Andrew Denning has been selected as the winner of the 2014 Joel A. Tarr Prize.
The members of Envirotech are pleased to announce that Andrew Denning has been selected as the winner of the 2014 Joel A. Tarr Prize for his article “From Sublime Landscapes to ‘White Gold’: How Skiing Transformed the Alps after 1930,” Environmental History 19 (January 2014): 78-108.
The Tarr Prize recognizes the best article published in a journal or edited collection on the relationship between technology and environment in history during the previous 18 months. Envirotech would also like to thank our prize committee members—Ann Greene, Steve Cutcliffe, and Ashley Carse—for their service.
Denning’s article examines the material and imaginative transformation of Alpine landscapes in the twentieth century. Writing in an engaging style, he integrates histories of environment, technology, and culture to craft a seamless narrative of landscape change in which the distinctions between these fields and their organizing categories seem superfluous. In so doing, Denning makes a compelling case for the value added by analyzing landscape change through an envirotech lens. After all, as he shows, neither ski slope managers pursuing the goal of snow security—maintaining enough “white gold” on the slopes to attract business—nor visiting tourists saw clear boundaries between nature and technology. New technologies like cable lifts, which moved skiers to existing snow at higher elevations, and snow cannons, which pumped out artificial snow, changed the industry and smoothed out the variability in weather and climate that had plagued their predecessors. In so doing, technologies embedded ski tourism in the physical and economic landscape, while reinforcing a particular vision of Alpine nature.
The major contribution of the article to Envirotech is its extension of the study of the environment-technology nexus to the study of sport and leisure. While we have learned a great deal about how nuclear, chemical, and agricultural interventions have shaped and been shaped by the non-human environment, Denning’s work reminds us that landscapes of leisure—even those that appear natural—are also engineered. Indeed, entire industries have been organized around the creation and maintenance of a natural aesthetic (a snowy mountainside, a palm-covered beach). To that end, the article draws on a wide range of theory—from Richard White’s writing on work and nature, to sociologist John Urry’s work on the consumption of place, to philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s ideas about modernity and speed—to explain why and how Alpine landscapes were produced for tourist consumption. By recognizing sports and leisure as phenomena where the environmental and the technical bleed together, Denning opens up a new space for envirotech research.