ASEH Phoenix: Day 1

Where to start…first of all, Arizona doesn’t seem to have an equivalent to Anne of Green Gables so as much as I would like to do a second instalment of “insert cultural stereotype here” spotting, it will not be possible. Though about spotting cacti – because it is a great word – however there are too many of them! The same goes for palm trees and the weird trees with the green bark.

If you are a Twitter user the best way to follow what is happening at the ASEH in real-time is through the #ASEH2011. Also, I realized somewhere over the Rockies that I had failed to pack the transfer cable for my camera so until I return to Edmonton there will be limited pictures since they will have to come from my phone.

This is my first ASEH experience and so far it has been overwhelmingly positive. Every panel has been filled with engaging and thought provoking presentations as well as great questions. I have listened to presentations on living with petroleum, global coal issues, common property, sustainability, and teaching global environmental history. There was too much covered to adequately address everything so I’ll restrict this to the three sessions that left me with the most to think about: petroleum, global environmental history and sustainability.

Started the conference with an interesting panel on petroleum and the love-hate-loathing relationship North Americans have with various petroleum products. The love portion of the relationship came courtesy of Twyla Dell’s presentation on the website Gasoline: A Love Story. It gave the history of gasoline use as a romance story between humans and their cars and was overwhelmingly positive despite the current issues surrounding pollution and skyrocketing gas prices. It was a great reminder that despite the negative implications our reliance on petroleum products have on local and global environments, as a society we are infatuated with oil. This was nicely off-set by Teresa Sabol Spezio’s presentation on the scientific controversy and the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969. A trained chemical engineer, her description of the two conflicting studies of the environmental effects of the spill on the marine ecosystem raised two important ideas for my own research. First, science was central to how the public was informed about the spill, despite the debates between scientific disciplines over the negative impacts of the spill. Second, the importance of baseline studies in how pollution problems are presented to the public. Like what is currently happening around Fort McMurray, some studies were able to downplay the ecological destruction caused by the spill because there were no base line studies that established the state of the area before the spill.

The idea of teaching a global environmental history course is intriguing to but dissecting a world history textbook for a graduate course on the Whig Interpretations of History has left me sceptical towards the general idea of a world or global history. The roundtable consisted of five scholars from Europe, US, South Africa, Australia, and India which gave a good global representation of approaches to teaching. I left the session still on the fence about the global history approach because it was evident from each presenter that how they engaged students and presented a global environmental history was shaped first by the local or national context they taught in. The American approach was through the idea of empire, while the South African approach was shaped by the shadow and legacy of apartheid. In India post-colonialism loomed large, and in Australia it was about exceptionalism in a global context. The one approach that seemed the most useful was from the American teaching in Switzerland, Marcus Hall, who espoused using micro phenomena with a global reach.

I have just decided not to include the sustainability talk in this post because I would like to keep this under 1000 words. Plus, William Cronon‘s plenary address on “The Riddle of Sustainability: A Surprisingly short History of the Future” deserves a separate post. What I will say here is Cronon’s talk exceeded my high expectations in every possible way. It is not often that a 1.25 hour talk flies by.

This afternoon we break off into smaller groups for various field trips. I picked the one that was free and allowed for a little desert adventuring – Sears Kay Ruins in the Tonto National Forest.


Found this one the way to lunch yesterday. Not sure what this is…seems like it would be a hazard for birds…

About Lauren Wheeler

A reformed history phd student working as a public historian and looking for connections between museums and environmental history from the often freezing reaches of Canada (aka Edmonton).
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1 Response to ASEH Phoenix: Day 1

  1. Pingback: ASEH Phoenix: Days 2 and 3 | Lauren Wheeler, Can Enviro Rock?

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