author of Plutopia, Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, argues that a fixation on sequestered archives and environmental monitoring has obfuscated the discovery of the greatest mystery of all—the effect on human history of bodies turned into radioactive storage sites.

Thursday, October 17, 2013
Lecture: 4:30 - 6:00 PM, Reception: 6:00 - 6:30 PM
Doherty Hall, 2210

The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes

Conevery Bolton Valencius, Assistant Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Boston

In the winter of 1811-1812, powerful earthquakes shook the Mississippi Valley. These quakes were big news in 1812: some people thought they were bringing God’s judgment, and others thought they would inflame war between Americans and Native tribes. People recorded the tremors, argued about them, and tried to discern their causes. Yet by the late nineteenth century, they had been forgotten. Why? This presentation, from a newly-published history, traces how environmental transformations, the Civil War, and changes within seismology erased memory of the New Madrid quakes—and how recent science is bringing them back to scientific and civic attention.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Lecture: 4:30 - 6:00 PM, Reception: 6:00 - 6:30 PM
Porter Hall 100
A Disease of Civilization?: Diabetes, Race, and the Changing Nature of American Health

Matthew Klingle, Associate Professor of History & Environmental Studies, Bowdoin College

In 1889 the British physician Robert Saundby labeled diabetes mellitus “one of the penalties of advanced civilization.” At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Saundby’s prediction continues to resonate. Diabetes has become a global scourge. But much of what scientists and physicians know about the disease and its complications today, especially its Type 2 variant, originated from studies on so-called “primitive” peoples, notably Native Americans, who were seen as resistant to chronic disease. Yet how have populations once considered immune to the ravages of modernity become some of the most vulnerable? This lecture explores how the convergence of biomedical science with concerns over health disparities and environmental changes produced new ideas about diabetes etiology, epidemiology, prevention and treatment. Rethinking diabetes as environmental history may help us to reframe this dreaded malady as a disease of longstanding inequities—embodied over space and over time, in our landscapes and in ourselves.

Thursday, February 13, 2014
Lecture: 4:30 - 6:00 PM, Reception: 6:00 - 6:30 PM
Rangos 2, University Center
Pollution and Politics Around Post-WWII Atlanta: The Long Shadow of Underdevelopment

Chris Sellers, Associate Professor, Stony Brook University

At the time of the first Earth Day, in 1970, Atlanta’s confrontations with water pollution seem to defy the narrative about pollution that emerged from large cities in other regions of the U.S. In those, concerns about pollution drove environmental activism and supported crossing lines of race and class to mobilize support. But in the Atlanta area, even as William Ruckelshaus, head of the new EPA, targeted Atlanta’s laxity in treating its effluents, Georgia’s new environmental activists prioritized parks and natural reserves. Some argued that pollution around Atlanta was not as bad as elsewhere, and activists cited a dearth of federal land reserves and lack of interest in parks by Georgia’s state and municipal governments. By contrast, state efforts to combat water pollution had gathered impetus and federal funding, steering the energies of local activists elsewhere. But closer analysis suggests that distinctions people drew among pollutants and the long shadow of the South’s underdevelopment helped shape environmental activism in Atlanta.

Friday, February 28, 2014
Lecture: 4:30 - 6:00 PM, Reception: 6:00 - 6:30 PM
Connan Room, University Center
Unlikely Ripple Effects: How Constructing a Rural Water System Transformed the Built Environment of New York City

David Soll, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

New York City boasts one of the nation’s oldest and most extensive municipal water supply systems. Construction began in the 1830s and continued, with only a few brief pauses, until the 1960s. The transformative effects of water development are visible in much of southeastern New York State, including the Catskill Mountains, the source of most of the city’s water supply. Building a long-distance water-supply network also transformed the look and feel of the urban environment. The water system played a critical role in creating and reshaping many important cultural and recreational landmarks in New York City. This talk focuses on these urban outgrowths of rural water supply development. By highlighting the connection between urban planning and infrastructure expansion, this talk brings together topics that are usually treated as distinct historical developments.

Thursday, April 3, 2014
Lecture: 4:30 - 6:00 PM, Reception: 6:00 - 6:30 PM
Margaret Morrison A14
The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth’s Future

Paul Sabin, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University

Are we headed for a world of scarce resources and environmental catastrophe, or will market forces and technological innovation yield greater prosperity?  In this lecture, Yale University professor Paul Sabin will draw on an iconic story to examine the historical conflict between environmentalists and their conservative critics and trace the origins of the political gulf that separates the two sides.  In 1980, the iconoclastic economist Julian Simon challenged celebrity biologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet. Their wager on the future prices of five metals captured the public’s imagination as a test of coming prosperity or doom.  Ehrlich, author of the landmark 1968 book The Population Bomb, predicted that rising populations would cause overconsumption, resource scarcity, and famine—with apocalyptic consequences for humanity. Simon optimistically countered that human welfare would flourish thanks to flexible markets, technological change, and our collective ingenuity. Sabin's lecture will weave the two men’s lives and ideas together with the era’s partisan political battles to show how the clash between environmental fears and free market confidence helped create today’s gaping and rancorous political divide.

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Lecture: 4:30 - 6:00 PM, Reception: 6:00 - 6:30 PM
Margaret Morrison A14