From: Lisa Mighetto <>
Subject: ASEH News Spring 2015
aseh news
spring 2015                         volume 26, issue 1
in this issue

our next conference

Hal Rothman Fun(d) Run in Washington, DC


The 6th annual Hal Rothman Fun(d) Run went off without a hitch on Saturday, March 21. Eleven folks turned out for the event despite the cold temperatures and enjoyed a scenic run to Washington's National Mall area. The runners ran from the hotel to the Mall, around the Washington Monument, and then, with the theme from Rocky on their minds, ran up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial. They took time for photos and to enjoy the view of the Washington skyline as the sun came up behind the U.S. Capital Building. Somebody commented that they can't visit the Lincoln Memorial now without thinking of the opening to Mark Fiege's book Republic of Nature, demonstrating that environmental history is never far from our minds. Contributions for the ASEH Hal Rothman Dissertation Fellowship once again exceeded the $500 target, as the appeal to non-runners to "Pay Not to Run" proved irresistible. Plans are underway for the 7th annual run in Seattle. 


Above: Hal Rothman Fun(d) Runners in DC.


ASEH is grateful to Jamie Lewis for organizing this annual event.


Couldn't make the run this year? You can still donate to the Hal Rothman Dissertation Fellowship by clicking here and selecting the initiative to fund grad students.
photos from DC conference
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president's column: aseh and diversity


I am honored to be ASEH president and humbled when I contemplate my predecessors' accomplishments. They, among others, produced the scholarship that launched this important intellectual field. Along with many members, these past presidents provided the leadership that made our society a vibrant professional organization. Perhaps now, from this position of strength, our society may consider an area where we are less successful - the limited diversity of our membership.


ASEH is not alone in grappling with this issue. Many environmental organizations face this challenge. In history, the number of women and ethnic and racial minorities receiving PhDs continues to grow, but history lags behind other disciplines. Anecdotal evidence suggests that ASEH has made some progress with our members and conference attendees, but we can do much more. And, of course, ASEH remains dedicated to diversity through interdisciplinarity as well.


I hope we can begin a dialogue that builds on existing efforts. Program committees, past and present, work hard to recruit participants and topics that speak to wider audiences. Local arrangements committees schedule environmental justice field trips. Our Diversity Committee is developing a survey to help consider how we might improve our record. Environmental History recently launched its new virtual edition on environmental justice - see: ASEH also offers travel grants for minority students and international scholars.


In the end, however, if ASEH wants greater diversity in our membership, our meetings, and our discipline, we need the commitment of our members to bolster the efforts of these committees. We must ask difficult questions. What does diversity mean for our society? Environmental justice remains an essential issue, but is it the only way for us to integrate diversity into our scholarship? Is diversity only about adding people of color to our stories or does it involve enhancing inclusivity in all aspects of the organization? Who have you recruited for the annual meeting? Should we rethink how we teach environmental history so as to gain the interest of a wider array of students? How often do we reach out to others on our campuses or in our agencies or firms?  How do we engage the communities in which we live?


These are not the only queries we should ponder, and I certainly do not have all the answers. I do know that we must open a conversation, develop plans, and maintain action. ASEH cannot resolve these issues in a year or two, but knowing the dedication, skill, and intelligence of our members, I am confident we will achieve great things.


Please let me know your thoughts on these matters at


-Kathleen Brosnan, ASEH President

the profession: what earth day taught me about education

by Adam Rome, University of Delaware


I've been a professor since 1996, but I didn't truly appreciate the power of questions until I wrote a book about the first Earth Day. I never thought my research would teach me about education. The standard interpretation of Earth Day 1970 has nothing to do with academic life. The iconic images of the first Earth Day all suggest that the event was a playful protest, not an occasion for serious questioning. In one often-reprinted Earth Day photograph, a crowd surrounds a huge banner of the earth shouting "Help!!" Another classic Earth Day image is a close-up of a young man in a gas mask trying to smell the buds on a tree.


But I discovered that Earth Day 1970 was a powerful educational event. Earth Day began as a teach-in. In September 1969, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson vowed to organize "a nationwide teach-in on the environment," and Nelson's call-to-action inspired more than 12,000 celebrations on college campuses, in K-12 schools, and at community venues. Though few Earth Day events ultimately were called teach-ins, the most common Earth Day activities were speeches and panel discussions.


For thousands of people the Earth Day education began well before April 1970. Except for the event in Washington, D.C., every Earth Day celebration was organized by local folk, and Nelson gave the local organizers free reign in planning their events. Because Earth Day 1970 was unprecedented, the local organizers had to answer question after question. What counted as an environmental issue? How if at all was the Earth Day effort related to the great causes of the 1960s? Was the goal of Earth Day to advance a specific agenda or to involve as many people as possible? What kinds of speakers could contribute most to Earth Day discussions?  Many Earth Day organizers thought about little else for months.


The experience of speaking on Earth Day also was educational. By my estimate, at least 35,000 people spoke on Earth Day, and most had never talked publicly about environmental issues before. As the rookie speakers pondered what they should say, they often concluded that the stakes were higher than they had realized.  Even veteran speakers were stretched by the occasion. Their Earth Day audiences often were the biggest and most diverse they had ever addressed. They had to go beyond their expertise - to consider new issues and articulate new ideas. Many felt compelled to adopt a new tone. Some spoke more intimately, while others found a more prophetic voice.


The talk mattered. Earth Day challenged attendees to decide where they stood on important issues, and many took that challenge seriously. Everywhere, Earth Day audiences reflected on big questions. Was environmental degradation largely an issue of quality of life, or was the danger dire? How deep did the roots of the environmental crisis go? Could Americans end pollution by passing legislation or investing in new technologies, or would the nation need to change its fundamental values? What were the most effective ways to force government and business leaders to do more to protect the environment? Was everyone at fault?


Though I'm convinced now that the educational character of Earth Day was critical, I was slow to see that. My first effort to explain the genius of Earth Day was half-baked. In 2010, I wrote in Wired that Earth Day was about "empowerment, not education or protest or celebration." I was right that Earth Day empowered many participants, but I realized much later that empowerment depends on education. People only change when they learn something, and real learning often begins with hard questions.


Thinking about what I've learned, I decided to put two Earth Day photographs on my office door. The first

Earth Day at UC Irvine - courtesy Adam Rome

photograph shows a group of high-school students meeting over lunch with their advisor to plan their Earth Day event. In the second photograph, a UC Irvine student is speaking from an outdoor podium while three professors listen behind him. Though the images aren't striking, they remind me that good questions can make history. What could be more inspiring?


Adam Rome teaches environmental history and environmental non-fiction at the University of Delaware. This piece is adapted from his book, The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation (New York: Hill and Wang, 2013).



ASEH Award Recipients


The following individuals received awards on March 21 at our conference in Washington, DC:


George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book:


Catherine McNeur's Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City (Harvard University Press, 2014).


Alice Hamilton Prize for Best Article outside Environmental History:


Molly A. Warsh, "A Political Ecology in the Early Spanish Caribbean," William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 71, no. 4 (October 2014): 517-548.


Honorable Mention: James Tejani, "Harbor Lines: Connecting the Histories of Borderlands and Pacific Imperialism in the Making of the Port of Los Angeles, 1858-1908," Western Historical Quarterly 45 (Summer 2014): 125-146.


Leopold-Hidy Prize for Best Article in Environmental History:


Faisal Husain, "In the Bellies of the Marshes: Water and Power in the Countryside of Ottoman Baghdad" (October 2014 issue).


Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation:


Philipp N. Lehmann, "Changing Climates: Deserts, Desiccation, and the Rise of Climate Engineering 1870-1950."


Honorable Mention: Joseph Horan, "Fibers of Empire:  Cotton Cultivation in France and Italy during the Age of Napoleon."


Distinguished Service Award:

Joel Tarr


Public Outreach Career Award:

Marty Reuss


Click here for the comments from the award evaluation committees.



Julie Cohn presented the best dissertation award to Philipp Lehmann (above) on behalf of the Rachel Carson Prize Committee.
Editor Lisa Brady (above) presented the Leopold-Hidy Award for best article in Environmental History to Faisal Hussain.


President Gregg Mitman (right) presented the Distinguished Service Award to Joel Tarr.
Marty Reuss (above) received the Public Outreach Career Award.
E. Elena Songster and Michael Lewis received the best poster award for their depiction of research on snow leopards (above).

First Call for ASEH Award Submissions 2015
ASEH presents awards for scholarship, service, and achievement. The deadline for this year's award submissions is November 16, 2015. For a list of awards and instructions on how to submit, click here.

Call for Proposals for ASEH's Next Annual Conference in Seattle

ASEH invites proposals for its 2016 conference in Seattle (downtown area). Click here for more info. Deadline: July 1, 2015.

Call for Proposals to Host Environmental History World Congress in 2019

The International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations seeks proposals to host the 2019 world congress. Deadline: December 1, 2015. Click here for more information.


election results
The results of ASEH's recent election are as follows:

Vice President/Incoming President - Graeme Wynn

Executive Committee: Emily Greenwald, Christof Mauch, Kathryn Morse, and Cindy Ott

Nominating Committee: Jay Turner and Brian Donahue

These individuals took office after our 2015 conference in Washington, DC.

We are grateful for the service of the following individuals, who rotated off the Executive Committee this year:

Sterling Evans, Sarah Gregg, Nancy Langston, and Louis Warren

We are grateful for the service of the following individuals, who rotating off the Nominating Committee this year:

Connie Chiang and Lynne Heasley

Thank you!



film review: Designing America
By Jamie Lewis, Forest History Society

Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America is the latest film by Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey for PBS. Starting in 1989 with films like The Wilderness Idea and Wild by Law, Hott and Garey helped pioneer the environmental biography film genre. Their latest is made in the traditional PBS style, and is perfect for classroom use because of its length (55 minutes) and subject.


Born in 1822 to a prosperous Connecticut family, Frederick Law Olmsted spent the first 35 years of his life in a series of jobs that would ultimately inform his life's work. In 1857 Olmsted, recently appointed superintendent of New York's Central Park, and architect Calvert Vaux, landed the contract for its design and construction. His experience at Central Park would be repeated at every subsequent job. "He did brilliant work," says narrator Stockard Channing, "and quarreled bitterly with his superiors."


The film engagingly illustrates and explains Olmsted's numerous park designs and the impact of his parks on American society. Central Park provided the country with its first democratic landscape. For the first time, men and women could recreate together in a public space and different classes and religions freely mingle. Yet Olmsted sought to impose his upper middle-class vision of acceptable behavior for visitors through his park rules: they could not walk on the lawn or use vulgar language, and were expected to dress nicely. This impulse to influence, if not control, behavior gives another meaning to the film's subtitle Designing America.


Olmsted spent the next 40 years designing urban parks around the country, each different from the last. The challenge for any of these parks, we learn, is fighting the impulse to fill in those open spaces. In nearly every public project, Olmsted's vision would be ignored by park administrators in favor of filling space with ball fields, golf courses, zoos, or even a hospital.


The other takeaway is that Olmsted did not give us natural landscapes, but artificial ones-ones "every bit as artificial as Disney World." By the time Olmsted retired in 1895, he had designed for every public space imaginable: parks, gardens, hospitals, the U.S. Capital, and even a world's fair. One of his last commissions, however, was for private land. Ever mindful of the people's needs, Olmsted encouraged millionaire George Vanderbilt to give back to the nation by initiating practical forest management on his Biltmore Estate. In time, it became known as the Cradle of Forestry.


By 1895, dementia had begun to affect Olmsted's ability to work and he turned the business over to his sons. He died in 1903. Long before then, the film demonstrates, he had made parks an essential part of American life and had helped "design" American perceptions of urban landscapes.


Jamie Lewis is the Forest History Society's staff historian and an executive producer of the upcoming PBS film First in Forestry: Carl Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School. You can read a full review of Frederick Law Olmsted on the FHS blog.

for graduate students


ASEH Graduate Student Caucus


The Caucus, founded in 2011, has grown from twenty members, two years ago, to approximately eighty members at present. At the 2015 Washington DC conference, we held a graduate student reception attended by around fifty graduate students. In addition, the Caucus convened for our annual face-to-face meeting where the members in attendance discussed future enterprises. Ideas ranged from expanding services provided through the Internet to creating conference events that focus on publishing and the job market.  


The Caucus, led by the outgoing Graduate Student Liaison, Bathsheba Demuth, also organized two graduate-student focused panels at the conference. The Graduate Student Writing Workshop, in its third installation, grouped faculty mentors with a number of graduate students to improve writing skills. The graduate students participating developed materials ranging from dissertation chapters to prospective journal articles. Our second event, a roundtable titled "Jobs for Environmental Historians: From Tenure-track to Alt-Ac," combined panelists from both inside and outside academia to discuss employment options for individuals with advanced degrees in environmental history. We look forward to planning and attending more professional development events like these during the Seattle conference in 2016.  


For questions or information about the Graduate Student Caucus, please email the current ASEH Graduate Student Liaison, Daniel S. Soucier:


Summary of Washington, DC Meeting


Click here to read Sarah Ruth Wilson's post "A Grad Student Walks Into a Room" on ASEH's 2015 conference in Washington, DC. Excerpts: "From the start, there was a particular vibe ... I cannot express how excited I am at meeting fellow graduate colleagues and conversing with those established in the field that are willing to share their wisdom." The conference "was a kind of renewal for me as a scholar."

aseh news is a publication of the American Society for Environmental History


Kathleen Brosnan, University of Oklahoma, President
Graeme Wynn, University of British Columbia, Vice President/President Elect
Mark Madison, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Treasurer
Jay Taylor, Simon Fraser University, Secretary

Executive Committee:

Sarah Elkind, San Diego State University 
Emily Greenwald, Historical Research Associates, Inc.-Missoula
Christof Mauch, Rachel Carson Center-Munich
Kathryn Morse, Bowdoin College
Cindy Ott, St. Louis University
Ellen Stroud, Bryn Mawr College 
Paul Sutter, University of Colorado
Daniel Soucier, University of Maine, grad student liaison
Ex Officio, Past Presidents:

John McNeill, Georgetown University
Gregg Mitman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Ex Officio, Editor, Environmental History
Lisa Brady, Boise State University

Ex Officio, Executive Director and Editor, aseh news:
Lisa Mighetto, University of Washington-Tacoma
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