Ten Hidden Gems From the Edge Effects Archives
Edge Effects turns nine this week. The editors look back and sift through the archives to find stories that are representative of the wide range of topics covered by the magazine. In addition to our popular series on the Plantationocene and environmental justice initiatives in Wisconsin, we want to highlight essays, reviews, and commentaries on agriculture, mining, blue humanities, environmental movements, and abolitionist theory. Together, we compiled a list of the most underrated stories from across the years. If you’re searching for environmental readings to stretch your mind, look no further.
“Seven Ways to Sense the Anthropocene” by Melissa Charenko et al. and “The Anthropocene Slam: Mutiny, Play, and the Everyday” by Wilko Graf Von Hardenberg
Recommended by Rudy Molinek
Two posts from 2014 illustrate perfectly what I love so much about the work that comes across Edge Effects’ proverbial “desk.” They chronicle the Anthropocene Slam, an event that invited scholars and practitioners of the arts and humanities to creatively weigh in on the burgeoning scientific and stratigraphic impulse to declare that we are living in a new geologic epoch: the “Anthropocene,” which roughly translates to the “new age of humans.” In these essays, we see how arts, literature, scholarship, science, humanities, and the environment come together in an energetic mash to show the folly of creating boundaries in how we think about our place in the world.
Recommended by Weishun Lu
Because of the fall “vibes” I’ve been feeling, I cannot resist bringing up this fun interview with cultural historian Cindy Ott on pumpkin. It covers a long history—from the time when industrial agriculture edged out pumpkin to the period when food companies repackaged pumpkin as a consumer product. Ott reminds us that the pumpkin is also an aesthetic object. For example, the pumpkin patch is a whimsical time machine in the sense that it is a form of nostalgic entertainment. By foregrounding images of small farmers picking pumpkins in flannel shirts, pumpkin festivals and activities gloss over the reality of genetically modified crops and corporate control over American agriculture. This interview is a treat as much as pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice latte.
“Mining for Change in Bolivia,” by Elena McGrath
Recommended by Rebecca Laurent
Elena McGrath artfully illustrates the paradoxes of natural resource governance through her historical dive into mining in Bolivia—specifically, the initiative of one lawyer to sell a small town to a mining company and found another town nearby for the people. In this fascinating piece, McGrath demonstrates the complex interests that come to a head in mining towns and asks: “Why are industries that have been so intimately linked to colonialism, human rights abuses, and environmental damage so persistently attractive for radicals and revolutionaries who want to create a redistributive, equitable social order?” I’m still sitting with that one!
“When We Repealed Daylight Saving Time,” by Kate Wersan
Recommended by Kristen Billings
As days grow shorter and vitamin D levels start to nosedive, the prospect of “falling back” this November and waking up to the sun (at least for a few weeks) is a small source of anticipatory joy. The Senate’s passage of the “Sunshine Protection Act” last year, though, suggests that the biannual ritual of adjusting our clocks may be running out of time. As environmental historian Kate Wersan reminds us, the U.S. has actually been here—and repealed daylight saving time—before. Tracing the historical conditions that led to its repeal in 1919, Wersan explores the politics of temporal borders and their relationship to ecologies, cultures, and economies. By looking back, Wersan teaches us that the debate over springing forward is rooted in a complex history that reveals important insights about the relation between national temporalities and nation-building. It’s a timely piece from the Edge Effects archives.
“Indigenous Art as Creative Resistance: A Conversation with Dylan Miner,” by Alexandra Lakind
Recommended by Bri Meyer
This podcast with Dylan Miner on Indigenous art and/as resistance speaks to the Center for Culture History and Environment’s 2023 theme of environmental art, with the added message about using creativity to incite needed change. It was a fascinating conversation in 2018 when pipelines and water justice dominated the media and remains so now. These topics have fallen away from the public spotlight, but should still be discussed in recent news of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and ongoing battles over land and water rights. How we can use creativity of any kind—whether art, writing, performance or beyond—is a question Edge Effects will always be interested in answering.
“Arctic Ecologies, Then and Now: A Conversation with Bathsheba Demuth,” by Christian G. Andresen
Recommended by Samm Newton
Oceans, quite literally, change the terrain on which we think. Bathsheba Demuth’s history of the Bering Strait is a compelling example of just that–following energy back and forth from sea to land seamlessly. The regional focus on Beringia in Floating Coast may, on the surface, appear hyper-local, but it extends and expands how we understand the value of more-than-human worlds and our place in them. After all, as Demuth writes, nature is both what makes us and what makes history, a concept crucial to addressing contemporary environmental problems.
“This Shark Can Outlast Nuclear Waste. But Will It?” by Sadie E. Hale
Recommended by Weishun Lu
Sadie E. Hale reveals the issue of underwater nuclear waste and plastic pollution by looking at the strange case of the Greenland shark. This is not just an object lesson on an astonishing shark that survives exposure to radioactive materials. It is also a story about scientific discovery. For instance, I had learned about carbon dating in assessing decay, but I didn’t know that carbon dating was used to study the growth of animals until I read this essay. This is a story for those who want to know more about human impact on the environment and those who wish to get behind the scenes of scientific research.
“Surviving the Pandemic in Prison,” by Lawrence Jenkins and Carrie Freshour
Recommended by Kuhelika Ghosh
One of the most underrated pieces of the year 2021 is “Surviving the Pandemic in Prison”, a conversation between Lawrence Jenkins, an abolitionist incarcerated at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, WA, and Carrie Freshour. This piece is part of the 2020 Visions: Imagining (Post-) COVID Worlds series and does a brilliant job showcasing the uneven impacts felt by incarcerated populations during the pandemic, specifically related to acts of racial violence, unjust treatment, and lack of adequate COVID-19 testing and supplies. Particularly horrifying is Jenkins’ experience of “medical isolation”, where prisoners who tested positive faced solitary confinement for 28 days and more, with a ten-minute shower once every three days and only cold food throughout isolation. Jenkins’ testimony draws attention to the ways that incarcerated populations in this country are treated as less than human, a sentiment that is often heightened during moments of global crisis.
“The Chemical Contract,” by Michaela Edelson
Recommended by Weishun Lu
When anti-immigrant sentiment runs high and the rhetoric of “every state is a border state” floods public discourse, it is important to be reminded that migrant and undocumented immigrants are often forced to do some of the hardest and most dangerous work in the United States. Micaela Edelson’s essay shows us that migrant farm workers are disproportionately exposed to toxic pesticides. The gap between policy and practice is stark, especially when many farmers do not even have access to what is assumed to be basic amenities such as laundry facilities. What I love about this piece is that Edelson draws on her research, which is filled with vivid details. It is a refreshing take in comparison to abstract fear-mongering on other news or social media outlets.
“Young, Queer Farmers Are Here to Change U.S. Agriculture,” by Eliza Pessereau
Recommended by Weishun Lu
What image does the word “farmer” evoke? Perhaps farmer figures from Jean-François Millet paintings. Or, in the context of American agriculture, a picture/meme of David Brandt. But the face of farming in the U.S. is changing. Eliza Pessereau’s essay shines a light on the growing communities of queer farmers. What I find most thought-provoking in this essay is the claim that “queerness and farming as different forms of rebellion against the system.” When doom-and-gloom climate stories are front and center in the news, it’s important to be reminded that people continue to find communities to forge a path forward. This is one of those stories that offer a dose of optimism.
Featured Image: A birthday cake shaped like a camp site. Photo by Péter Vigyázó, 2019.