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The Boston Environmental History Seminar is an occasion for scholars as well as interested members of the public to discuss aspects of American environmental history from prehistory to the present day. Presenters come from a variety of disciplines including history, urban planning, and environmental management. Six to eight sessions take place annually during the academic year, and most focus on works in progress.

 

Seminar meetings revolve around the discussion of a precirculated paper. Sessions open with remarks from the essayist and an assigned commentator, after which the discussion is opened to the floor. After each session, the Society serves a light buffet supper.

 

Subscribe to this seminar series for $25, and you will receive access to the seminar papers for THREE series: the Boston Area Early American History Seminar, the Boston Environmental History Seminar, and the Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture. We recognize that topics frequently resonate across these three fields; now, mix and match the seminars that you attend!

October

Environmental History Seminar Adapting Capitalism to Climates: Entrepreneurs, Stock, and Transcontinental Telegraphy in the United States, 1844-1861 11 October 2016.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Edmund Russell, Boston University Comment: Merritt Roe Smith, MIT In 1861, the transcontinental telegraph was completed, allowing signals to be transmitted through ...

In 1861, the transcontinental telegraph was completed, allowing signals to be transmitted through wires from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This system, often overshadowed by the transcontinental railroad, advanced three great projects of American history: expanding capitalism, building the state, and conquering nature with technology. This essay focuses on the models of capital accumulation employed in building the telegraph and on the financial models and environments that made regional telegraph networks with different features.

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November
Environmental History Seminar Panel: Native Peoples, Livestock, and the Environment 15 November 2016.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Katrina Lacher, University of Central Oklahoma, and Strother Roberts, Bowdoin College Comment: Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut at Storrs In 1808, John Palmer Parker inaugurated rapid changes to Hawaii’s economy by building a beef ...

In 1808, John Palmer Parker inaugurated rapid changes to Hawaii’s economy by building a beef and hide industry that would facilitate the U.S. annexation of the archipelago. Lacher’s essay, “The Paniolos of Parker Ranch: Cattle Ranching on the Slopes of Mauna Kea,”  examines this site of environmental transformation and cultural exchange. Roberts’s paper, “A Dog’s History of Early New England: Indigenous Dogs in the Societies and Ecology of the Northeast,” argues that dogs should be considered as Native American livestock that were raised to fulfill a wide variety of tasks including serving as hunting partners and sources of meat. The essay further considers the mutal influences of European contact, the dog population, other wildlife, and human disease.

More
December
Environmental History Seminar Panel: Recreation and Regional Planning 13 December 2016.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Elsa Devienne, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense and Princeton University, and Garrett Nelson, Dartmouth College Comment: Brian Donahue, Brandeis University Devienne’s essay, “Shifting Sands: A Social and Environmental History of Los ...

Devienne’s essay, “Shifting Sands: A Social and Environmental History of Los Angeles’s Beaches, 1920s-1970s” examines the beaches as urban spaces whose modernization had profound consequences for the working-class. The beach clean-up and enlargement turned a popular shoreline into a semi-privatized playground for the white middle class. Nelson’s essay, “Assembling the Metropolis, Arresting the Metropolis: Competing Unit Geographies of Boston and Its Region, 1890-1930,” approaches parks as landscapes that express attitudes toward community, polity, and territory. By examining Sylvester Baxter’s metropolitan parks and Benton MacKaye’s Bay Circuit, it explores the intellectual tensions between Progressivism and the radical cultural regionalism that followed.

More
January
Environmental History Seminar Sex in the Reeds: Disciplining Nature and Cultivating Virtue in the Back Bay Fens 10 January 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Zachary Nowak, Harvard University Comment: Phyllis Andersen, Independent Scholar With the introduction of discourse about “invasive exotic species” in the 1980s, the ...

With the introduction of discourse about “invasive exotic species” in the 1980s, the reason for the removal of reeds planted along the Muddy River shifted, from socio-sexual disapproval of illicit activities to “ecoxenophobia.” This essay aims to historicize “exotic” species to show that their labeling as such is a social construct, not a biological fact. Improving the Fens through planting and weeding has for more than a century really been a project to improve people.

More
February
Environmental History Seminar Harvest for War: Fruits, Nuts, Imperialism, and Gas Mask Manufacture in the United States During World War I 21 February 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Gerard Fitzgerald, George Mason University Comment: Nicoletta Gullace, University of New Hampshire Part of a larger book length study, this essay examines the use of seemingly exotic foodstuffs and ...

Part of a larger book length study, this essay examines the use of seemingly exotic foodstuffs and industrial waste in the form of fruit pits for the manufacture of a high-density carbon filter critical for defense against chemical weapons. It involves not only environmental and military history but also the history of science and biology. The essay includes analysis of transportation networks within the context of 19th-century US imperialism, especially from a resource allocation perspective.

More
March
Environmental History Seminar The Winter Workscape: Weather and the Meaning of Industrial Capitalism in the Northern Forest, 1850-1950 14 March 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Jason L. Newton, Syracuse University Comment: Richard W. Judd, University of Maine Industrial logging operators used the winter weather, wood, simple machines, and muscle power alone ...

Industrial logging operators used the winter weather, wood, simple machines, and muscle power alone to increase the production and transportation of saw logs to reach industrial scale and efficiency. Drawing on methods from environmental and labor history and the history of slavery and capitalism, this essay characterizes industrial capitalism as a force that will sustain seemingly anachronistic modes of production as long as they remain profitable. It shows that increased efficiency and scale need not always lead to massive carbon emissions.

More
April
Environmental History Seminar Panel: Fishing the Commons 11 April 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Erik Reardon, University of Maine at Orono, and Stacy Roberts, University of California, Davis Comment: Matthew McKenzie, University of Connecticut at Avery Point Reardon’s paper, “New England’s Pre-Industrial River Commons: Culture and Economy ...

Reardon’s paper, “New England’s Pre-Industrial River Commons: Culture and Economy,” argues for the persistence of a river commons long after population growth and market pressures undermined the prospects for shared lands. Roberts’s essay, “The Private Commons: Oyster Planting in 19th-century Connecticut,” explain why Connecticut developed a dual system of public and private oyster production over the course of the 19th century by weaving together a history of the environment, law, and capitalism.

More
More events
Environmental History Seminar Adapting Capitalism to Climates: Entrepreneurs, Stock, and Transcontinental Telegraphy in the United States, 1844-1861 11 October 2016.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Edmund Russell, Boston University Comment: Merritt Roe Smith, MIT

In 1861, the transcontinental telegraph was completed, allowing signals to be transmitted through wires from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This system, often overshadowed by the transcontinental railroad, advanced three great projects of American history: expanding capitalism, building the state, and conquering nature with technology. This essay focuses on the models of capital accumulation employed in building the telegraph and on the financial models and environments that made regional telegraph networks with different features.

close
Environmental History Seminar Panel: Native Peoples, Livestock, and the Environment 15 November 2016.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Katrina Lacher, University of Central Oklahoma, and Strother Roberts, Bowdoin College Comment: Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut at Storrs

In 1808, John Palmer Parker inaugurated rapid changes to Hawaii’s economy by building a beef and hide industry that would facilitate the U.S. annexation of the archipelago. Lacher’s essay, “The Paniolos of Parker Ranch: Cattle Ranching on the Slopes of Mauna Kea,”  examines this site of environmental transformation and cultural exchange. Roberts’s paper, “A Dog’s History of Early New England: Indigenous Dogs in the Societies and Ecology of the Northeast,” argues that dogs should be considered as Native American livestock that were raised to fulfill a wide variety of tasks including serving as hunting partners and sources of meat. The essay further considers the mutal influences of European contact, the dog population, other wildlife, and human disease.

close
Environmental History Seminar Panel: Recreation and Regional Planning Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 13 December 2016.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Elsa Devienne, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense and Princeton University, and Garrett Nelson, Dartmouth College Comment: Brian Donahue, Brandeis University

Devienne’s essay, “Shifting Sands: A Social and Environmental History of Los Angeles’s Beaches, 1920s-1970s” examines the beaches as urban spaces whose modernization had profound consequences for the working-class. The beach clean-up and enlargement turned a popular shoreline into a semi-privatized playground for the white middle class. Nelson’s essay, “Assembling the Metropolis, Arresting the Metropolis: Competing Unit Geographies of Boston and Its Region, 1890-1930,” approaches parks as landscapes that express attitudes toward community, polity, and territory. By examining Sylvester Baxter’s metropolitan parks and Benton MacKaye’s Bay Circuit, it explores the intellectual tensions between Progressivism and the radical cultural regionalism that followed.

close
Environmental History Seminar Sex in the Reeds: Disciplining Nature and Cultivating Virtue in the Back Bay Fens Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 10 January 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Zachary Nowak, Harvard University Comment: Phyllis Andersen, Independent Scholar

With the introduction of discourse about “invasive exotic species” in the 1980s, the reason for the removal of reeds planted along the Muddy River shifted, from socio-sexual disapproval of illicit activities to “ecoxenophobia.” This essay aims to historicize “exotic” species to show that their labeling as such is a social construct, not a biological fact. Improving the Fens through planting and weeding has for more than a century really been a project to improve people.

close
Environmental History Seminar Harvest for War: Fruits, Nuts, Imperialism, and Gas Mask Manufacture in the United States During World War I Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 21 February 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Gerard Fitzgerald, George Mason University Comment: Nicoletta Gullace, University of New Hampshire

Part of a larger book length study, this essay examines the use of seemingly exotic foodstuffs and industrial waste in the form of fruit pits for the manufacture of a high-density carbon filter critical for defense against chemical weapons. It involves not only environmental and military history but also the history of science and biology. The essay includes analysis of transportation networks within the context of 19th-century US imperialism, especially from a resource allocation perspective.

close
Environmental History Seminar The Winter Workscape: Weather and the Meaning of Industrial Capitalism in the Northern Forest, 1850-1950 Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 14 March 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Jason L. Newton, Syracuse University Comment: Richard W. Judd, University of Maine

Industrial logging operators used the winter weather, wood, simple machines, and muscle power alone to increase the production and transportation of saw logs to reach industrial scale and efficiency. Drawing on methods from environmental and labor history and the history of slavery and capitalism, this essay characterizes industrial capitalism as a force that will sustain seemingly anachronistic modes of production as long as they remain profitable. It shows that increased efficiency and scale need not always lead to massive carbon emissions.

close
Environmental History Seminar Panel: Fishing the Commons Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 11 April 2017.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Erik Reardon, University of Maine at Orono, and Stacy Roberts, University of California, Davis Comment: Matthew McKenzie, University of Connecticut at Avery Point

Reardon’s paper, “New England’s Pre-Industrial River Commons: Culture and Economy,” argues for the persistence of a river commons long after population growth and market pressures undermined the prospects for shared lands. Roberts’s essay, “The Private Commons: Oyster Planting in 19th-century Connecticut,” explain why Connecticut developed a dual system of public and private oyster production over the course of the 19th century by weaving together a history of the environment, law, and capitalism.

close

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