Scram already, willya?
Scram already, willya?
Why is extra credit so motivating for my students? I wonder if there’s any educational psychology literature on this? Readers who are in the know, please let me know. My students, whose class attendance and record of written assignments is mixed overall at best, will do just about anything so long as I call it extra credit! (Is it like getting a “free” appetizer or dessert with your dinner, or a dollar off your coffee after you have your loyalty card stamped ten times?)
Does this happen to any of you faculty and teacher-types out there? Continue Reading »
Well, well, well: fires are raging here in Colorado, and hellzapoppin’ everywhere else these days. Here are a few tidbits to keep you entertained today while I’m stuck in paper-grading hell. On a post last week that featured a new pair of shoes, a commenter asked if there were “shoes with manuscript-finishing powers?” Girl, there’s a shoe, or a boot, for every job. I’ve got these boots to inspire me to kick some a$$ and take names. That’s what they say about me, friends: Historiann really has a pair! (Of boots, duh!)
Today’s post is the second of a two-part interview with Mark Fiege (pronounced FEE-gee, rhymes with BeeGee), who has just published The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012). Mark is a colleague of mine at Baa Ram U., and his book delivers what its sweeping subtitle suggests–a striking reinterpretation of American history as environmental history, with chapters that span the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. Part I of our conversation is here, if you missed it.
As I explained yesterday, The Republic of Nature is not a textbook, but rather an attempt to interpret key episodes or turning points in American history as environmental history, reconsidering them from the different angles employed by environmental historians and their extra-disciplinary colleagues. Its nine chapters explore New England witchcraft, the Declaration of Independence, “King Cotton,” Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address, the Transcontinental Railroad, the atomic bomb, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Oil Shock of the 1970s. (Click here to learn more about the book at its own website.)
Mark saddled up and rode out East yesterday for the start of his national book tour–see here if he’s coming to a middle-western or eastern town near you this spring. His book will be the subject of a special session next month at the annual meeting of the Organization for American Historians in Milwaukee on Friday, April 20 at 1:30 p.m. Be there, and you just might get an opportunity to meet Mark and his fellow panelists, Linda Gordon, Mary Beth Norton, Eric Foner, and William Cronon. Yes, that’s where Mark’s career is heading, friends–we’ll be lucky to keep him down on the high plains desert from now on.
In today’s conversation, we talk about how Mark defines environmental history and we even talk about some women’s history and history of sexuality and the connections between our fields:
Historiann: I love the point that “nature” and “the natural” are inherently ideological constructs—just as are classic concepts for organizing American history like “liberty,” “republicanism,” and “democracy.” Yet historians of the past several generations have been much more interested in organizing their lectures and books on the sweep of U.S. history around those contested political terms because of their flexibility. Americans as different as Jefferson, DuBois, Alice Paul, and Antonin Scalia, for example, have had very different interpretations of these big ideas. Your book shows how nature can be an organizing principle of American history, too.
I want to press you further on your definition of environmental history. Since you are advancing an expansive view of what constitutes environmental history, where I wonder do you draw the line between environmental history and everything else? Is there any subject or methodology you would categorically exclude, or is your habit of mind now inclined to look for an environmental hsitory angle in everything?
Mark Fiege: A recent book that I deeply admire and that speaks to all of these issues in particular ways is Susan Klepp’s Revolutionary Conceptions, some of the insights of which I incorporated into The Republic of Nature. As an environmental historian, I like the book because Klepp takes seriously the relationships among biological processes, culture, and power in explaining the causes and consequences of the decline in fertility during the American Revolution. Her claim that “procreation is power” is marvelous and expresses precisely what environmental historians are trying to do, which is to explain that complex, interacting combination of human and non-human material factors that drive history. Continue Reading »
Today’s post is the first of a two-part interview with Mark Fiege (pronounced FEE-gee, rhymes with BeeGee), who has just published The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012). Mark is a colleague of mine at Baa Ram U., and his book delivers what its sweeping subtitle suggests–a striking reinterpretation of American history as environmental history, with chapters that span the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries.
Because we have had conversations on this blog about many of the issues Mark addresses in his book, I believe that many of you will want to learn more about The Republic of Nature. Those of you who are training graduate students in history and who are looking for ways to bring environmental history into your survey and upper-division lectures and readings will find this book indispensible. American historians will learn something new, and non-U.S. historians will behold a model for using environmental history in telling a national story. Furthermore, all readers who enjoys brisk prose and surprising insights into stories you thought you already knew will be rewarded with discoveries on nearly every page.
The Republic of Nature is not a textbook, but rather an attempt to interpret key episodes or turning points in American history as environmental history, reconsidering them from the different angles employed by environmental historians and their extra-disciplinary colleagues. Its nine chapters explore New England witchcraft, the Declaration of Independence, “King Cotton,” Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address, the Transcontinental Railroad, the atomic bomb, Brown v. Board of Education, and the energy crisis of the 1970s. (Click here to learn more about the book at its own website.)
In today’s conversation, we talk about nature, race, and their central roles in American history:
Historiann: Abraham Lincoln and race are emotionally and actually at the center of your book: Lincoln’s profile at Mt. Rushmore greets us on the dust jacket of your book. Your introduction opens with a fascinating meditation on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Chapters 3 through 5 focus respectively on slavery and cotton production, the mythic and actual biographies of Abraham Lincoln, and the Battle and Address of Gettysburg. And finally, your interest in race and the color line in American history are evident again in your choice to focus on Brown v. Board of Education in chapter 8. What is it about Abraham Lincoln and America’s record on race that attracted your interest as an environmental historian? I can’t help but perceive a rebuke to environmental historians who perhaps have not attended to this aspect of the American historical landscape–or is that an unwarranted assumption?
Mark Fiege: Researching and writing this book has convinced me that race and the black freedom struggle are central to American history, perhaps even its defining elements. But I’m an environmental historian, and another part of me recognizes that all social struggles unfold in the material medium generally known as nature. So I felt that I had to explain how race and nature are at the heart of the story.
While working on the book, I came across “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the national anthem composed in 1900 by James Weldon Johnson and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson. I had never heard it performed, so the ethnomusicologist Deborah Wong gave me a version of it on a CD. It is profoundly moving, as great as any of the other national anthems. In it, people wander across an awesome providential landscape until they come to a place where they can live in God’s sheltering grace. It presents a kind of alternative Manifest Destiny that is about redemption, not conquest. It captures perfectly the sense that the struggle is centered in a landscape and involves a people’s special relationship to nature.
So I think my focus on race is less a rebuke to anyone than an embrace of what I take to be the truth of the matter–that this is what American history, at its core, is really about. Continue Reading »