“Mitigation, Adaptation, Resiliency” for Pratt’s Green Week 2015

crash-courseEvery spring, Pratt hosts a Green Week, with lectures, activities, discussions, and events about environmental themes in teaching, activism, design, art, and pretty much everything we study at this school. Green Week 2015 has commenced under the theme “Mitigation, Adaptation, Resiliency,” and you can open a schedule of activities here.

Three events of particular relevance to the Sustainability Studies program include Saturday’s Sustainability Crash Course, the Sustainability Minor display at Pratt Library all week, and an information session about the minor I’ll lead in North Hall 307 Wednesday afternoon from 2-4pm.

If you have questions about the minor, the video display on the library’s first floor has basic information about courses, registration, contact information of the coordinator (me) and a few photographs of student work and activities in our classes. If you would like to learn more, or simply have a conversation about the minor, drop by North Hall 307 Wednesday afternoon and speak with me.

Reflections on ASEH 2015

ASEH_logoWhether actual experience or perception, the 2015 meeting of the American Society of Environmental History seemed as large and busy as it has ever been. In addition to catching up with colleagues, meeting new ones, and seeing the new books on display, I came away from the conference with a pair of impressions.

The first involves format. This year’s schedule emphasized roundtable discussion, and in my experience (as both panelist and audience member), every roundtable successfully generated candid and creative discussions about where environmental history may go. I hope the society will continue to emphasize this format in the future.

The second involves approach. One theme of many sessions was the centrality of work to the ways humans, other organisms, and the environment have interacted throughout time. Ed Russell continued his fascinating approach to evolutionary history with a preview of his book on greyhounds. Building on the work he’s done since the Envirotech e-mail discussion “are organisms technology?” almost fifteen years ago, Ed argued the preindustrial notion of dog breeds had more to do with behavioral traits than physical appearance, and breed became define by the specific jobs the dogs were expected to perform. I look forward to reading Fast Dogs and Englishmen when it is published, and not simply because I’ve lived with retired racing greyhounds for the past decade or so.

Speaking of Envirotech, the group’s Saturday-morning breakfast was larger than I’ve ever seen, with about fifty attendees. Though I was able to talk to a small fraction of the attendees, the research questions and approaches from members continue to be among the most interesting work around.

As for my work, Connie Chiang, Rob Gioielli, Agnes Kneitz, Chris Wells, and I participated in a roundtable on the Future History of Environmental Justice Thursday with a splendid conversation involving temporal scopes, analytical frameworks, identity issues, and politics. Thanks to them and the audience, we had an engaging discussion for the entire ninety minutes. In keeping with my upcoming book Clean and White (and a theme I’ve focused on since 2004’s “Dirty Work” article), my contribution involved arguing that looking at the relationship between work, human health, and the environment was a particularly fertile way to forge new scholarship on the histories of environmental inequalities.

A later panel on social history and environmental history featured a similar argument, and Chad Montrie’s admonishment that environmental historians need to look at labor and labor’s experiences as we craft narratives of the history of environmental movements is especially relevant. Attention not only to work in this vein already being presented at the conference, but also reaching out to listen to historians and historical organizations such as LAWCHA whose concerns may relate (even while not defining them as environmental history) would be potential areas where ASEH can learn, engage with new voices, and collaborate in the future.

Joel Tarr receives ASEH's Distinguished Service Award, March 2015, Washington, DC.

Joel Tarr receives ASEH’s Distinguished Service Award, March 2015, Washington, DC.

Most of the work discussing work completed, the conference concluded with an awards ceremony capped by my dissertation advisor Joel Tarr receiving the organization’s distinguished service award to a standing ovation. I cannot comprehend how my thinking, career, and life would have turned out if not for Joel, and the room was full of people who could say the same. Having the society acknowledge his influence so enthusiastically was a fitting end to the weekend.

ASEH meets in Seattle next spring under the leadership of new president Kathy Brosnan and president-elect Graeme Wynn. The call for proposals is here.

“The Future History of Environmental Justice” at ASEH 2015

ASEH_logoThe American Society for Environmental History holds its annual meeting in Washington DC this week. See the program (link opens PDF) for specifics; I’ll note here that a few activities involve questions of environmental justice, environmental racism, and environmental inequalities. These include a Thursday morning panel of papers, a field trip, and a roundtable discussion.

I’m part of that last one. Thursday morning at 10:30, Connie Chiang, Rob Gioielli, Agnes Kneitz, Chris Wells, and I will participate in the roundtable discussion “The Future History of Environmental Justice.” Some of my comments will involve my forthcoming book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States, and the discussion promises to be a lively one.

I should mention that this conference will also serve to unveil my colleague Jim Longhurst’s brand new book Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road, recommended reading for cyclists and infrastructure enthusiasts.

Participate in PlaNYC’s Survey On What New York City Should Do Next

The chance to implement sustainable social and environmental practices in municipal policy is one of the benefits of living in New York City. Right now, NYC is reaching out about ways to revise its planning:

Every four years, New York City writes a plan to help chart our course as a city. This year we are providing a forum for all New Yorkers to join us in this important process. Leave your mark on the future of New York City by sharing your ideas for how we move forward.

You can participate in the survey here.

A few possible resources to consult:
If you’re concerned about the city’s carbon footprint, you can consult the Urban Green Council’s plan to reduce emissions beyond the city’s own plan.
If you’re concerned about how the city’s working-class residents are or are not served by the existing built environment and services, a possible design model is MacArthur Fellow Rick Lowe’s approach. (Note: My response to the city involved this approach.)
If you’d like the city to enact Zero Waste approaches to solid waste (ranging from single-use packaging restrictions to citywide composting of organics), the case studies at Zero Waste Europe may be useful.

The survey is open-ended enough to include a broad set of concerns ranging from incarceration to affordable housing. Broad responses will give the city a better idea of what its residents value as it makes its new plan, so I encourage residents to participate.

“Destroy, She Said: Decay, Dissolution, and the Anticipatory” March 7 at the Boiler

I’ll talk trash (and decay) with a few of my Pratt colleagues on Saturday. Details below.


 Destroy, She Said
Decay, Dissolution, and the Anticipatory

Readings, performances, and exhibition
Ethan Spigland, Saul Anton, Ira Livingston, Thom Donovan, Melissa Buzzeo, Carl Zimring, May Joseph, Julie Patton, Laura Elrick, and others

March 7, 2015
The Boiler (191 N. 14th St. Brooklyn), 5:30-7:30pm

An exhibition, along with an evening of short readings, performances, demonstrations on the theme of aesthetic, ecological, deliberate, and incidental destruction, decay, and dissolution. Open to the public.

Saturday’s program follows Friday’s opening reception.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Pratt’s Sustainability Minor (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Pratt_DeKalbAt Pratt, we are fine-tuning our social media, and one of the results of that effort is the new, updated Sustainability Studies minor page. Pratt undergraduates curious about their options in the 15-credit minor can see which courses are required, what electives are offered, and follow links to those courses’ links in the schedule.

The department is likely to expand the list of elective offerings for the minor in the future, and this page is an excellent resource for students curious about the program. If you are interested in the program or its courses, feel free to ask me questions.

Andrew Patner


Andrew Patner’s author photo for the I.F. Stone biography. Taken about six years after his teaching stint at KAM.

Andrew Patner, who died yesterday after a brief illness, spent decades as a critic, radio host, and author in our home city of Chicago. His death is hitting the city’s arts community hard, as it should. He’s spent decades discussing classical music, jazz, and literature there, and his perspective will be greatly missed.

My experience of Andrew is as a reader, but also as a student.  The year before my Bar Mitzvah, Andrew attempted to herd the cats that were the 12-year-olds at Hyde Park’s KAM Isaiah Israel. Andrew exhibited unending patience with us before moving on to complete his education and begin his career.

My family moved to California the year after my Bar Mitzvah, but I’d occasionally cross paths with Andrew. I read his biography of I.F. Stone with interest when it came out in 1988, saw him at a memorial service for deceased University of Chicago professor Hans Zeisel a few years later, and, when I returned to Chicago, regularly read his work. (Which was easy, as Andrew was prolific.)

About five years ago, shortly after I began teaching at Roosevelt University, I went to the Spertus Institute to see Lee Shai Weissbach discuss his history of small-town Jews. Andrew and his mother Irene were in attendance, so we caught up. My book on the scrap recycling industry had come up in the discussion, and it interested Andrew. He related his family connection to the trade as a cousin of Michigan’s famed Padnos family (whose archival materials had been among the sources I used in my dissertation), and we chatted about the legacy of American Jews in the scrap trade.

His connection to the scrap trade should not have been a surprise; Andrew seemed to have connections everywhere. He was also a friend of Studs Terkel, and when I heard the sad news yesterday, I spent an hour listening to the two polymaths discuss everything from the University of Chicago Law School to Mahalia Jackson. The conversation represented the best of what I remember about Hyde Park, and it’s a good way to remember him.