Edgy Stuff: June 2016 Recommendations
The Edge Effects editorial board is happy to announce four new members of our team. To the board, we welcome Jake Blanc, Rachel Gross, Brian Hamilton, and Carl Sack. Jake, Rachel, and Brian are PhD candidates in the History Department, and Carl is pursuing a PhD in Geography.
Meanwhile, we bid a fond farewell to editors Daniel Grant, Kaitlin Stack Whitney, and Eric Nost, as well as managing editor Nathan Jandl, who was part of the Edge Effects development working group and who has served as managing editor since May 2015. Rachel Boothby will be taking the helm for the upcoming year.
And finally, today we bring you our monthly set 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.
When the United States returned control to Panama over the Panama Canal in 1999, most observers assumed that the nearly century-old problems regarding sovereignty, navigation, and global trade had finally come to an end. But a decade and a half later, the question of large-scale development through Central America has resurfaced, only now the debate is colored by concerns over the environmental impact and carbon footprint of a new canal proposal. Nicaragua has been working toward creating its own competing canal north of Panama with financial backing from a Chinese billionaire. It would represent the largest earth moving project in human history, and would slice through 170 miles of southern Nicaragua. Chris Kraul writes that the proposed canal is an environmental disaster in the making, as the dredging and ship traffic would irreversibly impact some of hemisphere’s most fragile ecosystems. With the the goal of serving cargo ships far greater than anything ever seen in Panama, the canal poses a threat not only to the lands and waters of Nicaragua, but to the broader Caribbean Sea.
Many of us in the CHE community spend a good deal of time pondering artifacts from the past, but what happens when those artifacts only ever existed digitally? While one might think the digital world lasts longer than, say, written diaries, letters, and log books, archivists are worried that much of the internet is ephemeral. In a fascinating article in this week’s New York Times Magazine, technology reporter Jenna Wortham discusses the challenges, importance, and implications of archiving the web.
Throughout 2016, the National Park Service has promoted its 100th anniversary as a part of a “broad public engagement campaign to reintroduce the national parks.” A key component of the marketing campaign—more than two years in the making—has been to reach audiences underrepresented in park visitation, that is, young and especially non-white Americans. For examples of how NPS markets to potential visitors, look no further than the video of actor Rosalyn Sanchez extolling the virtues of using America’s natural playgrounds as a gym or the “Guide to Glamping” with actor Bella Thorne explaining that the parks aren’t just “for oldies.” The corporate marketing-heavy #FindYourPark feed also inspires questions about who benefits most from America’s greatest idea. For a more complicated and critical look at outdoor recreation, a recent NPR Code Switch podcast explores the reasons “that can make stepping outside in your free time while black or brown a politically charged move.”
June 4 marked the centennial of the birth of Gaylord Nelson, the former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator who, in 1969, pitched the idea of a nationwide environmental teach-in that, just a few months later, spurred the massive grassroots demonstration we know as Earth Day. In this election season, when pundits are speaking with either panic or delight about the turmoil within the major American parties, it is worth revisiting another of Nelson’s political feats: bringing the Wisconsin Democratic Party back from the dead. Before he took office in 1959, the state had had just one Democratic governor in the previous 64 years, and just three in the previous 105. In a postmortem following the 2014 re-election of Republican Governor Scott Walker, columnist John Nichols reflects on these lean times, when party leadership featured largely “current and former postmasters,” and urges his state’s Democrats to revive Nelson’s winning strategy.
We humans have no more direct physical connection to the natural world than through food. Those living in prison isolation units have few other connections at all, as well as few other tools to publicize and protest their condition. Last week, prison officials at southeast Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution began force-feeding prisoners who are currently on hunger strike against the use of long-term solitary confinement. The hunger strike has a long history of use by dissidents and inmates, such as Ghandi, Irish republican political prisoners, and detainees at Guantanamo Bay. A shift in the political climate in the U.S. over the past few years has shone a spotlight on the use of solitary confinement and prisons in general to redress criminal behavior, bringing much needed scrutiny to the effectiveness and humaneness of our criminal justice system. Hunger strikes like those at Waupun pose a direct challenge to these practices by dramatically demonstrating that the human body cannot survive complete severance from the rest of nature.
I spent most of June traveling to parts of the world I’d never seen (Tajikistan and Turkey!), and after meeting families who welcomed me into their homes, I was inspired to pull out Peter Menzel’s 1994 Material World: A Global Family Portrait when I returned to the US. In this collection of photographs, “statistically average” families from around the world pose in front of their homes with all of their material possessions on display. While the statistical profiles of the families and their countries have changed in the last twenty years (as have fashions and household technology), the intimate connection between people, their things, and the environment rings true today. A slideshow of some of the book’s vibrant photographs can be found here. I also recommend the 1996 follow-up collection, Women in the Material World.