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Interviews with Environmental Scientists about their New Books

New Books in Environmental Studies New Books Network

    • Natuurwetenschappen

Interviews with Environmental Scientists about their New Books

    Peter J. Thuesen, "Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather" (Oxford UP, 2020)

    Peter J. Thuesen, "Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather" (Oxford UP, 2020)

    In Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather (Oxford UP, 2020), Peter J. Thuesen links the “numinous” religious experiences of Americans as they experienced the uniquely destructive weather phenomenon of the tornado. Thuesen shows how the weather has shaped theological dialogue in America since the colonial era. New England Congregational ministers such as Cotton Mather developed doctrines of providence as they grappled with the underlying meaning and randomness of violent weather events. Thuesen compellingly shows how, “in the tornado, Americans experience something that is at once culturally peculiar (the indigenous storm of the national imagination) and religiously primal (the sense of awe before an unpredictable and mysterious power).” These questions of providence and weather are not simply historical events, however; they continue to shape the cultural debates over climate change. Thuesen’s book explores the mystery of the weather, and how Americans have made sense of these extreme events beyond their control.
    Lane Davis is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Program in Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University where he studies modern American religious history. You can follow him on Twitter @TheeLaneDavis.
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    • 51 min.
    Valerie Olson, "Into the Extreme: U.S. Environmental Systems and Politics Beyond Earth" (U Minnesota Press, 2018)

    Valerie Olson, "Into the Extreme: U.S. Environmental Systems and Politics Beyond Earth" (U Minnesota Press, 2018)

    What if outer space is not outside the human environment but, rather, defines it? This is the unusual starting point of Valerie Olson’s Into the Extreme: U.S. Environmental Systems and Politics Beyond Earth (U Minnesota Press, 2018), revealing how outer space contributes to making what counts as the scope and scale of today’s natural and social environments. With unprecedented access to spaceflight worksites ranging from astronaut training programs to life science labs and architecture studios, Olson examines how U.S. experts work within the solar system as the container of life and as a vast site for new forms of technical and political environmental control.
    Olson’s book shifts our attention from space’s political geography to its political ecology, showing how scientists, physicians, and engineers across North America collaborate to build the conceptual and nuts-and-bolts systems that connect Earth to a specifically ecosystemic cosmos. This cosmos is being redefined as a competitive space for potential economic resources, social relations, and political strategies.
    Showing how contemporary U.S. environmental power is bound up with the production of national technical and scientific access to outer space, Into the Extreme brings important new insights to our understanding of modern environmental history and politics. At a time when the boundaries of global ecologies and economies extend far below and above Earth’s surface, Olson’s new analytic frameworks help us understand how varieties of outlying spaces are known, made, and organized as kinds of environments—whether terrestrial or beyond.
    John W. Traphagan is a professor in Department of Religious Studies and Program in Human Dimensions of Organizations at the University of Texas at Austin.
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    • 1 u. 7 min.
    Kristina M. Lyons, "Vital Decomposition: Soil Practitioners and Life Politics" (Duke UP, 2020)

    Kristina M. Lyons, "Vital Decomposition: Soil Practitioners and Life Politics" (Duke UP, 2020)

    In Colombia, decades of social and armed conflict and the US-led war on drugs have created a seemingly untenable situation for scientists and rural communities as they attempt to care for forests and grow non-illicit crops. In her new book Vital Decomposition: Soil Practitioners and Life Politics (Duke University Press, 2020), Kristina M. Lyons presents an ethnography of human-soil relations. By following the practical engagements of soil scientists and peasants across labs, forests, and farms, the book attends to the struggles and collaborations between multiple actors over the meanings of peace, productivity, rural development, and sustainability in contemporary Colombia.
    Alejandro Ponce de Leon is a Ph.D candidate at the University of California, Davis. He works, learns, and thinks in the Science and Technology Studies program.
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    • 42 min.
    Kristin J. Jacobson, "The American Adrenaline Narrative" (U Georgia Press, 2020)

    Kristin J. Jacobson, "The American Adrenaline Narrative" (U Georgia Press, 2020)

    Kristin J. Jacobson In her new book, The American Adrenaline Narrative (University of Georgia Press), Kristin Jacobson considers the nature of perilous outdoor adventure tales, their gendered biases, and how they simultaneously promote and hinder ecological sustainability.
    To explore these themes, Jacobson defines and compares adrenaline narratives by a range of American authors published after the first Earth Day in 1970, a time frame selected as a watershed moment for the contemporary American environmental movement. The forty-plus years since that day also mark the rise in the popularity and marketing of many things as "extreme," including sports, jobs, travel, beverages, gum, makeovers, laundry detergent, and even the environmental movement itself.
    Jacobson maps the American eco-imagination via adrenaline narratives, surveying a range of popular and lesser-known primary texts by American authors, including best-sellers such as Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air and Aron Ralston's Between a Rock and a Hard Place. She also covers lesser-known novels as well as stories found in all types of media ranging from magazines, feature-length and short films, television shows, amateur videos, social media posts, advertising, and blogs.
    Jacobson argues for recognizing adrenaline narratives as a distinctive genre because, unlike traditional nature, travel, and sports writing, adrenaline narratives sustain heightened risk or the element of the "extreme" within a natural setting. Additionally, these narratives provide important insight into the American environmental imagination's connection to masculinity and adventure––knowledge that helps us grasp the current climate crisis and see how narrative understanding provides a needed intervention.
    Kristin Jacobson is a professor of American literature, American Studies, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Stockton University in New Jersey. She completed her Ph.D. at Penn State, her M.A. at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and her B.A. at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI.



    Carrie Lynn Evans is a PhD student at Université Laval in Quebec City.


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    • 55 min.
    Daniel Macfarlane, "Fixing Niagara Falls: Environment, Energy, and Engineers at the World’s Most Famous Waterfall" (UBC Press, 2020)

    Daniel Macfarlane, "Fixing Niagara Falls: Environment, Energy, and Engineers at the World’s Most Famous Waterfall" (UBC Press, 2020)

    Water and diplomatic historian Dan MacFarlane has written a fascinating book on a fundamental debate in environmental history: What is a natural landscape? Fixing Niagara Falls: Environment, Energy, and Engineers at the World’s Most Famous Waterfall (UBC Press, 2020) argues that one of the world's most famous natural attractions is not wholly natural but is an engineered landscape. Though the falls have been altered, it's designers seemingly found a balance between preserving its wonder and utilizing its power, MacFarlane argues.
    The first people to record their reactions to the falls in North America were fascinated by its beauty and power. By the end of the nineteenth century, the falls had drawn the attention of both Canadian and American industrialist who saw in its majesty a great potential for energy generation. Since the falls is located on the border, it provoked conflict and negotiations between these two countries over how much water could be drawn upon by each. Utilizing the falls for power generation provoked another conflict over the extent to which power generation might hinder the natural beauty of this thriving tourist attraction. These two conflicts—one about power the other about natural appeal— would continue into the twenty-first century.
    The book unravels the details of these conflicts while at the same time drawing the readers' attention to the often unseen changes being made in, around, and behind the falls. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are those that explain technocrats' debates over, and explorations into, how water reduction might change the natural look of the falls. Exposing these engineered elements of Niagara encourages readers to reimagine this popular natural attraction, and others like it.
    Jason L. Newton is a post-doctoral fellow in the history of capitalism and the environment at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His book manuscript, Cutover Capitalism: The Industrialization of the Northern Forest, 1850-1950, is a history of the changing types of labor performed by people, trees, and the landscape in the American Northeast as that area industrialized. He has also published on nature, race, and immigration. He teaches classes on capitalism and the environment.
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    • 1 u. 2 min.
    Thom van Dooren, "The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds" (Columbia UP, 2019)

    Thom van Dooren, "The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds" (Columbia UP, 2019)

    Crows can be found almost everywhere that people are, from tropical islands to deserts and arctic forests, from densely populated cities to suburbs and farms. Across these diverse landscapes, many species of crow are doing well: their intelligent and adaptive ways of life have allowed them to thrive amid human-driven transformations. Indeed, crows are frequently disliked for their success, seen as pests, threats, and scavengers on the detritus of human life. But among the vast variety of crows, there are also critically endangered species that are barely hanging on to existence, some of them the subjects of passionate conservation efforts.
    The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds (Columbia UP, 2019) is an exploration of the entangled lives of humans and crows. Focusing on five key sites, Thom van Dooren asks how we might live well with crows in a changing world. He explores contemporary possibilities for shared life emerging in the context of ongoing processes of globalization, colonization, urbanization, and climate change. Moving among these diverse contexts, this book tells stories of extermination and extinction alongside fragile efforts to better understand and make room for other species. Grounded in the careful work of paying attention to particular crows and their people, The Wake of Crows is an effort to imagine and put into practice a multispecies ethics. In so doing, van Dooren explores some of the possibilities that still exist for living and dying well on this damaged planet.
    Thom van Dooren is associate professor at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (Columbia, 2014) and coeditor of Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (Columbia, 2017).
    Mark Molloy is the reviews editor at MAKE: A Literary Magazine.
     
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    • 1 u. 9 min.

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