2013 Joel A. Tarr Article Prize awarded Ashley Carse

The members of Envirotech are pleased to announce that Ashley Carse has been selected as the winner of the 2013 Joel A. Tarr Prize for his article “Nature as Infrastructure: Making and Managing the Panama Canal Watershed,” Social Studies of Science 42 (2012): 539-563. 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–Erik Rau, Heike Weber, and Steve Cutliffe–for their service.

In describing the Panama Canal watershed as an environmental artifact that provides infrastructural services—namely, supplying the 52 million gallons of water that flush out to sea with each of the 35-45 ships that transit the isthmus each day—Carse’s work invokes envirotech approaches expressed in the work of Joel Tarr and others—a fusion of the history of technology and STS with environmental history—while incorporating this tradition with theories and practices from postcolonial studies, political ecology, geography, anthropology, and ethnography. The result is an approach that enriches all of these fields while providing a new perspective on the human-environment relationship.

Infrastructure studies have animated the history of technology and STS for decades, but only recently has the term “infrastructure” been applied to landforms, and then, as in the work of Mark Benedict and Edward McMahon, to realize the economic contribution of ecosystems to human productivity. As Carse is aware, this shift in nomenclature, with its managerial logic, follows “a broader interdisciplinary effort since the 1980s to assign the environment value as natural capital: a stock that provides ecosystem services that benefit humans at multiple scales” (542).

In his analysis of efforts by American and Panamanian state institutions to manage the watershed and refresh the waters drained away by the canal, the interests of canal managers and engineers collide with the horticultural interests of campesinos, whose presence and farming practices are themselves an outcome of efforts to administer the watershed’s environment for different purposes. In enacting populist land redistribution policies in the 1950s and 1960s, the Panamanian government encouraged the development of agriculture by smallholders whose swidden agricultural practices (often pejoratively referred to as “slash-and-burn”) reduced watershed forests by fifty percent between the 1950s and late 1970s. By the latter date, American scientists, like Frank Wadsworth of the US Forest Service, sounded the alarm that deforestation threatened canal operations by reducing the watershed’s capacity to “produce” and store water. Although the reduction of water had several causes—drought and increased ship traffic among them—scientists, canal administrators, and other institutional actors focused on managing the interests of the horticulturalists to avoid conflict with those of the state and corporate shipping interests. Ironically, the coercive nature of these practices, especially after the canal treaty between the United State and Panama was signed in 1977, led campesinos to rotate fallow land back into use more rapidly, leading to lower fertility and the perpetuation of deforestation.

Carse’s ethnographic work reveals a complex web of relationships that elude easy characterization of motives and actions as simply good or evil. The coercive tactics of the Noriega regime in the 1980s, for instance, have been replaced by well meaning international NGOs, Peace Corps volunteers, and social and natural scientists all wanting to assist reforestation, but unwittingly abetting the growing marginalization of the campesinos. Experts may see the campesinos’ presence in the watershed as a problem, but rarely do they recognize the farmers’ swidden agricultural practices are also an artifact of a competing techno-political system. As Carse shows, rural marginalization is embodied in and experienced through technological infrastructure, particularly historical processes of connection and disconnection. One village in which Carse undertook his fieldwork, despite being situated near the canal and Panama’s largest two cities, was first electrified in 2009. By itself, this observation of competing technological visions underscores the rich possibilities that Carse’s work holds for envirotech approaches in the future.

The prize was awarded during the 2013 ASEH meeting in Toronto in April 2013. Envirotech will next offer the Joel A. Tarr Article Prize at the 2014 SHOT Conference. Papers published between November 1, 2012 and May 1, 2014 will be eligible. A call for applications will be released after May, 2014.

In memory of Mark Finlay

It is with great sadness we share the news that our colleague Mark Finlay, Professor of History and Assistant Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Armstrong Atlantic State University was killed last Sunday, October 6, in a car accident near his home in Savannah, Georgia. Mark was the book review editor for the journal Agricultural History, and the author of the 2009 book Growing American Rubber: Strategic Plants and the Politics of National Security, which won the Theodore Saloutos Memorial Prize. As many of you know, Mark had a new project on the sculptural and environmental history of Ossabaw Island, one of the Georgia Sea Islands. Mark was a member of Envirotech and a regular at our ASEH breakfast meetings, an all around wonderful colleague, and he will be greatly missed.

In Mark’s honor, a fund for a visiting lecture series at Armstrong Atlantic State University has been set up. If you would like to make a contribution to this fund, you can do so through a Paypal account using the form below (now closed). We will collect donations to be made on behalf of Envirotech until October 23rd.

Envirotech Travel Grant Application – SHOT 2013

The Envirotech Interest Group is pleased to announce a $400 travel grant for the upcoming SHOT conference in Portland, ME. Eligibility for the award is limited to those presenting a paper addressing the interrelated histories of environment and technology at the 2013 SHOT meeting in Portland (10-13 October 2013). Those who have completed their Ph.D. more than three years prior and are fully employed are not eligible. Independent scholars are eligible regardless of the date the Ph.D. was received. This application must be received by Monday, September 2nd, 2013. The winner will receive a check for $400 at the Envirotech meeting during the conference.

Applicants should complete this form, and email it along with their C.V. to TravelGrant@envirotechweb.org. Any questions should be addressed to Chair, Envirotech Travel Grant, and submitted by email to TravelGrant@envirotechweb.org.

New book: New Natures

Envirotechies Dolly Jørgensen, Finn Arne Jørgensen, and Sara B. Pritchard have a new edited volume out – New Natures: Joining Environmental History with Science and Technology Studies, published with University of Pittsburgh PressNew Natures broadens the dialogue between the disciplines of science and technology studies (STS) and environmental history in hopes of deepening and even transforming understandings of human-nature interactions. The volume presents historical studies that engage with key STS theories, offering models for how these theories can help crystallize central lessons from empirical histories, facilitate comparative analysis, and provide a language for complicated historical phenomena. Overall, the collection exemplifies the fruitfulness of cross-disciplinary thinking.

new natures cover

Table of contents


Sara B. Pritchard – “Joining Environmental History with Science and Technology Studies: Promises, Challenges, and Contributions”

Part I. Ways of Knowing
Anya Zilberstein – “The Natural History of Early Northeastern America: An Inexact Science”

Frank Uekotter – “Farming and Not Knowing: Agnotology Meets Environmental History”

Dolly Jørgensen – “Environmentalists on Both Sides: Enactments in the California Rigs-to-Reefs Debate”

Finn Arne Jørgensen – “The Backbone of Everyday Environmentalism: Cultural Scripting and Technological Systems”

Part II. Constructions of Environmental Expertise
Kevin C. Armitage – “The Soil Doctor: Hugh Hammond Bennett, Soil Conservation, and the Search for a Democratic Science”

Michael Egan – “Communicating Knowledge: The Swedish Mercury Group and Vernacular Science, 1965–1972”

Eunice Blavascunas – “Signals in the Forest: Cultural Boundaries of Science in Białowieża, Poland”

Part III. Networks, mobilities, and Boundaries
Tiago Saraiva – “The Production and Circulation of Standardized Karakul Sheep and Frontier Settlement in the Empires of Hitler, Mussolini, and Salazar”

Thomas D. Finger – “Trading Spaces: Transferring Energy and Organizing Power in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Grain Trade”

Stephen Bocking – “Situated yet Mobile: Examining the Environmental History of Arctic Ecological Science”

David Tomblin – “White Mountain Apache Boundary-Work as an Instrument of Ecopolitical Liberation and Landscape Change”

Valerie A. Olson – “NEOecology: The Solar System’s Emerging Environmental History and Politics”

Sverker Sörlin – “Epilogue: Preservation in the Age of Entanglement: STS and the History of Future Urban Nature”

Call for Papers: Histories of Transport, Mobility, and Environment

Journal of Transport History, Special Issue

In 1844 William Wordsworth wrote passionately about a railway that was desecrating the tranquility of the English Lake District, if not setting fire to woodland and dividing ancient fields and ecologies. Across the Atlantic in the same century, Henry Thoreau expressed gratitude that people could not yet fly “and lay waste the sky as well as the earth”.

‘Conquest’, defilement and intrusion have been labels since pinned on many transport investments and mass traveling. Deforestation, air pollution, oil spills, noise, landscape leveling, water table lowering, and habitat change have all been associated with environmentally blind infrastructure expansion and mobility in the past. Conversely, there have been transport projects linked with landscape beautification, and mobility may be said to have increased appreciation of the sanctity and fragility of wilderness. Some environmental activism has been directed at transport projects. Historians of transport and mobility as well as environmental historians have dealt with these issues, but more research is needed.

We invite scholarly contributions that examine the historical relationship between transport and mobility and the natural environment for a proposed Special Issue of the Journal of Transport History scheduled for December 2014 (vol 35 [2]). Contributions may be substantial library and archive-based research essays of 8,000 words (including endnotes and Abstract), or shorter pieces (1,500 words) for the Journal’s ‘Surveys & Speculations’ and its ‘Exhibitions & Museum Reviews’ sections.

In existence for over 50 years, The Journal of Transport History publishes scholarly research and commentary on the history of transport, travel, tourism and mobility, including their relationship with planning and policy.

The Special Issue will be guest edited Thomas Zeller, author of Driving Germany: the Landscape of the German Autobahn, 1930-1970 (2007). Together with JTH editor Gordon Pirie, he will select papers based on their originality and scholarly rigour, but will also strive for broad coverage of periods, themes, continents and transport modes. Papers will be subject to a double-blind review process. Conceptually progressive research is especially encouraged. A second call will be made in June 2013. Prospective authors should contact Thomas Zeller (tzeller@umd.edu) and Gordon Pirie (jth.editorial@gmail.com).

Final submissions for the JTH Special Environmental Issue should be lodged by 5 August 2013. More detail about the JTH, and back issues, are online at http://manchester.metapress.com/content/122747.

New Book: The Story of N

Hugh Gorman’s The Story of N: A Social History of the Nitrogen Cycle and the Challenge of Sustainability examines the process by which humans, first, learned to bypass an important ecological constraint and, second, are learning to address concerns associated with having done so.


The ecological constraint, which existed up to the early twentieth century, involves a limit on the capacity of nitrogen-fixing bacteria to place nitrogen compounds into circulation. Given that protein is about sixteen percent nitrogen, this constraint translated into a limit on how much food and fiber could be produced by agricultural societies and, ultimately, on the size of cities. Indeed, by the nineteenth century, the demand for nitrogen compounds in Western Europe, not only for food and fiber but also for explosives, had exceeded the capacity of bacteria to supply what was needed. Imports of nitrogen (in the form of food, cotton, and material such as Peruvian guano) helped, but scientists and national leaders realized that flows of this material could be interrupted by war. They, and the late-nineteenth century scientists who informed them, spoke of an impending nitrogen crisis.

The introduction in 1913 of the Haber-Bosch process for converting inert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia freed humans from their dependency on nitrogen-fixing bacteria and put an end to the nineteenth-century nitrogen crisis. However, this innovation (and the unintentional fixing of nitrogen through combustion processes) had consequences. Today, societies fix nitrogen on the same scale as the world’s bacteria, resulting in (from a human perspective) too much nitrogen entering circulation rather than too little. The second half of the The Story of N examines the process of societies learning to address these concerns. It suggests that the notion of sustainability involves, at least in part, in societies adaptively learning to establish limits when innovations push them into uncharted ethical territory.

Please visit www.storyofn.com.

Envirotech Travel Grant – ASEH 2013

Envirotech is pleased to announce a travel grant award for the 2013 ASEH conference to support scholars presenting on topics that combine the history of the environment with the history of technology.

Envirotech will offer one $250 travel grant to the 2013 ASEH meeting in Toronto (3-6 April 2013). Eligibility is restricted to those presenting a paper at the conference that addresses environmental and technological history. Those who have completed their degrees more than three years prior and are fully employed are not eligible. Preference will be given to graduate students, first-time presenters, and independent scholars. International perspectives are especially welcome. The winner will be presented with a $250 check at the conference and will be invited to attend the group’s breakfast meeting free of charge.

To apply, applicants should download and fill in the brief application form. Completed applications, including a C.V., should be emailed to TravelGrant@envirotechhistory.org and must be received by January 3, 2013.

Any questions should be emailed to Chair, Envirotech Travel Grant Committee at TravelGrant@envirotechhistory.org.

Call for nominations: 2013 Joel A. Tarr Envirotech Article Prize

Envirotech, a dynamic interest group within the Society for the History of Technology and the American Society for Environmental History, invites nominations for the 2013 Joel A. Tarr Envirotech Article Prize. The Tarr Prize recognizes the best article published in either a journal or article collection on the relationship between technology and the environment in history. The prize committee is particularly seeking innovative publications that explore new ways of thinking about the interplay between technological systems and the natural environment. Articles originally published in any language are welcome, but applicants must provide a translation of non-English articles. To be eligible for the 2013 prize, the article must be published between June 15, 2011, and October 31, 2012.

The Tarr Prize carries a cash award of $250 and will be conferred at the American Society for Environmental History conference in Toronto, Ontario, April 3-6, 2013.

Send one copy of your article and a brief curriculum vitae (one page Word or PDF files only please) to prize@envirotechhistory.org to be considered. The deadline for submissions is November 15, 2012.

CFP: Workshop for the History of the Environment, Agriculture, Technology, and Science (WHEATS), March 15-17, 2013

The Doctoral Program in History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania is pleased to be hosting WHEATS in 2013. Now in its ninth year, the Workshop for the History of Environment, Agriculture, Technology, and Science (WHEATS) brings together graduate students studying topics contained under this heading. The Workshop will take place March 15 through March 17, 2013. WHEATS welcomes submissions from any discipline that engages with these fields.

Pre-circulated papers of 25-30 pages will be discussed by participants and senior scholars in roundtable format. This arrangement is well-suited for works in progress, and the workshop will have sessions on professional development as well as opportunities to meet and interact with members of a larger Philadelphia area scholarly community working in relevant fields.

Potential participants should visit the website linked below to submit a brief abstract (200 words) and a short curriculum vitae by August 1, 2012. Accepted papers will be due February 1, 2013.

To submit a proposal, please visit:

For further information, visit:

Contact the organizers at:
wheats2013 at sas.upenn.edu

Envirotech Travel Grant Application – SHOT 2012

The Envirotech Interest Group is pleased to announce a $400 travel grant for the upcoming SHOT conference in Copenhagen. Eligibility for the award is limited to those presenting a paper addressing the interrelated histories of environment and technology at the 2012 SHOT meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark (October 4–7, 2012). Those who have completed their Ph.D. more than three years prior and are fully employed are not eligible. Independent scholars are eligible regardless of the date the Ph.D. was received. This application must be received by June 30, 2012. The winner will receive a check for $400 at the Envirotech meeting during the conference.

Applicants should complete this form (EnvirotechTravelGrantAppplication_SHOT2012), and email it along with their C.V. to TravelGrant@envirotechweb.org. Any questions should be addressed to Chair, Envirotech Travel Grant, and submitted by email to TravelGrant@envirotechweb.org.