Everyday Empire's Tools

In May I had the opportunity to participate in the Everyday Empires: Trans-Imperial Circulations in Multidisciplinary Perspectives conference, hosted by Past & Present, the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures, and the Centre for Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Birmingham. The convenors Simon Jackson and Nathan Cardon encouraged us to synthesise the themes of our panels in posts for the Past & Present blog. This is my two cents from what was a stimulating meeting with a great group of researchers. 

The combined forces of engineering and imperialism still often conjure images of heroic enterprise on a vast scale and across long time periods, resulting in the enormous transformation of places and peoples for empire’s ends. Collectively, the papers of “Engineering Imperialism, Building Empire”, sought to redress this grand narrative through the exploration of engineering and engineering works as sites for everyday encounter.[1] Drawing on David Edgerton’s case for “technology-in-use” and David Arnold’s concept of “everyday technology”, we each focused on a tool or infrastructure that advanced and sustained colonial mobilities within and across European and North American empires in Africa, Asia, and Australia.[2] Typically understood as machines of modernity that revolutionised time and space, in our panel, ships, rickshaws, canals, and railroads became spaces for excavating colonial power relations of labour, race and gender.

Late nineteenth century Australian settlers’ admiration for the feats of British engineers in “irrigated India” was the focus of my paper. Seeking measures to overcome the agrarian limits of aridity, pastoralists and politicians from the colonies of South Australia and Victoria undertook their own “observatory tours” of British India.[3] Although they marvelled at the scale of the waterworks they encountered, the hydrological and labour conditions of their own settler colonies meant that there was little likelihood of replicating these engineering schemes. Across the Pacific, they saw the irrigated agriculture of California as a more favourable model for their ambitions of closer settlement and the formation of a white settler Commonwealth. Their conclusions in this respect reflected Australia’s general turn towards the United States in terms of natural resource management at the turn of the twentieth century.[4]

 J.W. Lindt, “Irrigation at Mornington plantation”, Mildura, 1890.  H96.160/1915, State Library Victoria, Australia .

J.W. Lindt, “Irrigation at Mornington plantation”, Mildura, 1890. H96.160/1915, State Library Victoria, Australia.

What their travel accounts of colonial South Asia also revealed was their observations of the colonial hydrology of India and the nature of the colonial hydrology they sought to forge in the Australian colonies. South Asian environmental historian Rohan d’Souza has proposed the concept of ‘colonial hydrology’ to describe the social worlds of water and to reveal ‘the broader dynamics of colonial rule’.[5] D’Souza’s concept can be used to read the writings of Alfred Deakin, one of the Australian observers, who wrote expansively on the labour processes required to engineer India’s great rivers. The regulation of a river, Deakin believed, was the reward for an ever-vigilant Anglo-engineer, while failures in the system were solely attributable to the poorly skilled Indian workers. The task of the Anglo-engineer was an especially challenging one, so Deakin explained, for the engineer, an avatar of modernity, had to manage both an unruly river and a backward people, who lived “in practically another age”.[6] Framing Indian subjects in this way justified the need for paternalist government in India, while suggesting that white Australians might best follow the example of the United States and its “restlessly inventive and progressive Americans”.[7] Deakin’s account of “irrigated India”, therefore, emasculated subaltern labour in order to celebrate the labour of white men – British and North American engineers and the Australian yeoman farmer: a white brotherhood based on technical mastery. It was these men, their wives and children, who would be the foundation of the “white man’s country” that Deakin would help to forge through the federation of the Australian colonies less than a decade later in 1901.

The colonial allure of American expertise was a theme explored in Steve Tuffnell’s paper, which examined networks of “trans-imperial” engineering in Britain’s African outposts at the turn of the twentieth century. The investment of US capital and engineering expertise in colonial rail projects, Tuffnell argued, encouraged the co-production of colonial rule through coercive and extractive forms of labour discipline developed in the plantation south and the western frontier. Charles Fawell, meanwhile, took us below deck on a steamship voyaging from Marseille to Yokohama in the early twentieth century, where he teased out the volatile labour relations of trans-imperial transit. The focus here was not the glamour of steam travel, but the politics of cohabitation that were produced in a place that was effectively both a hotel and a coal plant. Finally, Chao Ren navigated the “rickshaw zone”, a network that linked China and Japan to the British outposts of southeast and south Asia through the proliferation of this form of passenger transport. The rickshaw fostered intimate imperial encounters between elites and the subjects upon whose physical labour their mobility relied.

Our shared concern with the everyday operation — as opposed to the macro-historical mythologies — of colonial engineering and infrastructure led us to question “whose everyday” featured in these case studies. The written and pictorial sources that informed our studies were intended mostly for elite audiences, both in the colonies and the metropole. Reading these sources against the grain revealed that empire’s civilising mission and the hierarchies that it structured were embedded in these everyday technologies of imperial mobility, and should be grasped accordingly by historians.

Footnotes

1. The other panellists were: Chao Ren (University of Michigan), “Everyday Mobilities: A Trans-Imperial History of the Hand-Pulled Rickshaw, 1870-1930”; Stephen Tuffnell (Oxford), “Transimperialism, Inc.: US Expansion and the Making of British Africa”; Charles Fawell (University of Chicago), “The Colonial Steamship ‘East of Suez’: Conflict and Collaboration in the In-Between Spaces of Empire, 1880-1918”.
2. David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900, London: Profile Books, 2011; David Arnold, Everyday Technology: Machines and the Making of India’s Modernity, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
3. Alfred Deakin, Irrigated India: An Australian View of India and Ceylon, Their Irrigation and Agriculture, Melbourne: E.A. Petherick, 1893, p. 5.
4. See for example, Ian Tyrrell, True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860-1930, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.
5. Rohan d’Souza, “Water in British India: The Making of a ‘Colonial Hydrology’,” History Compass 4, no. 4 (2006): 621.
6. Deakin, p. 25.
7. Deakin, p. 147.

Iceberg Utilization: A Panacea for a Thirsty World?

Last month I contributed a post to HistoricalClimatology.com, where I explored some of the issues emerging from my ongoing research on water scarcity and attempts to engineer abundance. Thanks to Dagomar Degroot for the opportunity to share my research.

  Non-tabular iceberg off Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean. Source: Andrew Shiva, Wikipedia.

Non-tabular iceberg off Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean. Source: Andrew Shiva, Wikipedia.

Ice, or a lack of it, is an “icon” of anthropogenic climate change. Earlier this year, researchers reported that a rift in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has accelerated and could soon cause a vast iceberg to fall into the sea. After the collapse of the ice shelf, the glaciers that once sustained it will run into the sea. Glaciers like these, Mark Carey has observed, have become an “endangered species” of the Anthropocene. Yet only a few decades ago, Antarctic ice was the hero in a visionary episode of the planet’s recent “cryo-history”.
 
In October 1977, scientists met at Iowa State University to discuss the latest findings in the emerging field of “iceberg utilization”. Eager to promote the cause was conference co-sponsor Prince Mohammed al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who flew an iceberg weighing over two tonnes from the Portage Glacier Field near Anchorage, Alaska to Ames, Iowa for the occasion – producing at least 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide over the 5,000km journey. One local couple, who brought with them plastic bags, a bucket, and an ice-pick to the iceberg’s unveiling, told the New York Times, “I don’t know what we’ll do with it – serve it in drinks, I guess. We’ll have a cocktail party”.

 

A series of US television news features documenting the Iceberg Utilization Conference, October 1977. Source: YouTube / Special Collections and University Archives, Iowa State University.

hese stunts amused onlookers, but they were no laughing matter for the researchers studying the possibility of towing Antarctic icebergs to arid and semi-arid climes. Iceberg utilization was a tantalizing prospect for solving one of the world’s pressing problems: global water shortages. In their controversial study The Limits to Growth, the interdisciplinary research group the Club of Rome had earlier warned that the availability of fresh water was a limit to growth that “will be reached long before the land limit becomes apparent”. Bolstering this neo-Malthusian prediction were the widely reported droughts in the Sahel, the Ukraine, and the failure of the Indian Monsoon during the early 1970s. 

An excerpt from the public affairs program, Dimension 5, which aired on WOI-TV in central Iowa, USA, October 1977. Panellists include Prince Mohamed Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Henri Bader, Daniel J. Zaffarano, Richard L. Cameron, and Ed Cronick. Source: Youtube / Special Collections and University Archives, Iowa State University.)

hese anxieties were the focus of the 1977 United Nations Conference on Water in Mar del Plata, Argentina, where fresh water was declared a “scarce asset” that demanded coordinated resource development and management. Among the options discussed to increase water supplies were so-called “complex technologies” and “non-conventional methods”, such as seawater desalination. By the late 1970s desalination was already well established in Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia was eager to replicate its neighbour’s success. Leading this mission (at least until Antarctic icebergs beckoned) was the head of the Saudi Saline Water Conversion Corporation: Prince Mohamed al-Faisal. He shared his vision with the Christian Science Monitor, “Over a period, we would hope to change the vegetation and climate in some coastal areas”.
 
The Prince’s idea was several decades in the making. The prospect of using icebergs to modify local climates and to provide endless water supplies to the world’s thirstiest regions had emerged in the decade after the Second World War. In a 1949 class at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, oceanographer John Isaacs had speculated on the subject, and later expanded on his thinking in the February 1956 issue of Science Digest. He proposed floating an Antarctic iceberg along the Humboldt Current to the coast of southern California from where it could supply water to Los Angeles.
 
The feasibility of such a scheme had been confirmed in 1969, when glaciologist Willy Weeks and geophysicist Bill Campbell surprised even themselves when they concluded that towing icebergs to arid lands was “within the reach of existing technology”. They based their calculations on a large tabular iceberg that was twice the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was less likely to roll in transit and more likely to be found near the Antarctic than the Arctic. The optimum routes for towing such an iceberg, they suggested, were from the Amery Ice Shelf to southwestern Australia and from the Ross Ice Shelf to the Atacama Desert.

 

  “Optimum towing paths between the Amery Ice Shelf and Australia and the Ross Ice Shelf and the Atacama Desert.” Fig. 8, Weeks and Campbell, 1973, p. 220.

“Optimum towing paths between the Amery Ice Shelf and Australia and the Ross Ice Shelf and the Atacama Desert.” Fig. 8, Weeks and Campbell, 1973, p. 220.

n 1973, the National Science Foundation and the Rand Corporation sponsored a subsequent report on the feasibility of southern California for such a scheme. Antarctic icebergs could supply water for urban, industrial and agricultural demands, while helping to abate the growing thermal pollution of the industrialized region. According to their estimates, towing an iceberg from the Ross Sea to the Pacific southwest would be significantly cheaper than inter-basin water transfers and desalination. Furthermore, nuclear energy could be used, which would alleviate the need to use fossil fuels during a decade of uncertain oil supplies.
 
The possibility of endless water supplies was too good to ignore and the Saudi prince assembled experts from around the world to advance the field of “iceberg utilization”. His 1977 conference in Iowa attracted scientists from arid and semi-arid countries such as Egypt, Greece and Libya, as well as nations with polar territories, such as Australia, Chile and Canada. Nearly three quarters of the attendees were from the United States, most of whom were associated with the military-industrial-academic complex. They included researchers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Tetra Tech International, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, and the Naval Weapon Centre.
 
The lone woman speaking at the conference was the pioneering meteorologist, Joanne Simpson from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Simpson had been director of the experimental meteorology laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and member of the Weather Modification Advisory Board. Two decades of studying the intersections of cloud physics with hurricane research informed her comparison of Antarctic icebergs to cloudseeding, as well as her study of the atmospheric impacts of iceberg utilization. Although towing an iceberg would cost more than cloudseeding, she estimated that its meltwater would more than make up for the expense. In icebergs, Simpson also saw a means to mitigate the toll of tropical hurricanes. Using an iceberg to lower the surface temperature of the ocean ahead of an advancing hurricane would help to reduce the destructive winds of the hurricane.

  “Illustration of possible new approach to the hurricane mitigation aspect of weather modification. Hurricanes are known to diminish in strength when they move over cooler water, here shown hypothetically to be supplied by a melting iceberg.” Source: Fig. 5, in Simpson, 1978, p. 865. Artist: Tom Henderson.

“Illustration of possible new approach to the hurricane mitigation aspect of weather modification. Hurricanes are known to diminish in strength when they move over cooler water, here shown hypothetically to be supplied by a melting iceberg.” Source: Fig. 5, in Simpson, 1978, p. 865. Artist: Tom Henderson.

 

Simpson was well aware of the credibility gap that such endeavours faced. In 1978 she wrote, “For meteorology as a whole, public overheated controversy on weather modification gives the entire profession an image of ridiculous bumblers or even charlatans”. But the opportunity to “serve humanity” outweighed these concerns and she welcomed alternative modification methods.
 
Despite the promise of iceberg utilization, its potential impact on local climates became one of the many reasons why the vision did not become a reality. In Australia, for instance, enthusiastic plans for the continent’s southwest were rejected in the mid-1980s on the grounds that an iceberg “parked offshore for several years” might affect the regional climate in unexpected and unwanted ways. Peter Schwerdtfeger, the scheme’s Australian proponent, lamented that its feasibility lay not in science and technology, but in “politically and economically based decisions”. He remained confident, however, that iceberg utilisation would occur when “individual nations recognise their obligations to the more thirsty segment of mankind” and choose to exploit the Antarctic icebergs that otherwise “melt pointlessly in the Southern Ocean”. According to this logic, the failure to take advantage of the icebergs was tantamount to wasting precious water resources.
 
The possibility of iceberg utilization was one of many post-war technological visions. The futurism and science fiction of the atomic age urged the exploration and exploitation of new planetary frontiers such as the deep ocean and outer space. In the Cold War context, measuring, monitoring and manipulating the physical environment on a global scale had the potential to fulfil both military and peaceful ambitions. The iceberg “visioneers” were bit players in a wider debate about the Earth’s future, one that pitted the constraints of ecological limits against the possibilities of technological innovation. Just as the atom offered an inexhaustible source of cheap energy, Antarctica was a cornucopia of renewable fresh water simply awaiting the application of human ingenuity. Four decades later, we are searching for ways to keep that water well and truly locked up.
 
Further Reading:
 
Al-Nakib, Farah, Kuwait Transformed: A History of Oil and Urban Life (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016).
 
Behrman, Daniel with John D. Isaacs, John Isaacs and His Oceans (Washington, DC.: ICSU Press, 1992).
 
Carey, Mark, “The History of Ice: How Glaciers Became an Endangered Species,” Environmental History 12 (2007): 497-527.
 
Carey, Mark, M. Jackson, Alessandro Antonello and Jaclyn Rushing, “Glaciers, Gender, and Science: A Feminist Glaciology Framework for Global Environmental Change Research,” Progress in Human Geography 40, no. 6 (2016): 770-93.
 
Fleming, James R., Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).
 
Gosnell, Mariana, Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
 
Hamblin, Jacob Darwin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
 
Harper, Kristine C., Make it Rain: State Control of the Atmosphere in Twentieth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).
 
Hult, J.L. and N.C. Ostrander, Antarctic Icebergs as a Global Fresh Water Resource (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 1973).
 
Husseiny, A.A. (ed.), Iceberg Utilization: Proceedings of the First International Conference and Workshops on Iceberg Utilization for Fresh Water Production, Weather Modification, and Other Applications, held at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA, October 2-6, 1977 (New York: Pergamon Press, 1978).
 
Jones, Toby Craig, Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).
 
Leslie, Stuart W., The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford(New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).
 
McCray, W. Patrick, The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies and a Limitless Future (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).
 
Rozwadowski, Helen M., “Arthur C. Clarke and the Limitations of the Ocean as a Frontier,” Environmental History (2012): 1-25.
 
Sabin, Paul, The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013).
 
Schmidt, Jeremy J., Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity (New York: NYU Press, 2017).
 
Schwerdtfeger, Peter, “The Development of Iceberg Research and Potential Applications,” Polar Geography and Geology9, no. 3 (1985): 202-209.
 
Simpson, Joanne, “What Weather Modification Needs – A Scientist’s View,” Journal of Applied Meteorology 17 (1978): 858-66.
 
Sörlin, Sverker, “Cryo-History,” in The New Arctic, (eds.) Birgitta Evengård, Joan Nymand Larsen and Øyvind Paasche (New York: Springer, 2015), pp. 327-39.
 
Weeks, Wilford J. and William J. Campbell, “Icebergs as a Freshwater Source: An Appraisal,” Journal of Glaciology 12, no. 65 (1973): 207-33.

Contextualising Western Drought

At the 2016 American Society of Environmental History conference in Seattle, I joined Linda Nash(University of Washington), Char Miller (Pomona College), and Libby Robin (The Australian National University) to contextualize Western drought in environmental, historical and cultural terms. ‘Western drought’ in this instance referred to the region that the US Drought Monitor classifies as ‘West’, where some areas are still experiencing ‘exceptional’ drought conditions. Our discussion drew this Western experience into transnational conversation with histories of drought in Australia, further west across the Pacific. By providing a humanistic perspective of drought, the lens of environmental history complements the scientific study of climate conditions and offers valuable insights into how droughts have been understood and experienced over time.

Climate historian Dagomar Degroot, Georgetown University, kindly invited me to reflect on these issues for his popular website, HistoricalClimatology.com.

  The US Drought Monitor produces a weekly map of drought conditions based on measurements of climatic, hydrologic and soil conditions as well as reported impacts and observations drawn from around the United States. The US Drought Monitor is a joint initiative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Regional conditions as of April 12, 2016.

The US Drought Monitor produces a weekly map of drought conditions based on measurements of climatic, hydrologic and soil conditions as well as reported impacts and observations drawn from around the United States. The US Drought Monitor is a joint initiative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Regional conditions as of April 12, 2016.

In late 2015, meteorologists watching the Pacific Ocean saw the signs of what the media described as the ‘Godzilla El Niño’. Ocean waters in the equatorial Pacific were unusually warm, one of the tell-tale signs that a very strong El Niño was brewing – stronger even than the catastrophic event of 1997-98. For the drought-stricken west coast of the United States, this forecast promised storms and heavy rains in California, while Australians feared the onset of worsening drought conditions over the inland areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales. Although this El Niño has yet to live up to the hype, with the Washington Post recently declaring it ‘dead’, its onset highlighted the climate connections between Australia and the American West and their shared experience of extreme weather events.

  In August 2015, the Los Angeles Times compared the prevailing strength of the ‘Godzilla El Nino’ to the same time of year in 1997. The red and white patches depict the highest sea-surface heights above average, which indicate how warm sea-surface temperatures are above the average. Graphic: Bill Patzert, Climatologist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In August 2015, the Los Angeles Times compared the prevailing strength of the ‘Godzilla El Nino’ to the same time of year in 1997. The red and white patches depict the highest sea-surface heights above average, which indicate how warm sea-surface temperatures are above the average. Graphic: Bill Patzert, Climatologist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

rolonged dry spells lay the ecological and hydrological foundations for fires and floods. In the aftermath of the catastrophic Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, which claimed the lives of 173 Victorians, environmental historian Tom Griffiths explained, ‘These are wet mountain forests that burn on rare days at the end of long droughts, after prolonged heatwaves, and when the flume is in full gear. And when they do burn, they do so with atomic power’. Last year, wildfires burned across a bone dry American West and authorities fear what the 2016 fire season might have in store. Alternatively, in the boom and bust climate of the Murray-Darling Basin, historian Emily O’Gorman has shown how a downpour can turn into a flood if it is ‘not “cushioned” by already full rivers’, while historian Jared Orsi explores flood control in the ‘hazardous metropolis’ of Los Angeles.

Despite significant differences in population, economy and geography, both political and lay responses to drought over the past two decades reveal settler cultures that are at odds with the highly variable climates in which they live. In both Australia and the United States, drought has been a constant since English settlement: archaeologist Dennis Blanton has argued that Jamestown was founded at the height of an unprecedented dry spell, while environmental historian Richard Grove has shown that the arrival of the First Fleet in New South Wales in 1788 coincided with one of the strongest El Niño events in recorded history. Reconstructions of the pre-instrumental climate in southeastern Australia and California suggest the extent to which climate variability was a feature of colonial life.

 Derived from qualitative sources, this table shows drought conditions in southeastern Australia between 1838 and 1860. Column R shows the number of regions affected by drought as a fraction of regions colonized by Europeans. Column M shows the number of months in a year that drought was reported. Source: Claire Fenby and Joëlle Gergis, 2012.

Derived from qualitative sources, this table shows drought conditions in southeastern Australia between 1838 and 1860. Column R shows the number of regions affected by drought as a fraction of regions colonized by Europeans. Column M shows the number of months in a year that drought was reported. Source: Claire Fenby and Joëlle Gergis, 2012.

lthough some part of Australia and the United States is almost always in drought, the visitation of such dry conditions continues to be framed as abnormal, rather than the expression of a variable climate. This water culture, as I and others have argued, is the product of the rise of large-scale public water infrastructure. By separating the means of water production and consumption, this mode of water management helped render invisible the processes of water delivery, thus allowing the illusion of endless water supplies to develop. Our responses to drought continue to favor restoring the illusion of endless water supplies, instead of addressing the cultures that perpetuate this unsustainable vision. Droughts, like all disasters, invite historians to peel away this veneer, laying bare deep-seated tensions relating to land, race, class, and politics that water scarcity only serves to heighten. 

ike the Millennium Drought (1996-2010) in eastern Australia, the intensity of the recent drought in California (2011-) has been attributed to anthropogenic climate change. The IPCC warns that climate change will increase the likelihood and severity of such events in the future. In the southwest of Australia, meanwhile, climate change is also contributing to the regional drying trend that has been challenging local land and water managers since the 1960s. This drying trend is the result of thewesterly winds, which are responsible for winter rains across southern Australia, inching south across the Southern Ocean and leading to greater snowfall in eastern Antarctica. 

  Australian rainfall projections under low, medium and high emission scenarios for different seasons, modelled by CSIRO and the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology based on IPCC scenarios. Source: The Guardian, 18 February 2014.

Australian rainfall projections under low, medium and high emission scenarios for different seasons, modelled by CSIRO and the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology based on IPCC scenarios. Source: The Guardian, 18 February 2014.

In light of these changing climates, an audience member asked us, what then are the role and value of climate and environmental histories? I argue that in these uncertain times, climate and environmental histories are more important than ever. Our research reveals the histories of past weather and climate events, how they were experienced, and how the experience and interpretation of such events has changed over time. We can also map the connections between climate events; historical patterns of vulnerability; and technological and cultural path dependencies. Environmental historians William Cronon and Tom Griffiths have long counselled their colleagues to tell stories about the past, for narratives have the power to inform and most importantly, engage.
 
Engagement is crucial for historians, not just through our stories but also through our research. Close collaborations with researchers and policymakers can reveal the historical thinking inherent to environmental management, while informing analyses of the present and plans for the future.

Bibliography

Australian Context

Deb Anderson, Endurance: Australian Stories of Drought, CSIRO, 2014.

Michael Cathcart, The Water Dreamers: The Remarkable History of Our Dry Continent, Text Publishing, 2010.

Tim Flannery, The Weather Makers: the History and Future Impact of Climate Change, Text Publishing, 2008.

Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, Allen & Unwin, 2011.

Don Garden, Droughts, Floods and Cyclones: El Niños that Shaped Our Colonial Past, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2009.

Joëlle Gergis, Don Garden and Claire Fenby, ‘The Influence of Climate on the First European Settlement of Australia: a Comparison of Weather Journals, Documentary Data and Palaeoclimate Records, 1788-1793’, Environmental History, 15 (3), 2010: 1-23.

Tom Griffiths, ‘We Have Still Not Lived Long Enough’, Inside Story, 16 February 2009.

Robert Kenny, Gardens of Fire: an Investigative Memoir, UWA Publishing, 2013.

Ruth A. Morgan, Running Out? Water in Western Australia, UWAP, 2015.

Emily O’Gorman, Flood Country: an Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin, CSIRO Publishing, 2012.

Stephen J. Pyne, Burning Bush: a Fire History of Australia, University of Washington Press, 1998.
 
Comparative and Global Studies

Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World, Verso, 2001.

Henry F. Diaz and Vera Markgraf (eds), El Niño and Paleoclimatic Aspects of the Southern Oscillation, Cambridge, 1992.

Michael H. Glantz, Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on Climate and Society, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 2000.

Richard H. Grove, ‘The Great El Niño of 1789-93 and its Global Consequences: Reconstructing an Extreme Climate Event in World Environmental History’, Medieval History Journal, vol. 10, 2007, pp. 75-98.

Richard H. Grove and John Chappell (eds), El Niño – History and Crisis: Studies from the Asia-Pacific Region, White Horse Press, 2000.

Ian Tyrrell, True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860-1930, University of California Press, 1999.
 
US Context

Dennis Blanton, ‘Drought as a Factor in the Jamestown Colony, 1607-1612’, Historical Archaeology, 34 (4), 2000: 74-81.

Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, Metropolitan Books, 1998.

William DeBuys, The Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, Oxford, 2011.

Norris Hundley Jr, The Great Thirst: Californians and Water, revised ed., University of California Press, 2001.

B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam, The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow, University of California Press, 2013.

Jared Orsi, Hazardous Metropolis: Flooding and Urban Ecology in Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2004.

Stephen J. Pyne, California: a Fire Survey, University of Arizona Press, 2016.

Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: the American West and its Disappearing Water, Penguin, 1993.

Marsha Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country, University of Washington Press, 2011.

Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s, Oxford, 1979.

Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity and the Growth of the American West, Oxford, 1992.

Making Tracks in Environmental History

Last year I was lucky enough to spend 3 months at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich. Their wonderful team invited me to contribute to the Making Tracks blog series. Here's what I had to say about my journey into environmental history...

  Undertaking doctoral studies in environmental history led me to people, places, and subjects that I had never imagined. Photograph: Richard Aitken.

Undertaking doctoral studies in environmental history led me to people, places, and subjects that I had never imagined. Photograph: Richard Aitken.

 

I’m probably the person least likely to have ended up in the environmental humanities. I grew up in the suburbs of perhaps the world’s most isolated city—Perth, Western Australia—seemingly far from the great outdoors and environmental concerns. Or so I thought. It has only been in retrospect that I have been able to piece together the fragments that led me into environmental history, and so to the Rachel Carson Center.

It had taken me some time to even recognize that I had long been fascinated with the past, and that this interest in different places and cultures had influenced my eclectic choice of undergraduate studies at the University of Western Australia. Following a combined Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Economics and a brief foray into the world of journalism, I returned to the university to undertake doctoral research under the supervision of RCC alumna Andrea Gaynor. I shared with Andrea a desire to explore something “relevant,” something that was of interest to the wider community, something that would allow me to unravel the present. She introduced me to environmental history, and the rest, they say, really is history.

Within the year I was embarking on a project that spoke to the prevailing anxieties about water scarcity and anthropogenic climate change in twenty-first century Australia. Mammalologist Tim Flannery had just declared that Perth was going to be Australia’s first ghost metropolis, a city dead for want of water. At this time, Perth, the Western Australia wheatbelt, most of southern Australia, and the Murray-Darling basin in the southeast, were all in the grip of drought, and anthropogenic climate change was in the headlines. Western Australian politics was focused on whether Perth’s next water supplies should come from the state’s northwest, seawater desalination, or the South West Yarragadee Aquifer. Not long after, Al Gore was telling us the Inconvenient Truth and Australia voted in what was then labeled the world’s first climate change election, which led to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signing the Kyoto Protocol in 2008.

Undertaking doctoral studies in environmental history led me to people, places, and subjects that I had never imagined: from frontier conflict in Perth’s swamps, to dunghills and typhoid, gold fever, wheat and resources booms, and the inevitable busts. Since at least the turn of the twentieth century, it seems as though Western Australians have been tormented by recurring fears that they will, sooner or later, run out of water. It is largely this anxiety about running out that has prompted support for the near-continuous development of new sources, including ambitious plans to transport water from the north of the state for Perth and the southwest. All the while, many Western Australians have maintained a profligate water culture, living beyond their environmental limits and rendering themselves vulnerable to running out. How this fear of running out has been experienced, and how these experiences have changed over time, is the subject of my research.

Researching water history, I soon realized that this was not only about water but was also a story about Western Australia and Western Australians—how we’ve come to where we are, why, and how things might have turned out differently. Some will find cautionary tales, others will be relieved at how far we’ve come. Others will think we still have a very long way to go. Going forward, these are the kinds of discussions I hope that my research will prompt—because conversations about water are also conversations about the kinds of societies we want to live in. And, living in a part of the world where the climate continues to become drier and warmer, few conversations are quite as important.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can trace the faint outlines of this research project in my own past. My suburban upbringing was not divorced from nature, as I had once thought—the boundaries between nature and culture are, of course, blurred. The nature with which I was familiar was more often than not a resource, something to be consumed—whether it was water from the tap, forest to be husbanded, or chickens to lay eggs for breakfast. Environmental history gave me the tools and insights to see the connections and flows that bound me, my family, and our way of life to a much wider network of processes, organisms, and technologies.

Seeing the world in this entangled way led me to my current project, which I commenced during my time at the Rachel Carson Center. My research into colonial understandings of climate in Western Australia had alerted me to the environmental connections between the Australian colonies and British India during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I explore the origins, impacts, and legacies of the traffic in environmental ideas, practices, and species that crossed the Indian Ocean during the colonial period. Examining the environmental connections between Australia and India will not only recover Australia’s environmental history, I hope, but also illuminate the wider imperial processes and networks shared across multiple empires and between multiple colonies that created the modern world.

Undertaking research in the environmental humanities has introduced me to a wonderfully collegial community in Australia and around the world. During my doctoral studies, I was soon drawn into the tight-knit scholarly networks based at the Australian National University, under the leadership of Tom Griffiths (future RCC Fellow) and Libby Robin (RCC Board Member). It was under their guidance in particular that I learned how Australian researchers must travel to overcome the tyranny of distance: even in our ultra-connected world, the importance of face-to-face interaction cannot be overstated. It’s the RCC’s efforts to bring scholars together that have helped me—and others—to continue making tracks in environmental history.

Check out the Making Tracks blog here.