Category Archives: Environmental History

The Most Noble Estuary: David Williams on the Making of “Homewaters”

Homewaters began with a simple idea: Write a book about the human and natural history of Puget Sound. I didn’t know exactly what this would encompass but knew that I wanted to focus on the landscape where I have lived for most of my life. I had a few vague ideas: the three forts (Casey, Flagler, and Worden) at the Sound’s northern entrance; something about Albert Bierstadt’s ferocious painting of Puget Sound at the Seattle Art Museum; the ferry system and the mosquito fleet; and, of course, geoducks.

I knew that more stories were out there, so I began to reach out to friends and colleagues. Over the next six months I interviewed scientists, tribal members, and historians. My standard opening was that I was working on a book about the cultural and ecological history in Puget Sound, and I wanted to know what stories they thought were important.

What stood out for me in these interviews was the passion everyone expressed for this lovely body of water: It is a “beautifully complex ecosystem.” The Sound is a “unique waterbody whose beauty is hardly rivaled.” It is a “microcosm of ecological issues everywhere.” The abundance of the Sound made “us some of the most complex and wealthy people; we didn’t need to migrate.” I also learned that six-gill sharks will eat anything on the bottom, that as herring go so goes Puget Sound, that salmon are narcissistic, and that no one has a handle on kelp slime.

Based on these interviews and my interests, I put together a proposal to address people, plants, and animals and how history could help modern residents understand the present and think about how to pursue a future Puget Sound that is healthier for its human and more-than-human inhabitants. My interviews also impressed upon me the idea that I should focus on overlooked species, such as herring and kelp, which are critical to the ecosystem.

The press accepted my proposal, though they were less than enthusiastic about my title “The Most Noble Estuary.” Two and a half years later, in June 2019, I turned in my manuscript. It totaled 76,184 words with 14,054 words in endnotes. And it had a new title, “Breaking the Surface,” which once again was met with a less than enthusiastic response. Not until another round of editing did we come up with Homewaters.

The main highlight of working on Homewaters was the field time I spent with researchers, which resulted in me filling seven five-by-eight-inch notebooks, by far the most for any book I have written. During my writing journey, I was treated to five types of fresh oysters, some harvested just hours earlier, and given a geoduck pulled up from water sixty feet deep in Agate Passage. (The other geoducks harvested that day traveled more extensively, being overnighted to China.) I crisscrossed Admiralty Inlet, luckily on a calm-water day, in a fourteen-foot Zodiac searching for herring; tagged along as researchers pulled up invertebrates from the Sound’s deepest location (930 feet off of Point Jefferson); and rode all of the Sound’s ferry routes, including several I hadn’t known existed. I also dropped a notebook in the water, was brutally pinched by a mean old Dungeness crab, was confronted by machine-gun-toting nuclear-submarine-protecting Coast Guardsmen, and got stuck on a sandbar with three biologists for several hours when we failed to notice how rapidly the tide was ebbing. I enjoyed every moment.

The other exciting aspect of the book was my dive into history. The Sound has a relatively short written story; not until 1792 did Europeans reach the waterway. But the x̌ʷəlč, as it is known in Lushootseed (pronounced as whulge in English), has a very deep record of human habitation, which stretches back at least 12,500 years, only a couple thousand years after a great ice sheet had rewritten the landscape and then retreated to the north. One of my goals was to weave together these story lines and to explore how the different people who called this place home have responded to the landscape and the more-than-human inhabitants, as well as to each other. 

Of all the books I have written, I am most proud of Homewaters, in part because of its themes of connection and caring. My primary goal is always to write in ways that allow people to develop better connections and relationships to the place they call home. In Homewaters I added a call to act by writing in a manner that I hope encourages people to think more carefully about their actions and their impacts on the health of Puget Sound. I wouldn’t call the book an activist manifesto, but it sends a message that it is up to the residents of the Sound to continue working to improve the waterway for everyone. And based on the people I met and the stories I learned, I truly believe that we are ready to work toward this goal.


David B. Williams is a naturalist, author, and educator. His many books include the award-winning Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography and Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City. Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound is available now.

What counts as a wetland? It’s complicated: Emily O’Gorman on “Wetlands in a Dry Land”

The reeds were tall, almost reaching the top of our heads. We were on a cattle property that adjoined part of the Macquarie Marshes, a Ramsar-listed wetland in north-central New South Wales, Australia. A small group of cattle wandered along the edge of the reedbed and occasionally disappeared into it and then reappeared farther along. Some had ventured away from the herd, toward a small farm dam. Two brolgas—wetland birds renowned for their spectacular dances on the surface of shallow water—glided past. Here, our group, which was made up of mostly Australian and South African environmental scientists, prepared to go into the reedbeds, into the wetland. But as we stood on this threshold, it was difficult to say exactly where this wetland began and ended. Although we might be tempted see the wetland as natural and the farm as cultural, the farm cattle and wetland brolgas moved easily along and across this threshold. These reedbeds have in fact been deeply shaped by Wailwan Aboriginal people over tens of thousands of years through burning and harvesting the reeds for weaving. The farm dam may have been intended to water cattle, but for the brolgas it presented some additional watery habitat. Within these far-reaching and deeply historical sets of socio-ecological relationships, the category of wetlands sits somewhat uneasily. Indeed, while we might at first think of this category itself as natural, it, too, has a history.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat. While I am more used to writing about archives grounded in particular watery places, researching this agreement for a chapter in my book Wetlands in a Dry Land: More-Than-Human Histories of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin (out in July) made me more fully appreciate that some of the critical sites in a history of wetlands are boardrooms and government buildings. In many ways my research helped me pay greater attention to the category of wetlands itself and in turn revealed that the decisions and disagreements of bureaucrats and scientists in Australia and elsewhere, about what has counted as a wetland and why, have had long-lasting and mixed consequences. I will focus on just some of these.

The Ramsar Convention—initially signed by representatives of eighteen countries in 1971—aimed to coordinate international efforts in wetlands conservation. It reflected and reinforced the goal of many governments and scientists in this period around the world to reframe these as precious places that needed to be set aside for conservation and to shed the negative associations of terms like swamp (long associated with disease). Indeed, it was in this period that wetlands became an international category and an object of conservation shaped by two key factors: multiscalar politics and bird-centrism. Each of these have had particular stakes, creating lasting tensions within wetlands conservation and management.

The new international category of wetlands touched down in and was reshaped by local places. National and global environment movements, Pacific diplomacy, and scientists’ mounting concerns over species and habitat loss converged to shape the Australian government’s involvement in the Ramsar Convention and simultaneously a Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement in the early 1970s. For some Australian government scientists, however, these two international agreements highlighted a paucity of knowledge about what now might be classified as wetlands on a national scale. Individual studies showed that there had been a loss of important waterbird habitat in specific places, such as a 1970 study that indicated 60 percent of wetlands along coastal NSW had been destroyed or degraded largely due to drainage for flood mitigation. Yet any effort to quantify losses more widely was difficult, perhaps amplified by the fact that the wetlands category was relatively new in scientific studies. So in 1972 members of the Australian Committee on Waterbirds—made up of state and federal government researchers and managers—proposed a national wetlands survey focused on waterbird habitat in order to support Australia’s obligations to both the Ramsar Convention and the Japan agreement.

The proposal, “A Survey of Wetland Habitats of Australian Waterbirds,” was approved by the Australian government, but then the Council of Nature Conservation Ministers significantly widened the brief to “go beyond an examination of waterbird habitat” and “encompass all wetland areas so as to be beneficial to a wider section of government agencies.” Ultimately three research divisions—wildlife, land use, and fisheries and oceanography—of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) conducted separate investigations as to whether such a survey was feasible. Notably, the Australian government researchers did not use the Ramsar definition of wetlands—which encompassed a very wide range of watery places including coral reefs—as they sought to reflect Australian ecologies and concerns within the international frameworks. The three divisions ultimately, but uneasily, decided on a definition that also suited their expertise and the goals of the survey: “wetlands include swamps, marshes, wet meadows, billabongs, lakes, estuaries and coastal lagoons, mangrove flats. These may be temporary or permanent. The mainstreams or main channels of rivers are excluded except for the survey of fishes.”

Each feasibility study soon ran into problems. The Division of Wildlife Research aimed to test methodologies for classifying wetlands according to the needs and populations of waterbirds. Focusing on just six sites in New South Wales, this study  threw into question the practicality of undertaking a continent-wide survey. The diversity of bird species and their different and changing habitat needs made implementing a single methodology too difficult, and constraints of budget and people power meant that comprehensive data simply could not be gathered. The division’s report concluded that a continent-wide survey “might not be the most important step to take next in waterbirds conservation.” What was needed was rather “detailed ecological research.”

The chief of the division admitted that while ephemeral wetlands in Australia were important for their opportunistic use by waterbirds, “no one has yet been able to properly assess them. . . . At present we have no idea how we will overcome that problem when the survey begins.” Dynamic wetlands in a dry continent proved a challenge for any simple process of quantification. The other divisions ran into similar problems. Further, the wetlands survey was being pulled in different directions by the CSIRO divisions and toward three different models: wetlands for birds, wetlands as hydrological entities, and wetlands as fisheries and estuaries.

The three divisions, each seeing major issues with conducting a national wetlands survey, requested more funds and time for pilot studies, which would inform a wetlands survey proper with an estimated cost of AUD$3.3 million over eight years. No additional funding was granted, and the wetlands survey was labeled not essential by the now conservative Liberal government.

In 1979 the acting minister of environment and science stated: “The . . . [wetlands survey was] not implemented because of cost, lack of agreement on a national approach and differences of opinion on the extent to which a national survey should concentrate on the aquatic fauna or the total wetlands ecosystem.” The survey had ultimately become unworkable.

That the survey did not, or could not, go ahead has had a range of implications. Perhaps most significantly, wetlands ecologists have limited ability to give robust estimates of losses, hindering the development of policies for their protection. Instead, a case-by-case and typology approach to wetlands conservation has unfolded, focusing on important or iconic sites that have reasonable historical research behind them. Treated as indictors of the general condition of wetlands, birds have remained central to wetlands conservation, management, and sciences. Yet this view of wetlands is one of birds and not those of other biota. The role of birds in wetlands conservation in Australia presents somewhat of a paradox as they will likely continue to be important, partly for historical reasons, as there has simply been so much research on them in the past that comparisons across time are better founded than for most other animals and plants.

 Wetlands entered history in this period as an international category of conservation, and its history has had significant, and mixed, consequences for the way wetlands are understood and managed within conservation science and governments today. This is a category that we need to keep revisiting and refining, asking what counts as a wetland for whom and with what consequences?


Emily O’Gorman is senior lecturer at Macquarie University. Wetlands in a Dry Land: More-Than-Human Histories of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin is forthcoming in July 2021.

UW Press Author Roundtable: David Fedman, Ian Miller, and Meng Zhang

Authors David Fedman, Seeds of Control, and Ian Miller, Fir and Empire, joined forthcoming author Meng Zhang, Timber and Forestry in Qing China, for a virtual roundtable about their books on Asian environmental history. Below is their conversation.

What topics in Asian environmental history deserve more attention?

Meng Zhang: This is based on my own interest, but I would like to see more works that take both the environmental and the economic seriously. Don’t get me wrong—environmental histories often have something to say about the economic, as the rapacious drive for profit and consumption is the most obvious perpetrator to be blamed. However, as more environmental scholars are beginning to caution us, we also need to be wary of a danger in elevating the morality of environmentalism to a degree that this discourse could play a similar role in justifying domination—domestically and internationally—as the previous discourse of modernization and development has done. Indeed, we already see a version of how this could play out in David’s wonderful account of how the Japanese Empire mobilized the rhetorical contrast between the Japanese “forest-love” thought and the Korean bare mountaintops. In both environmental and economic history, I hope to see more works that recognize the legitimacy of alternative interests and priorities and bridge the discursive gap between the two fields (rather than treating each other as a footnote).

David Fedman: Where to begin? To me, one of the most striking gaps in the field is geographic: namely, Southeast Asia. I’d love to see more work on the environmental histories of Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, and elsewhere. There are, of course, some great books already written about these places but not much work that crosses borders to connect Southeast Asia to the developmental politics of Japan, China, and South Korea. Another topic begging for analysis in my opinion is historical climatology: how different states and actors have tried to understand the variegated climates that define a unit as vast as China or the Japanese Empire.

Ian M. Miller: To me the biggest gaps in the record are the voices of peoples who lived in and used the forest in ways that were not central to the actions of large states and interregional markets. Asia is home to many so-called forest peoples—from Manchus and Ainus in the north to Hmong, Bataks, and many others in Southeast Asia, and the Adivasi or “scheduled tribes” of India. There has been plenty of anthropological work, especially on India and Southeast Asia, but historical work has yet to catch up. In particular, I would like to see more work done to disentangle these groups and their historical identities and livelihoods from the ways they were classified and controlled by colonial empires in the nineteenth century and nation-states in the twentieth.

What misconceptions about East Asian environmental history would you most like to see dispelled?

DF: For me, it’s the notion that Japan has historically lived in harmony with the landscapes, that contemporary reverence for cherry blossoms and forests is evidence of a unique national relationship with nature. Environmental historians of Japan have long taken aim at this discourse, but it dies hard, especially in the public eye.

What needs for timber in late imperial China prompted changes in forestry?

MZ: Construction, shipbuilding, and manufacturing were the main sectors that consumed timber. If we think about the iconic architecture in the urban landscape of early modern China (and East Asia in general)—theaters, guild chambers, temples, ancestral halls, brothels, restaurants, teahouses—all were built with timber logs. The cover design of my book comes from a section of a famous eighteenth-century scroll painting, Prosperous Suzhou, also called Burgeoning Life in a Resplendent Age. As the title suggests, it depicts the lively urban scenes with people from all walks of life in the affluent Lower Yangzi metropole of Suzhou. The section used for my book cover shows two timber rafts floating into the city, supplementing the material bases of this prosperity. In response to such booming demand for timber generated by urbanization, commercialization, and population growth, an interregional trade structure developed over the course of several centuries and expanded to cover thousands of miles, straining natural forests but also motivating regenerative forestry in the remote interior hinterlands. My book has focused on timber production—woods that are big enough to be used for construction and worthwhile enough to be produced and transported across long distances. A big omission is firewood, whose production and consumption remained rather local; even with fuel shortages, high transportation costs meant that firewood had never become worthwhile to transport over very long distances to be used as fuel.

Meng and Ian, your two books examine Chinese forestry in different time periods and with a somewhat different geographical focus, but both suggest that Chinese forest management may have been superior to better-known European approaches. Can you say more about that? To what extent was forestry in late imperial China “sustainable”?

MZ: We often think of the issue of sustainability as either/or, but it really is a gradation of degrees. It also has multiple dimensions: we hope a sustainable pace of resource use is also socially sustainable in that it does not involve the systematic deprivation of a group. From a pragmatic perspective, if the kind of environmental measures that we come up with today can prove to be sustainable, environmentally and socially, for a couple of centuries, I would consider us very able and lucky. The practices of regenerative forestry in late imperial southern China can be called sustainable in this sense: for several centuries, they were able to regenerate timber at a pace that satisfied market and state demands and substituted for natural growths; and the multiple players along the supply chain, from tenant planters and timberland owners to lumberjacks, rafters, brokers, merchants, bankers, consumers, and officials, despite their many conflicts and negotiations, ultimately all had a stake in ensuring the next round of saplings were grown in time.

The way in which private forestry was organized was mundane and ingenious at the same time. It wouldn’t shock any scholar who knows something about late imperial Chinese land tenure that the same contractual formats for rice paddies were used for timberlands. But out of these familiar contractual terms, abstract shares were created and claims on the trees changed hands as liquid financial instruments, liberating the landowners and planters from an excruciating wait for the trees to grow up. This shareholding practice in forestry was in line with (and even anticipated) the proportional liability shareholding structures that were widely used in Chinese business partnerships. If these financial practices sound surprisingly savvy for traditional forestry, one would be even more surprised to learn that they were found in the ethnically diverse, economically less affluent frontier regions of southwestern China. This holds some serious implications for how we think about effective forestry and the history of finance and business in a globally comparative framework. On a personal note, a historian’s happiness really comes from excavating these surprises.

IMM: I would not necessarily say that Chinese forest management was superior to European approaches, because this is ultimately comparing apples to oranges. Compared to European approaches, Chinese management developed in very different environmental conditions and focused on a different type of tree, the China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata). Some characteristics of the fir—including its incredibly rapid and straight growth and its suitability for a variety of purposes, from ships to buildings and chests—meant that management in China was easier. For example, China fir reaches marketable dimensions in twenty-five to fifty years, as opposed to the hundred-plus years needed for oak, which was the principal European shipbuilding tree.

Nonetheless, I would say that the Chinese forest system converged rather quickly to market-based solutions that eventually came to dominate in other places and largely did so without large state interventions that caused some problems in Europe. The Chinese forestry system also has a much longer track record—tree plantations have been cultivated in parts of southern China for close to a thousand years at this point, whereas the history of tree plantations in Europe only really goes back two hundred years. This speaks to a long-term ability to produce enough timber for most uses. Empires in China did tap their frontiers, including the southwest and Manchuria, to supplement the plantations of the interior, but there is also nothing comparable to this huge European quest for timber abroad in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

David, Japan is legendary for its history of forestry, also called “forest-love.” How do your new insights about Japanese forestry in Korea reshape that understanding?

DF: I think my book helps to show how much of this mythology about “forest-love” and reverence is an invented tradition, a process bound up with the rise of the nation-state during the Meiji period. Forest-love is not so much a timeless culture of stewardship as a discourse, one used to nurture emperor-worship and nationalism at home and justify woodland expropriation in colonial territories. This ideological project sat at the very foundation of Japan’s claims to greenification in Korea—and, one could argue, continue to animate more recent incursions into the forests of Southeast Asia.

How can your book inform global conversations around conservation as a tool of colonialism—“seeds of control”?

DF: My book underscores the simple but easily overlooked point that the greening of landscapes is not always a singularly good thing. Although we tend to positively associate greenification with notions of investment and renewal, reforestation can also operate as a tool of expropriation and exploitation. At a time when scientists and activists are calling for massive tree planting schemes to combat climate change, we’d be wise to think more critically about what this breakneck regeneration looks like on the ground for local residents, human and animal both.

What does the study of plantation forestry in particular offer to the study of Asia or environmental history writ large? We all seem to be writing about forest regeneration in one way or another, and I wonder if our collective works don’t offer new perspectives on what some are calling the “plantationocene.”

IMM: This is a really interesting question. I had not heard plantationocene before, and it took me down a very interesting rabbit hole. My perspective on it is this relates to the ways that people have been talking about the anthropocene, which I think are flawed but useful conversation points. There is one definition of the anthropocene—massive human modification of the environment—that starts in deep antiquity. It goes something like this: humans have been modifying grasslands in intensive ways for something like five to ten thousand years, starting with the domestication of grains (which are grasses) and ruminant animals (which eat grasses). There is another definition of the anthropocene that starts with modernity. It goes something like this: humans have been causing indelible changes to biogeochemical cycles for one or two centuries—going back either to the layer of fallout from nuclear weapons in the 1940s and ’50s, or the first large-scale use of coal in the 1800s. Both of those are useful markers of large scale anthropogenic environmental change.

But there is another change point that we need to talk about, which is more or less the watershed of the early modern. Jason Moore has called this the capitolocene and thinks it is about the new ways that markets are interlinked coming out of the Middle Ages. Charles Mann has called it the homogenocene and ties it to Alfred Crossby’s work on the Columbian Exchange, in that 1492 was the first moment since deep prehistory when the American and Afro-Eurasian continents were closely linked and transferred species between them. These are both useful. But there is a third transition that ties them together: the historical moment when intensive human cultivation of things that we might call plantations begin to spread from farms (domesticated grasslands) to forests (domesticated woodlands). This plantationocene comes to a fever pitch in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with the spread of things like rubber, palm oil, coffee, and so on, but I think it begins with the types of plantations that the three of us are talking about in our books.


David Fedman is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Irvine and the author of Seeds of Control: Japan’s Empire of Forestry in Colonial Korea.

Ian M. Miller is assistant professor of history at St. John’s University and author of Fir and Empire: The Transformation of Forests in Early Modern China.

Meng Zhang is assistant professor of history at Loyola Marymount University and author of Timber and Forestry in Qing China: Sustaining the Market.

Behind the Book: Robert Chaney on “The Grizzly in the Driveway”

I got to know grizzly bears from the wheelhouse of a fifty-seven-foot tour boat in Glacier National Park. While I had to learn about charismatic megafauna as a floating tour guide, I didn’t anticipate how much conning the ship would affect my writing.

The lesson came clear on July 8, 2020, as I was printing the final copyedited draft of The Grizzly in the Driveway, in which I’d poured thirty years of experience and reporting on North America’s biggest land predator. That morning the to-do list consisted of items like confirming the academic discipline of a biologist, rethinking the proper chapter for a favorite anecdote, and wondering if there was room on the acknowledgments page for a few more shout-outs.

And then the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in. In my day job as a newspaper reporter, the arrival of an appeals court opinion was a front page opportunity. It required a lot of close reading of twenty-five or thirty pages of legalese to glean who won and who lost and how extensive the result might be. Next came a flurry of phone calls to involved sources and knowledgeable observers. Then I’d boil the ingredients down to plain language and good grammar, hit Send, and see the published result online a few minutes later (and in the print version the following morning).

From my perspective as an author, everything in chapter 10—all seven thousand words—was suddenly suspect. The Grizzly in the Driveway explores how humans relate to wild animals both as living creatures (that weigh five hundred pounds, can outrun a horse, and occasionally eat us) and as features of our imaginations and policy. Chapter 10 was all about the latter—the legal world of Endangered Species Act wording, hunting rights, best available science, and standing to sue in court. Real-life grizzly bears were reduced to mortality trends, incident reports, and political action group mascots. And the Ninth Circuit judges had just announced a new version of reality for that abstract domain.

Journalists joke that they write the first draft of history. But when you’ve spent years writing a book chronicling decades or centuries of historical action and something historic happens right now, it’s the authorial version of an out-of-body experience. The world you constructed, with its precisely ordered constellations of logic and occurrence leading to well-fortified conclusions, suddenly wobbles on its axis.

I chose to write about the return of grizzly bears to a crowded American West in 2018 because the topic felt ripe. This keystone predator was reaching self-sustaining population numbers after a century of poisoning, trapping, and persecution. Its journey through the legal machinery of federal Endangered Species Act oversight was nearing a resolution, and the factors that would determine its future—growing recreational and industrial pressure on its habitat, climate change kinking their food supplies, and political and social divisions riling their human neighbors—stirred public conversation.

The risk of taking on a current-events subject is those events might get swept into a current you didn’t account for. The federal government had been trying for years to remove the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species List and celebrate the recovery of a threatened animal. But advocates for continued protection consistently found vulnerabilities in the government’s plans and derailed them in court. The most recent attempt at delisting had failed at the district court level, and I had bet it would stay dead on appeal. In my book I framed my closing arguments around the protection advocates’ strategy, assuming they had the stronger logic and evidence.

Back in 1982, while I was piloting the DeSmet around Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald, a tourist asked me what kind of duck was floating in the water ahead of us. I looked at the black speck and realized it was the nub of a branch attached to a tree trunk floating below the water’s surface. A fifty-seven-foot boat has no brakes and takes a long time to turn; sudden action can send toddlers and their grandparents crashing to the deck, if not over the rail. Ramming a log below waterline at 10 knots doesn’t make a good alternative, and cursing like a sailor has no effect. All you can do is throttle down, adjust course, and warn your shipmates to brace for impact.

As it turned out the DeSmet thumped the log without spilling a single tourist’s soda. And my chapter on the grizzly bear’s legal fate got a last-minute update with little rewriting. Most of those edits went something like “the court of appeals ruled” instead of “the district court ruled.”

The double-vision of writing for a daily print newspaper and writing for a library bookshelf remains bewildering. I think back on how many news stories I filed that neglected the context of decades of social momentum and how many books I’ve laughed at for envisioning a future that failed to materialize.

Those summers I spent in the DeSmet’s wheelhouse served me well. It takes a long time to turn a big thing. Obstacles occur in real time. Cussing won’t help. Steer. 


Robert Chaney is a reporter for the Missoulian. A lifelong Montanan, he covers science and the environment. His new book The Grizzly in the Driveway: The Return of Bears to a Crowded American West is available now.

Pigs and People, The Other “Missing Link”: Thomas Fleischman on “Communist Pigs”

In February of 1922 Henry Fairfield Osborn, world-famous paleontologist, conservationist, and director of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, received a package in the mail from Nebraska. Inside Osborn found a note and a carefully wrapped molar. A rancher and amateur geologist named Harold Cook had discovered the ancient tooth in a ten-million-year-old layer of rock bed in the Snake River near his home. Believing it to have “human type” features, Cook sent the tooth to Osborn to verify his assessment. Osborn was thrilled. The man who had christened the Tyrannosaurus Rex believed he now had evidence of another epoch-making discovery: a “missing link” fossil, evidence of man’s descent from apes. Studying the shape, size, and wear of the molar, Osborn determined the tooth belonged to a third genus of extinct hominids—and the first found in the Americas. He named this new primate ancestor Hesperopithecus, or “Ape of the Western World.” The press dubbed it simply “Nebraska Man.”

That same year Osborn published his findings in several prominent periodicals. Lest anyone doubt his claims, he also sent casts of the molar to museums and universities in the United States and Europe. It didn’t take long, however, before skeptics began to poke holes in his case. In response, Osborn sent crews back to Nebraska in the summers of 1925 and 1926 to scour the same riverbed deposits for more fossils. In the dry heat of summer they found fossils and bone fragments of numerous mammals, but none belonging to Nebraska Man. The expedition concluded that the molar belonged not to a hominid, but instead to an extinct species of peccary called Prosthennops, a primeval relative of the modern pig, Sus scrofa. Osborn was not the first person, nor would he be the last, to go looking for humans in the past and find a pig instead.

Osborn’s mistake can be forgiven. Pig bodies and human bodies have a great deal in common. Similarities include their teeth (like all omnivores, pigs and humans share a similar array of molars, incisors, and canines), but also much more. Pigs’ internal organs are nearly identical in ability and form to our own. When the first experiments in heart transplants began in the 1950s, researchers looked not to the ape but to the pig, whose heart was strong enough to pump blood through a human body. Today porcine valves and skin grafts are used regularly in surgery on people. Scientists have used stem cells from pig fat to grow human jawbones. Pig eyes have similar ocular power and see the same color spectrum as humans, and relative to other members of the animal kingdom pigs are remarkably nearsighted. People and pigs also share many ailments, including cancer, rheumatism, and arthritis. And most infamously, infectious diseases like H1N1 spread easily between our species and theirs. Osborn was right to intuit that his molar belonged to a genetic cousin of modern humans—he just chose the wrong family.

Even more significantly, people and pigs have lived closely alongside one another and in various degrees of cooperation for millennia. While not the first animal to give up its freedom in exchange for domestic living (dogs beat all animals there some twenty thousand years ago), pigs were never far away, lurking just beyond the reach of campfire lights, rooting through midden heaps for scraps. And when domestication of Sus scrofa began around nine thousand years ago, pigs proved so amenable to human society that they were domesticated over and over again. Paleogeneticists have pinpointed not just one site or moment for pig domestication, but multiple locations and dates, stretching over thousands of years and from what is now modern Turkey to southeast Asia. Pigs, it seems, were just as willing to live within human society as they were to cast off the human hand and live on their own in the wild.

Historians have also have homed in on this special relationship to raise new questions about the past. They have used pigs to explore the cultural and economic lives of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English small-holders, or as a synecdoche for medieval antisemitism among French peasants in Languedoc. They have identified pigs as agents of imperial conquest and dispossession, from the Columbian Exchange in North America to the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe. They have shown how the rise of scientific pig breeding in the nineteenth century inaugurated an ecological succession in the US Midwest, from old-growth forest and prairie grasslands to landscapes defined by corn and dotted with whiskey distilleries, piggeries, and slaughterhouses. And in the age of the factory farm, the lives, labor, and deaths of millions of pigs reveal that people remain ensnared in the same system of exploitation and degradation. In each case, pig bodies, behaviors, and diets provide clues about the human past.

My book Communist Pigs builds on these insights to tell the story of agricultural development in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, during the Cold War. It uses the pig’s propensity for adaptation and change to narrate a history of East Germany’s rise and fall. It analyzes three predominant archetypes of Sus scrofa in the GDR—the industrial pig, the garden pig, and the wild boar—to connect the complex environmental history of European communism with the industrial development of rural spaces around the world. Communist Pigs shows how this animal came to occupy a commanding place at the center of industrial agriculture. It explores how East Germans struggled to overcome the ecological constraints and obstacles of industrial hog farming. And it uncovers the surprising mixture of small-scale pig farming and boar hunting that emerged in response to environmental pollution and the limitations of a planned economy. Together, the GDR’s three pigs reveal how a communist regime was drawn rapidly into capitalist markets for cheap grain, meat, energy, and capital. This shift precipitated an ecological and political crisis that culminated in the collapse of East Germany and the end of the Cold War.

Pigs, like people, make their own histories. These histories are specific to the environments in which they occur and their moments in the past. Pigs can open new ways of considering the rigid frameworks—say, the divide between communism and capitalism—through which we interpret human histories. In the specific case of the twentieth century, pigs show us how industrial agriculture has physically remade the entire earth and all the things that live and die upon it to promote the production of meat. But just like any relationship, the one between pigs and people can be undone and remade anew. The pig may even survive us as the dominant species on the planet, if the resurgence of wild boar populations is any indication. And if in ten million years this porcine descendent species decides to excavate the rock bed formations of the Anthropocene in search of clues to their own prehistory, it may very well mistake the fossilized remains of Homo sapiens for its own “missing” genetic ancestor, which, as we know, is a very human error to make.


Thomas Fleischman is assistant professor of history at the University of Rochester. His book Communist Pigs is available now.

Sources

Anderson, J. L. Capitalist Pigs: Pigs, Pork, and Power in America. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2019.

Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Blanchette, Alex. Porkopolis: American Animality, Standardized Life, and the Factory Farm. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020.

Fabre-Vassas, Claudine. The Singular Beast: Jews, Christians, and the Pig. European Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Gibson, Abraham. Feral Animals in the American South: An Evolutionary History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Hicks, Lucy. “Pig Fat Can Be Used to Grow Jawbones for Humans.” Science, October 15, 2020, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/pig-fat-can-be-used-grow-jawbones-humans.

Malcolmson, Robert, and Stephanos Mastoris. The English Pig: A History. New York: Hambledon Press, 1998.

Pennisi, Elizabeth. “The Taming of the Pig Took Some Wild Turns.” Science, August 31, 2015, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/08/taming-pig-took-some-wild-turns.

Porter, Valerie. Pigs: A Handbook to the Breeds of the World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Saraiva, Tiago. Fascist Pigs: Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism. Boston: MIT Press, 2016.

Watson, Lyall. The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2004.

White, Sam. “From Globalized Pig Breeds to Capitalist Pigs: A Study in Animal Cultures and Evolutionary History.” Environmental History 16 (January 2011): 94–120.

Five Tips for Better Science Communication: Susan Hough on “The Great Quake Debate”

How can scientists best talk about the risks of natural hazards with the general public? And how can a lay reader assess debates among scientists? Susan Hough offers useful tips for both, drawing on her new book, The Great Quake Debate: The Crusader, the Skeptic, and the Rise of Modern Seismology.


Through spring of 2020, the publication process moved forward apace for The Great Quake Debate. In a sense, it might be considered a coming of age story, focusing on the chapter in time when a major metropolitan region, Los Angeles, first came to grips with a seemingly existential peril: earthquake hazard. Could the rapidly growing city—one of the leading oil-producing regions in the world—really be hit by a massive earthquake like the one that had left San Francisco in ashes not too many years earlier? The Great Quake Debate is a story complete with (putative) heroes and villains, drama and intrigue.

It is also a story with lessons for our times, in particular now that the entire world struggles to come to grips with a different mortal peril. In the early 20th century, many people had the luxury of viewing earthquake hazard as somebody else’s problem. Later science would prove them only partly right, but, indeed, earthquakes pose a real and present dangerin some places than in others. Microbes, on the other hand, do not concentrate along narrow fault lines. Potentially they reach us all. The realization dawns, that some of the lessons of The Great Quake Debate are especially relevant for our tumultuous times, including lessons for both scientists and the public regarding the business of science communication. Let me pull out five of them, three for consumers of scientific information, and two for those who disseminate it.

  1. If you want information, go to the source. As directly as possible, go to the source. When parts of The Great Quake Debate have been told before, renowned geologist Robert T. Hill has been painted as the villain, a “tool” used by local city boosters to advance their agenda. A generally well-researched earlier biography focused on the extent to which Hill was manipulated by city boosters, describing him as a victim of their machinations. The personal papers that he and others left behind tell a far more nuanced, complex story.
  2. When you are looking for scientific information, know that science has limitations. There are truths in science, and as the saying goes, science doesn’t care what you believe. But in a rapidly developing field, science can be messy. The answers might not be black-and-white, and even well-respected scientists can be wrong. In his crusade to convince the public to take earthquake hazard seriously, in 1926 protagonist Bailey Willis made public statements that southern California would likely be wrenched by a great earthquake within three to 10 years of 1926. Although many saw the 1933 Long Beach earthquake as vindication of Willis’ prophesy, the magnitude-6.4 earthquake was not the major temblor that he had predicted. Hill’s refutation of the prediction, on the other hand, drew from sound science.
  3. Listen to scientists. Wait, what? Why should anyone listen to scientists, if they might themselves be wrong? The thing is, scientists might not be right, but at any given time, their understanding is as good as it gets. Had people listened carefully to either Willis or Hill, they would have heard a debate on some key questions, but also very similar messages from both, delivered with no small degree of passion, regarding the importance of understanding earthquake hazard and taking steps to reduce earthquake risk.
  4. For those of us who are ourselves scientists, beware the perils of over-stepping what science allows us to say. Willis based his prediction on analysis of early surveying data that he should have known to be highly uncertain. Hill correctly debunked the prediction, but did make statements downplaying the severity of earthquake hazard in Los Angeles. His reassuring statements, while never dismissing hazard entirely, were based on some misperceptions of his day, for example concerning the potential severity of shaking caused by moderately large earthquakes. He, too, should have known that such statements were not well-supported by available data. The media may have amplified the message, but scientists themselves set the tone. Where science collides with public welfare and public fears, missteps in one direction can assuage fears, while missteps in the other direction can fan flames. Neither serves the public good.
  5. Sooner or later, the natural world will have the last word. Scientists can debate the severity of the perils that we face, and the need to take risk mitigation seriously. People and policy-makers can choose to heed warnings, or not. Depending on the nature of the risk, it can be expensive to heed warnings, or personally uncomfortable, or inconvenient. If worst fears are borne out, what will you wish you had done yesterday? Do it today.

 

Susan Hough is a research seismologist in Pasadena, California. Her popular-science books include Earthshaking Science: What We Know (and Don’t Know) about Earthquakes and Richter’s Scale: Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man. Her latest book The Great Quake Debate: The Crusader, the Skeptic, and the Rise of Modern Seismology is available now.

 

 

 

Inside the Publishing Process: An Interview with Series Editor Paul Sutter

This year marks the 25th anniversary of our series Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books. It also marks Paul S. Sutter’s fifth year as series editor.

Here, Sutter talks with our Senior Acquisitions Editor Andrew Berzanskis about his goals for the series, how he sees environmental history changing, and offers some practical tips for authors.

Sutter is professor of history at the University of Colorado Boulder. His five books include Driven Wild: How the Fight Against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (University of Washington Press) and Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies: Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South (University of Georgia Press).

For those interested in the origins of the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series, here is an account by founding series editor William Cronon.


In 2002, you published your first book, Driven Wild, in the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books (WEB) series. William Cronon, the founding editor of the series, was editor then. How did Cronon help shape your book?  

Bill was a huge influence on my decision to choose the series. His famous wilderness essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature” had just come out, and it was a piece that refined my argument in important ways. I sent an initial email inquiry to Bill—we had met once or twice, but I’m not sure he knew who I was—and he wrote a lengthy response that quickly convinced me that working with him would be the right thing to do. The series was quite new at that point, and Bill put a lot of energy into reading and commenting on my manuscript. Driven Wild mediated the wilderness debate in a ways that I think Bill appreciated, but he also pushed me in ways that made my argument better.

2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the series. As a discipline, environmental history has blossomed. More scholars, more students, and many more publishers. What keeps Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books—a series launched in 1994—unique in 2019?

During the early years of Bill’s editorship, environmental history was a much smaller field, and one that seemed overwhelmingly U.S.-focused. In that context, the series sat at the center of a series of nature/culture debates that largely defined the second generation of environmental historiography. In the last decade or so, the field has changed in dramatic ways. Environmental history is much more international, the number of programs training graduate students has grown geometrically, and the subfields within and around the edges of environmental history have multiplied. Environmental history is a large and crowded room with many conversations going on. The series has changed with the field.

We still publish books that critically assess the historical and cultural dimensions of our current environmental crises and commitments. But the qualities that keep the series unique have more to do with how we work with authors: our commitment to careful developmental editing, our desire for books that are clearly and accessibly written and intended for a crossover audience, our commitment to producing beautiful and well-illustrated books, the work we do with authors to help them to market their books, and our author community. Perhaps nothing better symbolizes that approach than the time we spend with authors and prospective authors at the annual American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) meeting.

Why is publishing with a series different than publishing as part of a press’s regular publishing program?

In the simplest sense, publishing a book in a series helps to define the book by the company it keeps. It also helps to get the book in front of the eyes of those who pay attention to that particular book series and the field it helps to define. But perhaps the biggest advantage to a book series is the chance to work with an academic series editor who can help to shepherd the book manuscript through the publication process. Not all editors put in the effort that Bill and I have at WEB, and so even among other series I think we are unique in the editorial energy we put into the books in our series. Having an engaged series editor can also be helpful in navigating peer review.

As a series editor, how do you like to work with authors?  

Because of the energy we put into developmental editing, we usually like to work with advance contracts, which confirm our partnership with the author. I then like to work with authors on matters of big argument and framing. It is a truism that most dissertations are written to a narrow audience of specialists, and so I push authors to figure out how their book can speak to thousands of interested readers rather than dozens. That often means working with authors on their introductions first, and then the overall organization and narrative arc of their manuscripts. When the author has a fully revised manuscript ready for peer review, I will read it along with the peer reviewers and provide a thorough report that both synthesizes the external reviews and offers comments of my own. We spend a lot of time with authors, on the phone and in person.

What do you get out of serving as a series editor? What makes it personally and/or professionally rewarding?

Being the series editor at WEB is a lot of work. But I love helping authors do what Bill did for me with my first book—transforming promising manuscripts into the books that their authors want them to be. I have seen quite a few authors transform their manuscripts through careful and thoughtful revision, and I take great pride in the role that I play in those transformations. (Mine is a small role. The authors do most of the work!) I take great pride when a beautiful series book arrives in my mailbox—and even more pride when the authors feel like the results are better as a result of working with us.

You write a foreword for each book. Why is that important?

Bill described the foreword as an extended blurb, and I have tried to follow that model. The foreword is a pitch to readers and reviewers to buy or review or assign the book.

You are entering your fifth year as editor and putting your own distinctive imprint on the series. What series books are you particularly proud of and why?

This feels like asking me which of my children is my favorite. I am proud of all of the books we have published for different reasons. But I will provide an example of why I am proud of one book. A year or so ago I received an email from a legal scholar who had just reviewed Jakobina Arch’s Bringing Whales Ashore: Oceans and the Environment of Early Modern Japan. This particular scholar is an expert on contemporary legal frameworks for managing international whaling, and he found Arch’s history of whaling in Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868) as critical to contextualizing Japan’s contemporary claims that its whaling practices are traditional. Bina had worked hard to transform a masterful but somewhat narrow study into one that mattered to today’s whaling policy, and this reviewer made it clear that she succeeded.

What are the most common mistakes you see when people put together a book proposal?

I think there are several. One is the proposal that suggests that the book in question is the most important and innovative thing to come along in ages. A good proposal is humble and realistic about what it will accomplish, and respectful of the field in which it will sit. I also often read proposals that are too topical and not sufficiently thesis-driven. More than that, though, I increasingly urge authors to define not just the argument but the research problem that their book will address. A well-defined and expansive research problem will get my attention. Defining the research problem is a way of explaining why we need your book, which is a different issue than what it is about or what it will argue. Finally, I often find prospective authors to be overly optimistic about the popular appeal of their books. To reach a crossover audience, I think authors need to think deeply about which specific non-academic audiences they might realistically reach.

You see many manuscripts go through peer review. What are the most common problems identified in peer review, and how can authors avoid those same mistakes?

The most common problem, particularly for first-time authors, is that they don’t have a clear enough sense of what their book is about. That might be a strange thing to say, but often authors want their books to be about too many things. What’s the big idea/argument? How do the chapters contribute to and build towards that big idea/argument? The big idea is what disciplines a manuscript and helps to create a hierarchy of arguments, and it is not something that emerges organically. Rather, it is usually a matter of authors making tough choices.

What advice do you have for scholars trying to reach a broader audience?

First, figure out specifically who that broader audience is. Know who else might be interested in the book and speak to them. Second, get comfortable imagining your reader as an intelligent non-expert and explaining why scholars argue over the things that they do. An accessible book elegantly explains significance, constantly circling back to it. Third, develop characters if you can, and tell good stories.

I constantly urge authors to tell me the biography of their project. This forces them to go back to the moment when they decided to pursue the topic, to explain what made them passionate about it, and what it was like to know little about the book they were embarking upon. It requires them to imagine the reader opening their book for the first time and deciding whether to buy or devote their time to reading it. If you can go back to that point of initial ignorance and then explain how you proceeded to a deeper and more satisfying understanding of a topic, you can better convince your reader to want to follow along. A book that can explain the process of coming to understand a topic—rather than merely presenting the results of a deep understanding—is a book that will be more accessible.

Tell me about the first time you went to an American Society for Environmental History conference. How was it different then?

I first attended ASEH in 1993 in Pittsburgh. That was only the sixth ASEH conference ever held, and back then the conferences were biennial and much smaller. I was still a graduate student at the University of Kansas and did not have enough travel funding to afford both the flight and the hotel room. So four of us pooled our funds, rented a white Cadillac Seville, and made the 13-hour drive in style. I think the conference was at a Days Inn, and I’m not even sure if there was a book exhibit. It was tiny. I have been to every ASEH meeting since.

Where do you see the field of environmental history developing in the next 20 years? 

I will answer this in two ways. The first is that our field must directly address the big environmental problems of our moment, and many scholars are busy doing that. Where the second generation of environmental history was largely engaged with a critical assessment of nature as our field’s category of analysis, I think the current generation of scholarship will be defined by its critical engagement with the Anthropocene concept and the material environmental challenges that it encompasses.

The second is that I wouldn’t be surprised if a singular field of environmental history no longer really exists in 2040. Rather, we may see a proliferation of subfields and sub-conversations in fields such as animal history, energy history, climate history, evolutionary history, environmental justice, etc. The field of environmental history that I matured with was fundamentally shaped by the national environmental movement of the 1960s-1980s; the current generation is being shaped by global concerns about climate change and the great acceleration of human impact on the natural world.


Andrew and Paul will both be attending the American Society for Environmental History annual meeting April 10-13 in Columbus, OH. Stop by the University of Washington Press booth (#21) to meet them and to learn more about this series!

American Society for Environmental History 2018 Conference Preview

We are delighted to attend the annual American Society for Environmental History conference (#ASEH2018) from March 14-18, 2018 in Riverside, California, and to celebrate this year’s theme, “Environment, Power & Justice.”

Senior acquisitions editor Catherine Cocks and exhibits, advertising, and direct mail manager Katherine Tacke are representing the Press. Join us at our booth to recognize new titles across environmental history and studies, including in the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books and Culture, Place, and Nature series.

Meet our authors at scheduled book signings and learn about other featured titles below!

Book signings with Andrew N. Case and Joanna L. Dyl

Thursday, March 15 at 10:00 a.m.

Seismic City: An Environmental History of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake
By Joanna L. Dyl
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter

Combining urban environmental history and disaster studies, this close study of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake demonstrates how the crisis and subsequent rebuilding reflect the dynamic interplay of natural and human influences that have shaped San Francisco.

The Organic Profit: Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism
By Andrew N. Case
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter

Where did the curious idea of buying one’s way to sustainability come from? In no small part, the answer lies in the story of entrepreneur and reformer J. I. Rodale, his son Robert Rodale, and their company, the Rodale Press. For anyone trying to make sense of the complex tensions between business profits and the desire for environmental reform, The Organic Profit is essential reading.

Book signings with Brett L. Walker and Melanie A. Kiechle

Thursday, March 15 at 1:00 p.m.

A Family History of Illness: Memory as Medicine
By Brett L. Walker

In this deeply personal narrative, professional historian Walker constructs a history of his body to understand his diagnosis with a serious immunological disorder, weaving together his dying grandfather’s sneaking a cigarette in a shed on the family’s Montana farm, blood fractionation experiments in Europe during World War II, and nineteenth-century cholera outbreaks that ravaged small American towns as his ancestors were making their way west.

Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century Urban America
By Melanie A. Kiechle
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter

What did nineteenth-century cities smell like? And how did odors matter in the formation of a modern environmental consciousness? Smell Detectives recovers how city residents used their sense of smell and their health concerns about foul odors to understand, adjust to, and fight against urban environmental changes.

Book signings with Sarah R. Hamilton and Jakobina K. Arch

Thursday, March 15 at 3:00 p.m.

Cultivating Nature: The Conservation of a Valencian Working Landscape
By Sarah R. Hamilton
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter

Shifting between local struggles and global debates, this fascinating environmental history of the Albufera Natural Park reveals how Franco’s dictatorship, Spain’s integration with Europe, and the crisis in European agriculture have shaped the working landscape, its users, and its inhabitants.

Bringing Whales Ashore: Oceans and the Environment of Early Modern Japan
By Jakobina K. Arch
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter

In this vivid and nuanced study of how the Japanese people brought whales ashore during the Tokugawa period, Arch makes important contributions to both environmental and Japanese history by connecting Japanese whaling to marine environmental history in the Pacific, including the devastating impact of American whaling in the nineteenth century.

New and Forthcoming in Environmental Studies

Footprints of War: Militarized Landscapes in Vietnam
By David Biggs
November 2018

Centering on the landscape of Central Vietnam, Footprints of War reveals centuries of military activities embedded in the landscape and explains how events such as the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hamburger Hill shaped patterns of land use as well as local memories of place.


Environmental Justice in Postwar America: A Documentary Reader
Edited by Christopher W. Wells
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter
Weyerhaueser Environmental Classics

This reader collects a wide range of primary source documents on the rise and evolution of the environmental justice movement. The documents show how activism by people of color and low-income American spurred the environmental justice movement of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Featured in Environmental Studies

Culture, Place, and Nature

Organic Sovereignties: Struggles over Farming in an Age of Free Trade
By Guntra A. Aistara
April 2018

This first sustained ethnographic study of organic agriculture outside the United States traces its meanings, practices, and politics in two nations typically considered worlds apart: Latvia and Costa Rica. Situated on the frontiers of the European Union and the United States, these geopolitically and economically in-between places illustrate ways that international treaties have created contradictory pressures for organic farmers.

November 2017 News, Reviews, and Events

News

University Press Week is November 6-11 (next week!) and we can’t wait to celebrate the value of our books and expertise of our authors with this year’s theme, #LookItUP: Knowledge Matters.

Find a run-down of online and offline events on the UP Week site and join in with the #ReadUP and #LookItUP hashtags on social media.

In huge literary news, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Seattle as a City of Literature in the Creative Cities Network. Please join us in heartily congratulating all involved in the bid, with a special mention to UW Press staffer and Seattle City of Literature cofounder Rebecca Brinbury! Find more from UNESCO, Seattle City of Literature, and the Seattle Review of Books. Read and write on, Seattle!

Monthly Giveaways

Reviews and Interviews


The Atlantic interviews Pumpkin author Cindy Ott in an article about what counts as a pumpkin. WDEL also interviews the author about the connection between pumpkins and fall.


Tell Me Something I Don’t Know with Stephen J. Dubner features Smell Detectives author Melanie Kiechle in a recent podcast episode all about the senses.
High Country News reviews The Tao of Raven by Ernestine Hayes: “As with Blonde Indian, Hayes blurs the boundaries of genre in The Tao of Raven, which braids sharp grandmotherly meditations and gripping personal history into the fictional storyline of another troubled, typical family. . . . Her prose is as insistent as it is lyrical.”—Rob Rich


Inquirer.net USA reviews A Time to Rise edited by Rene Ciria Cruz, Cindy Domingo, and Bruce Occena: “A Time to Rise comes out at an opportune time as another fascist regime emerges in the Philippines. As in the past, former KDP activists have responded to the call to fight back.”—Boying Pimentel


International Examiner also reviews: “This nearly 20-year project is a remarkable documentation of one of the leading revolutionary Asian American Movement organizations. . . . A Time to Rise provides much greater complexity to teaching and learning about both Filipino American and Asian American movement history. . . . More than lessons of the past, A Time to Rise illuminates the way forward to complete unfinished revolutions.”—Tracy Lai


KING 5 Evening features Razor Clams author David Berger in a new series on Wild Food. Langdon Cook (James Beard Award-winning writer and author of books including Upstream and The Mushroom Hunters) reviews the book on his blog: “For the uninitiated, David Berger’s Razor Clams is just the ticket to understanding what all the fuss is about. Berger is a lively guide to Siliqua patula‘s ecology, culinary lore, and historical importance in the region. . . . Readers looking for such nourishment will find much to savor in this account of a beloved bivalve.”


CASSIUS publishes an article by author David J. Leonard about the Las Vegas shooting, white male terrorism, and how race shapes our reaction to gun violence. Playing While White gets a byline mention. The Undefeated also publishes an adaption from the book. The Seattle Times publishes an opinion piece by the author on WSU football coach Mike Leach using his platform to thwart conversation on racial equity rather than advance it, where the book gets a byline mention.


The Seattle Times reviews “Witness to Wartime” and prominently mentions The Hope of Another Spring: “The book and exhibition, together, shed a powerful new light on a troubling chapter in U.S. history. . . . Compelling as both artwork and history.”—Michael Upchurch


The Everett Herald reviews Territorial Hues by David F. Martin (dist. Cascadia Art Museum): “If you love the Northwest and Northwest regional art, be sure to check out Territorial Hues.”—Gale Fiege


Asia Pacific Forum interviews Queering Contemporary Asian American Art editors Laura Kina and Jan Christian Bernabe.


Publishers Weekly interviews author Ingrid Walker in an article about the recent Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association fall tradeshow. High gets a mention.


The Eureka Times-Standard features Defending Giants by Darren F. Speece in an article about the 40th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). Truthout reviews the book: “Eloquent, inspiring, eminently readable nonfiction with precious lessons for those fighting the ever-greater environmental destruction wrought by corporate greed. . . . A tale fully relevant to here and now.”—Robert James Parsons

New Books

Seismic City: An Environmental History of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake
By Joanna L. Dyl
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter

Combining urban environmental history and disaster studies, this close study of San Francisco’s calamitous earthquake and aftermath demonstrates how the crisis and subsequent rebuilding reflect the dynamic interplay of natural and human influences that have shaped San Francisco.


Chinook Resilience: Heritage and Cultural Revitalization on the Lower Columbia River
By Jon D. Daehnke
Foreword by Tony A. Johnson

A collaborative ethnography of how the Chinook Indian Nation, whose land and heritage are under assault, continues to move forward and remain culturally strong and resilient. Chinook Resilience offers a tribally relevant, forward-looking, and decolonized approach for the cultural resilience and survival of the Chinook Indian Nation, even in the face of federal nonrecognition.

Queer Feminist Science Studies: A Reader
Edited by Cyd Cipolla, Kristina Gupta, David A. Rubin, and Angela Willey

The foundational essays and new writings collected here take a transnational, trans-species, and intersectional approach to this cutting-edge area of inquiry between women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and science and technology studies (STS), and demonstrate the ingenuity and dynamism of queer feminist scholarship.


Living Sharia: Law and Practice in Malaysia
By Timothy P. Daniels

What role does sharia play today in Malaysia? Drawing on ethnographic research, this book traces the contested implementation of Islamic family and criminal laws and sharia economics to provide cultural frameworks for understanding sharia among Muslims and non-Muslims in Southeast Asia and beyond.


Mobilizing Krishna’s World: The Writings of Prince Savant Singh of Kishangarh
By Heidi R. M. Pauwels

Through an examination of the life and works of Savant Singh (1697-1764), this remarkable study explores the circulation of ideas and culture in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries in north India, revealing how the Rajput prince mobilized soldiers but also used myths, songs, and stories about saints in order to cope with his personal and political crisis.


The Rebirth of Bodh Gaya: Buddhism and the Making of a World Heritage Site
By David Geary

This multilayered historical ethnography of Bodh Gaya—the place of Buddha’s enlightenment in the north Indian state of Bihar—explores the spatial politics surrounding the transformation of the Mahabodhi Temple Complex into a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002.


The Jewish Bible: A Material History
By David Stern

Drawing on the most recent scholarship on the history of the book, this beautifully illustrated material history shows how the Bible has been not only a medium for transmitting its text—the word of God—but a physical object with a meaning of its own.

Events

NOVEMBER

November 1 at 6:30 p.m., Linda Carlson, Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest, Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church, Sequim, WA

November 2 at 6 p.m., Paula Becker, Looking for Betty MacDonald, Washington Athletic Club, Seattle, WA

November 2 at 7 p.m., David B. Williams, Jennifer Ott, and staff of HistoryLink, Waterway, King County Library System – Mercer Island, Mercer Island, WA

November 4 at 1 p.m., David Berger, Razor Clams, Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, Seward Park Audubon Center, Seattle, WA

November 8 at 6:30 p.m., Linda Carlson, Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest, Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church, Sequim, WA

November 9 at 6 p.m., Zoltán Grossman, Unlikely Alliances, Orca Books, Olympia, WA

November 9 at 12:30 p.m., David Biggs, Quagmire / War in the Land (forthcoming 2018), University of Washington, Southeast Asia Center, Thomson Room 317, Seattle, WA

November 9 at 7 p.m., Ingrid Walker, High, King’s Books, Tacoma, WA

November 10 at 7 p.m., James Longhurst, Bike Battles, BikePGH and Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh, PA

November 10 – 13, Emily T. Yeh, Mapping Shangrila, 2017 Machik Weekend, New York, NY

November 11 at 10 a.m., David Biggs, Quagmire / War in the Land (forthcoming 2018), Seattle Asian Art Museum, Saturday University, History Flows from the Mekong Mud, Seattle Art Museum, Plestcheeff Auditorium (SAM), Seattle, WA (Get tickets)

November 12 at 4 p.m., David B. Williams, Jennifer Ott, and staff of HistoryLink, Waterway, Eastside Heritage Center, Bellevue, WA

November 14, Geeta Patel, Risky Bodies and Techno-Intimacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA

November 16 at 7 p.m., Melanie A. Kiechle, Smell Detectives, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA

November 16 at 6 p.m., Zhi LIN (dist. for Tacoma Art Museum), Tacoma Art Museum, Artist Talk: Conversation with Zhi LIN and Chief Curator Rock Hushka, Tacoma, WA

November 17 at 10 a.m., David E. Wilkins and Shelly Hulse Wilkins, Dismembered, Symposium on Tribal Citizenship, San Diego State University, Scripps Cottage, San Diego, CA

November 18 at 3 p.m., Seattle7Writers Holiday Bookfest with Kathleen Alcalá (The Deepest Roots) and David B. Williams (Seattle Walks), Seattle, WA

November 19 at 2 p.m., Linda Carlson, Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest, Snoqualmie Valley History Society, King County Library System – North Bend, North Bend, WA

November 22 at 7 p.m., Cindy Domingo, A Time to Rise, with Vincente Rafael (Motherless Tongues), Duterte’s War: The Current Crisis in the Philippines and Beyond, Third Place Books – Seward Park, Seattle, WA

DECEMBER

December 2 at 11 a.m., Zoltán Grossman, Unlikely Alliances, Hoquiam Timberland Library, Hoquiam, WA

December 10 at noon, Shelley Drake Hawks, The Art of Resistance, Full Circle Bookstore, Oklahoma City, OK

December 14 at 7 p.m., Shelley Drake Hawks, The Art of Resistance, Concord Free Public Library, Concord, MA

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August 2017 News, Reviews, and Events

News

UW Press publishes two (out of three) titles on the shortlist for the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) Social Science Book Prize 2017 (Humanizing the Sacred by Azza Basarudin and Forests Are Gold by Pamela D. McElwee). Winners will be announced at the organization’s annual meeting in England from August 16-18, 2017. Congratulations to and fingers crossed for the finalists, editors, and all involved!

Monthly Giveaways

Reviews and Interviews

The Seattle Times features Waterway by David B. Williams, Jennifer Ott, and staff of HistoryLink (dist. for HistoryLink) and mentions Native Seattle by Coll Thrush in an article about the 100th anniversary celebrations for the Locks on July 4. The Wedgewood in Seattle History blog also features Waterway.


The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette features an op-ed by Bike Battles author James Longhurst.


The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reviews The Tao of Raven by Ernestine Hayes: “Artistic and honest and moving in a way few memoirs ever dare to match. . . . A seminal work in the making, and one that all Alaskans should make a point not to miss.”—Addley Fannin


General Aviation News reviews The Propeller under the Bed by Eileen A. Bjorkman: “Any aviation enthusiast will appreciate all 200 pages of this work, but those of us who find our fathers and mothers staring up at a cloudless sky when the sound of a propeller breaks the silence will recognize both its timeless appeal and historic significance.”—Mark Jones Jr.


The Seattle Times features The Hope of Another Spring by Barbara Johns in the Lit Life column: “A powerful new book. . . . The book is a beautiful display of Fujii’s work, and it’s proof of the power of art and artists to witness events many would rather leave in the dark.”—Mary Ann Gwinn

8Asians also reviews: “The gem of the book is the reproduction of Fujii’s diary. . . . The Hope of Another Spring offers an Issei artist’s perspective to our understanding of Japanese American’s wartime incarceration, while also bringing a valuable study of Fujii and his artistic journey and long career.”—Lily Wong


The Pacific Northwest Inlander features A Year Right Here by Jess Thomson: “The book is filled with evocative food descriptions and enviable trips, but also encompasses the uncontrollable stuff of everyday life and explores the limits of physical ability. . . . Thomson’s book encourages readers to be curious about their natural habitats in a new way. . . . An invitation to adventure anyone can embrace.”—Cara Strickland


Greg in San Diego blog reviews Birds of the Pacific Northwest by Tom Aversa, Richard Cannings, and Hal Opperman: “I believe this is the most useful regional field guide to the birds in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States.”—Greg Gillson


Western Birds, the journal of Western Field Ornithologists, also reviews the birding guide: “For the majority of serious birders in the West who tend to limit their explorations to one or another state or province, this guide should expand their horizons and encourage more cross-border birding. . . . This guide is an essential reference for birders west of the continental divide, particularly for intermediate and advanced observers.”—Eugene Hunn


TrailBlazerGirl.com reviews Seattle Walks by David B. Williams: “Not your typical tourist guide book. . . . Seattle Walks is an excellent guide to help you experience Seattle in a new way.”


KCTS 9 Borders & Heritage mentions Signs of Home by Barbara Johns in a segment and article about the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066.


UW Today features news from the College of Arts & Sciences that the family of video art pioneer Doris Chase have donated 59 of her works to the Henry. We published a book about the artist, Doris Chase, Artist in Motion by Patricia Failing, in 1992.


TrailblazerGirl.com reviews Hiking Washington’s History and Walking Washington’s History by Judy Bentley: “Enhance your exploration of the Evergreen State with Judy Bentley’s books.”


Plant Science Bulletin reviews Timber Trees of Suriname by Chequita R. Bhikhi (dist. for LM Publishers): “Timber Trees of Suriname will be very useful for foresters and, as a first introduction to the rich tree flora of Suriname, for all botanists, ecologists, and amateurs interested in flora of the Guiana Shield.”—Marcel Rejmánek


The HOME — So Different, So Appealing exhibit is on view at LACMA through October 15, 2017. We will distribute the accompanying catalogue—edited by curators Chon A. Noriega, Mari Carmen Ramirez, and Pilar Tompkins Rivas—for UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press. The exhibit gets mentions at ARTnews and Cuban Art News, and a review in the New Yorker: “’Home – So Different, So Appealing’ is a big, keen show. . . . It tells many stories and is a story in itself.”—Peter Schjeldahl

The exhibit also gets a review in the Los Angeles Times: “If ‘Home’ is a harbinger of what to expect for the rest of the series, it has set the bar high.”—Carolina A. Miranda


KEXP’s KEXPlorer posts an audio recording of an April 2017 panel discussion at the Wing Luke Museum on “Feminism and war in the Asia Pacific” program with Cindy Domingo (coeditor of A Time to Rise; October 2017).


KEXP’s Mind Over Matters Sustainability Segment interviews Unlikely Alliances author Zoltán Grossman. WORT’s A Public Affair (Madison, WI) will also interview the author live on August 11, 2017.


Greg Robinson of Nichi Bei mentions No-No Boy by John Okada in his latest weekly column.


The Now & Then column of Pacific NW Magazine features Frederick L. Brown and The City Is More Than Human. Paul Dorpat’s blog features an expanded version of the column.


TrailblazerGirl.com reviews Haida Gwaii by Dennis Horwood:”For a comprehensive guide to one of National Geographic’s 20 Best Trips, check out Haida Gwaii.”


DCist features Carlos Bulosan and America Is in the Heart in an article about this weekend’s Smithsonian Asian American Literature Festival, as well as their weekend events round-up. The Festival features a two-day reading of Bulosan’s book and Troubling Borders editor Isabelle Thuy Pelaud will also be participating.


The Science magazine podcast features an interview with Smell Detectives author Melanie Kiechle. The American Scholar’s Smarty Pants podcast also interviews the author.


Not Another Sports Show podcast (#NASSRadio) interviews Playing While White author David J. Leonard.

New Books

Razor Clams: Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest
By David Berger

In this lively history and celebration of the Pacific razor clam, David Berger shares with us his love affair with the glossy, gold-colored Siliqua patula and gets into the nitty-gritty of how to dig, clean, and cook them using his favorite recipes. In the course of his investigation, Berger brings to light the long history of razor clamming as a subsistence, commercial, and recreational activity, and shows the ways it has helped shape both the identity and the psyche of the Pacific Northwest.

Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal
By David B. Williams, Jennifer Ott, and Staff of HistoryLink
Distributed for HistoryLink

Why does a city surrounded by water need another waterway? Find out what drove Seattle’s civic leaders to pursue the dream of a Lake Washington Ship Canal for more than sixty years and what role it has played in the region’s development over the past century. Historians Jennifer Ott and David B. Williams, author of Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, explore how industry, transportation, and the very character of the city and surrounding region developed in response to the economic and environmental changes brought by Seattle’s canal and locks.


Picturing India: People, Places, and the World of the East India Company
By John McAleer
Published with British Library

Few historians have considered the visual sources that survive from the British engagement with India and what they tell us about the link between images and empire, pictures and power. This book draws on the unrivaled riches of the British Library — both visual and textual — to tell that history. It weaves together the story of individual images, their creators, and the people and events they depict. And, in doing so, it presents a detailed picture of the Company and its complex relationship with India, its people and cultures.

Events

AUGUST

August 4 at 7 p.m., Ernestine Hayes, The Tao of Raven, Alaska State Library, Summer Lecture Series at the APK, Juneau, AK

August 5 at 11 a.m., Jess Thomson, A Year Right Here, Bear Pond Books, Stowe, VT

August 7 at 7 p.m., David B. Williams, Seattle Walks, King County Library Services – Renton Highlands, Renton, WA

August 11 at 7 p.m., Zoltán Grossman, Unlikely Alliances, A Room of One’s Own, Madison, WI

August 15 at 7 p.m., Judy Bentley, Walking Washington’s History, King County Library System – Lake Forest Park, Lake Forest Park, WA

August 15 at 7 p.m., David B. Williams, Seattle Walks, Co-presented with Capitol Hill Historical Society and Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA

August 30 at 7 p.m., Kathleen Alcalá, The Deepest Roots, Third Place Book Club hosted by Seattle7Writers (Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff), Seattle, WA

August 31 at 7 p.m., David B. Williams, Seattle Walks, with Kevin O’Brien, Third Place Books, Seward Park, Seattle, WA

SEPTEMBER

September 7 at 7 p.m., David Berger, Razor Clams, University Book Store, Seattle, WA

September 7 at 7:30 p.m., David Leonard, Playing While White, BookPeople, Moscow, ID

September 9 from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Multi-author signing from 1 – 2 p.m.), Readerfest with Kathleen Alcalá, The Deepest Roots, The Brig & Ampitheater at Magnuson Park, Seattle, WA

September 12 at 6 p.m., Paula Becker, Looking for Betty MacDonald, Sno-Isle Libraries, Mountlake Terrace Library, Mountlake Terrace, WA

September 13 at 7 p.m., Barbara Johns, The Hope of Another Spring, in conversation with Tom Ikeda, Seattle Public Library – Central Library with Elliott Bay Book Company and Denshō, Seattle, WA

September 13 at 7:30 p.m., David Berger, Razor Clams, Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, Olympia Timberland Library, Olympia, WA

September 16 at 2 p.m., Paula Becker, Looking for Betty MacDonald, Humanities Washington, Sno-Isle Libraries, Stanwood Library, Stanwood, WA

September 16 at 2 p.m., William Wei, Asians in Colorado, Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs, CO

September 19 at 7 p.m., David Berger, Razor Clams, Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, Wheelock Library, Tacoma, WA

September 20 at 6:30 p.m., David B. Williams, Jennifer Ott, and staff of HistoryLink, Waterway, MOHAI, History Café, Seattle, WA

September 20 at 7 p.m., Barbara Johns, The Hope of Another Spring, Friends of Mukai at the Vashon Land Trust building, Vashon Island, WA

September 21 at 7 p.m., David Berger, Razor Clams, Eagle Harbor Books, Bainbridge Island, WA

September 23 at 11 a.m., David B. Williams, Jennifer Ott, and staff of HistoryLink, Waterway, King County Library System – Newcastle, Newcastle, WA

September 23 at 11 a.m., David Berger, Razor Clams, Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, Aberdeen Timberland Library, Aberdeen, WA

September 23 at 2 p.m., David Berger, Razor Clams, Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, Westport Timberland Library, Westport, WA

September 23 at 7 p.m., David Leonard, Playing While White, Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, WA

September 29 at 7 p.m., David Leonard, Playing While White, Elliott Bay Books, Seattle, WA

September 30 at 2 p.m., Judy Bentley, Walking Washington’s History, Timberland Regional Library – Olympia, Olympia, WA

September 30 at 2 p.m., David Berger, Razor Clams, Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, WA

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