The Edge Effects editorial board brings you a handful of recommendations based on the most interesting stuff that’s come across our desks, screens, and speakers over the last month (or so). From books and articles, to podcasts, music, and film, we’ll keep you on the edge.
In celebration of Earth Day, I recommend French photographer Yan Arthus-Bertrand’s “Earth from Above” photo series. Arthus-Bertrand began his aerial cataloging of Planet Earth in 1994, and first displayed the series as a free exhibit in France in 2000. Afterwards, his collection toured 110 cities across the globe, drawing over 120 million viewers. You can see his fantastic collection here, or check out the subsequent art book and film that were produced as a result of the project.
Helen J. Bullard
I’ve been contemplating silence a lot lately. And not just silence for the ear, but silence for the spirit. Earlier in my graduate career, I was lucky enough to be a teaching assistant to Pauline Oliveros in her world-renowned Deep Listening class. I miss the meditation of our listening practices. The cha-cha-cha-tssiii of the cicadas. The tick-tick clank of the heating system in our classroom. My own heart. Perhaps for these reasons, and the approach of summer rolling forth its own onerous and unstoppable silences, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Christopher Ingraham’s article in the Washington Post this month, about the National Parks Service mission to map “quietness” last year. Their map imagines “all traces of human activity” removed, sound-mapping hundreds of locations across the US and “leaving only physiographical sources of sound like wind, flowing water, precipitation, animals, and geological events.” As Ingraham discovered, there is no real silence. But, even in our complicated urban lives there is the opportunity to listen—deeply—and it’s beautiful. Take a moment. You won’t be sorry.
If you’re interested in understanding the modern American food system (or teaching about it!), you could do worse than to start with the experiences of those who produce, process, and sell our food. This month, I recommend Steven Striffler’s “Inside a Poultry Processing Plant: An Ethnographic Portrait”1 and Deborah Barndt’s “Whose “Choice”? “Flexible” Women Workers in the Tomato Food Chain.”2 These thoughtful papers make visible the humanity behind our food, while clearly connecting the lives and experiences of food workers to broader political and economic systems.
This semester I’m a teaching assistant in Jack Williams’s “Global Warming: Science and Impacts” course. One of our activities was to simulate the Paris climate talks (COP21) of last year to encourage students to think about the challenges and opportunities of a negotiated international climate agreement. We adapted the negotiation game, created by the nonprofit organization Climate Interactive, and divided the class into negotiation “blocs,” each organizing groups of countries with similar interests in the agreement. Each bloc was then responsible for reporting the year they would choose to stop growing carbon dioxide emissions, the year they would begin reducing emissions, and whether they would contribute to deforestation and reforestation efforts. Blocs reported their numbers to the plenary, and we used very useful simulation software called C-ROADS (for a simpler version, see also C-LEARN) to input these numbers and forecast the parts per million concentration of carbon dioxide and global average temperature rise by the year 2100. A major takeaway was just how difficult it was to reach a negotiated settlement, let alone to abide by it, given the diversity of interests at the table. Students came away with a sense of respect for the negotiation process and a set of powerful questions about what it takes to create a lasting and effective agreement.
Summer is slowly but surely approaching, and this August will be the centennial of the National Park Service. It’s a time of both feast and famine for the parks: they set an all-time record of 305 million visitors in 2015, yet they are $12 billion behind in maintenance tasks. What will their future hold? Will the crowds yield more financial support or simply more wear and tear? This podcast, from the fantastic public radio show, On Point, collaborates with writers from Outside Magazine to offer some thoughts on these and more questions, along with many recollections by listeners of what the parks mean to them.
It’s almost that time of year when many of us will be on the road visiting unfamiliar territory and returning to old haunts. In either case, we’re often relying on friends and family, online reviews, or even guidebooks like Fodor’s to help us find the sights to see. The problem is that these popular ways of “reading the landscape” often overlook the stories of those marginalized for reasons of race, gender, class, and/or sexuality. If you happen to be in Los Angeles, however, be sure to pick up a copy of A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, by Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng. The authors introduce us to over 100 sites in the city involving historical and contemporary power struggles over place. If you’re not visiting LA, stay tuned for guides to other cities…
Earlier this month Parag Khanna published this provocative opinion piece in The New York Times, asking Americans to rethink the political and economic geography of the United States. Instead of a system of states, the US would be a system of regions based around major metropolitan areas and the lines of infrastructure, supply chains, and telecommunications that connect them. This, Khanna argues, would better facilitate and enhance the transportation, financial, technological, and political activities that, in many cases, already happen regionally. For me, the best part of this piece is the fabulous map that accompanies it. I am of course biased, because it is created by Clare Trainor, a UW-Madison undergraduate Geography major (and my former student) and employee of the UW-Madison Cartography Lab. Even if you disagree with Khanna’s premise, I’m sure you will have fun exploring this map and marveling at the talents of our student cartographers!
Steven Striffler, “Inside a Poultry Processing Plant: An Ethnographic Portrait,” Labor History 43 (2002): 305-13. ↩
Deborah Barndt, “Whose ‘Choice’? ‘Flexible’ Women Workers in the Tomato Food Chain,” in Food and Culture: A Reader. 2nd edition, eds. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (Routledge, New York and London, 2008). ↩