Edgy Stuff: October 2016 Recommendations

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.

Bailey Albrecht

Micheal Pollan’s article explains how a little knowledge transforms poppies from flowers to felonies. CC BY 3.0.

Tim Bean’s fascinating Edge Effects piece, “The Cannabis Frontier,” tackles how isolation provides opportunities for cannabis growers in Humboldt county, and the ongoing debate over the legality of marijuana in the state of California. Bean’s article reminded me of an oldie but goodie from Michael Pollan, who wrote of his own experience with potentially illegal gardening almost 20 years ago. In his 1997 article “Opium Made Easy,” Pollan explored the shifting legality of the poppies in his garden. While cannabis plant’s very presence points to illegal activity (for now), Pollan points out, whether “opium poppies in your garden are illicit depends not on what you do, or even intend to do, with them but very simply on what you know about them.” In addition to being a great companion to Bean’s essay, Pollan’s article is a must read for anyone interested in the complicated relationships between knowledge, power, and the natural world.

Jake Blanc

If like me you’ve reached a saturation point in streaming television (no, I don’t have to watch Stranger Things), try binge listening instead to a podcast that combines history, story-telling, and enough whimsey to keep you warm on these cold autumn nights. The Memory Palace is the creation of Nate DiMeo, a writer and current artist in residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some of the Memory Palace’s recent poetic jaunts through U.S. history include accounts of Muslim homesteaders and gospel musicians in the 1920s. Plus, the podcast is scored with consistently amazing music.

Rachel Boothby

In a short, charming segment on NPR this past week, Michel Martin interviewed bakers and co-proprietors of OWL Bakery in Asheville, North Carolina, Susannah Gebhart and Maia Surdam, who discuss the little-known role of cake in American election history. In their non-partisan campaign, Gebhart and Surdam are encouraging bakers both at home and in professional kitchens to make election cakes for the upcoming presidential election in recognition of women’s roles in American electoral history. American women would bake this “beguiling little cake” to encourage men to vote at a time when formal avenues for women’s participation in electoral politics were scarce. For interested bakers, here’s one recipe from 1833 you might consider making.

Rachel Gross

Last Thanksgiving holiday season, outdoor outfitter Recreational Equipment, Incorporated (REI) encouraged customers to #OptOutside rather than heading to the mall to shop on Black Friday. This year, they’re at it again, asking customers to join a social media campaign by pledging publicly to hike, ski, or paddle in lieu of lining up to buy more stuff. Now, REI does get a lot of press for this unusual move, but even if skeptical onlookers take the publicity factor into account, the campaign has had some unexpected outcomes. In 2015, seven states offered free park admission on Black Friday, and some commentators suggested it was because of REI. Indeed, in Arizona, the only way to get a free park pass for the day was at an REI store–effectively limiting waived fees only for REI customers. In 2016, Minnesota is among the first to announce it will waive fees at state parks on Black Friday. How many states will jump on the bandwagon of a corporate marketing campaign remains to be seen.

Brian Hamilton

Miller describes the funeral held for Connecticut’s Charter Oak when it fell (shown here) on the morning of August 21, 1856. Image by Nelson Augustus Moore.

In August 1854, in the run-up to the territorial election held to determine whether Kansas would enter the Union as a state that permitted slavery or forbade it, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier penned an anthem for those departing from his native New England “to make the West, as they the East/The homestead of the free.” To really stir their souls, he deployed a lignified metaphor: “We go to rear a wall of men/On Freedom’s Southern line/And plant beside the cotton tree/The rugged Northern pine!”

That’s just Yankee boilerplate, says historian Daegan Miller in a delightful essay in the new number of the American Historical Review: “Reading Tree in Nature’s Nation: Toward a Field Guide to Sylvan Literacy in the Nineteenth-Century United States.” With rooted, branching, cracking analysis, Miller (who published this memorable piece on Emily Dickinson with us last spring) reveals that, in Whittier’s century, “a tree was rarely just a tree: it could be the forester’s timber, the economist’s lumber, or the contested object of social, political, and labor history” (1115-6).

Carl Sack

"MBTA Bus Speeds" by Andy Woodruff, from The Atlas of Design Volume 2 (used with permission)

“MBTA Bus Speeds” by Andy Woodruff, from The Atlas of Design Volume 2 (used with permission)

I spent much of last week at the Annual Meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) in Colorado Springs. The NACIS conference is a little like Christmas for us cartographers; it’s the time of year when we all get together to ooh and ah over each other’s latest maps and new mapmaking gadgetry. This year’s conference inspires two amazing book recommendations for anyone who loves cool maps. First, renowned anarchist-feminist-ecologist author Rebecca Solnit’s new atlas of New York City, Nonstop Metropolis, was released just as the conference got going on October 19. This is the third and final installment of Solnit’s atlas trilogy that includes Infinite City, covering San Francisco, and Unfathomable City, featuring New Orleans. These are not your standard-issue schoolroom atlases, but rather collections of critical maps, artwork, and essays that explore the meanings and senses of place imbued in these iconic cities. Second, NACIS was an opportunity to preview the third installment of the society’s own Atlas of Design, a juried showcase of beautiful contemporary maps of all kinds. Head over to the AoD website to ooh and ah for yourself over map thumbnails from the first two volumes and pre-order the third to put under your holiday tree.

Rebecca Summer

The National Museum of African American History on the National Mall. CC-BY-2.0

The National Museum of African American History on the National Mall. CC-BY-2.0

The National Museum of African American History opened in September to great fanfare. Located on the National Mall, the Smithsonian museum is the first “devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.” This month, National Geographic features the museum, highlighting the incredible process of collecting artifacts for its exhibits. It includes audio clips and stories from individuals who donated their personal objects and stories to communicate the Black experience in America. The article also serves as a sneak peak of the museum, including videos and a photography slideshow of artifacts.

Featured image: Trás-os-Montes, Portugal. Photo by Rosino, 2010. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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