comments on 2017 award recipients
The following awards were presented at ASEH’s annual conference in Chicago, April 2017:
Distinguished Service Award
Carolyn Merchant has received many academic honors, including ASEH’s Distinguished Scholar award in 2010. But her award tonight recognizes service to ASEH specifically. Carolyn Merchant joined ASEH in 1980, and was involved in our first ASEH conference at UC Irvine. Since then, she has contributed to ASEH operations not only by serving as president from 2001 to 2003, but also by serving on the Executive Committee for many years. She served as associate editor of Environmental Review from 1984 to 1989, and on the editorial advisory board of Environmental History from 1990 to 2010. She has contributed her expertise and insight to everything from journal editor searches to fund raising and prize committees. She was instrumental in reorganizing the structure of ASEH by helping set up the office of executive director, a change that has made the organization stronger, more effective, and more efficient. She also established and raised critical funding for the ASEH travel grants, including the Ellen Swallow Richards travel grant, and others intended to increase diversity and inclusion at our annual conferences. More recently, she brought her considerable energy, creativity, and contacts to bear while co-chairing the local arrangements committee for the 2014 ASEH conference in San Francisco, for which she helped raise a record $60,000. It is difficult to imagine where ASEH would be were it not for Carolyn.
For her distinguished career, and the many concrete steps she has taken to strengthen ASEH, it is my pleasure to present Carolyn Merchant with the Distinguished Service Award.
-Kathleen Brosnan, ASEH President
Public Outreach Career Award
Christof Mauch has greatly enriched the international engagement of our field, promoted a more global awareness of the role of the humanities, and served the membership of the environmental history community in numerous and vital ways.
As director of the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Christof has provided funding for ASEH plenary speakers and sessions at recent conferences. Moreover, our members have profited enormously from the rise of the RCC as an inspiring place for scholarly work and as a place for making connections with historians from all over the world. Nearly 50 professors and post-doctoral students from the US and Canada have been awarded residential fellowships at the RCC. Their work as RCC fellows has greatly enriched our conferences, our scholarship, and in the broadest sense, our historical imaginations.
Moreover, the RCC’s many partnerships and digital projects have strengthened the role of the humanities in current political and scientific debates. Professor Mauch is a visionary leader in promoting international, transnational, and comparative environmental history. Without his energy and vision the ASEH’s recent growth in international awareness and outreach would be greatly diminished.
-Kathleen Brosnan, ASEH President
George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book
In The River, The Plain, and the State: An Environmental Drama in Northern Song China, 1048-1128, Ling Zhang weaves a complex tale out of 12th-century documents to advance a series of novel, counterintuitive, and provocative interventions in water history, one of the most well-worked sub-fields in environmental history and one of its foundational subjects. The history of water in China and even globally has been shaped by the long-running debate between Karl Wittfogel and his critics, over how much state power accrues to governments that create hydraulic systems.
In her study of an eighty-year occupation of the Hebei Plain by the Yellow River, Ling Zhang advances in a very different direction. State efforts to control the river did not result in well-being for the masses, and nature itself proved so catastrophically uncooperative that state power actually shrank. Through processes of what Zhang calls the “hydraulic mode of consumption,” managing the river and its consequences turned old relations upside down and inside out. As she writes, “[T]he state’s desire and efforts to tame the river and to create a benign environment for both the state and the majority of society led to. . . continuous degradation of environmental systems, catastrophic experiences to the human society, and even the dissolution and depletion of state power.” (181) “Like a black hole,” writes Zhang, the Yellow River-Hebei complex “absorbed everything the state and its various institutions provided, without returning the environmental stability the state desperately pursued.”
Zhang deftly uses not only anthropology, political science, and social theory, but also historical earth science and marine biology to conclude that the periphery of Hebei became the center, and society grew poorer. Only the crumbling of the dynasty released it from the environmental commitment that had brought it down. A fascinating and provocative study of state desire, state limitations, and the mutability of nature, The River, the Plain, and the State is a deserving winner of this year’s George Perkins Marsh prize.
George Perkins Marsh Prize Committee: Louis Warren, chair; Adam Sowards; and Ellen Spears
Leopold-Hidy Prize for Best Article in Environmental History
The editorial board of Environmental History has the task each year of selecting the winner of the Leopold-Hidy Award for Best Article. As I hear every year, this is a difficult task, a testament to all the authors whose work has been published in our journal. Congratulations and thanks to you all for your excellent scholarship. This year’s winner is Jakobina Arch for her article, “Whale Meat in Early Postwar Japan: Natural Resources and Food Culture,” which appeared in the July 2016 issue.
As always, I ask board members to provide feedback on their top choice. Here is what some of them said about Dr. Arch’s work: “Arch contributes here to several different historical issues in a well-articulated argument about the construction and manipulation of national identity in modern Japan. Her story is crucial to fishing/whaling history, to Japanese cultural studies, and to the history of US-Japanese relations during the occupation period. She not only gives voice to the Japanese side of the whaling story, itself sorely lacking in the field, but she makes a novel and unexpected claim about Japan's relationship with whaling. Previous histories have taken the Japanese engagement with whaling as a given, but here Arch shows how US occupation authorities actively encouraged consumption of whale meat and played a central role in shaping Japanese perceptions, especially among children, of their own cultural past connections to whales and whaling.” Another member noted, Arch’s “article provides a fascinating insight into the relationship between food, national identity and war, and challenges the common assumption that the Japanese are a nation of whale meat eaters.” Finally, “This essay tackles a much mythologized subject in the history of international environmentalism and marine conservation, situates it in Japanese post-war and international history and links the concerns of food history, or the history of diet with environmental history. Of all the interesting papers published in the journal this year, this one for me was the most original and revealing.”
It very much enjoyed working with Bina on her essay and take even greater pleasure in presenting her with the Leopold-Hidy Award for the Best Article in Environmental History for 2016. Congratulations, Dr. Arch.
-Lisa Brady, editor, and editorial board, Environmental History
Alice Hamiton Prize for Best Article
Philipp Nicholas Lehmann’s impressive article “Infinite Power to Change the World: Hydroelectricity and Engineered Climate Change in the Atlantropa Project,” published in the American Historical Review, profiles German architect Herman Sörgel’s idealistic early 20th-century vision to create a bold new hydroelectric project to replace rapidly depleting fossil fuels and reverse North African desertification for white settlement, and along the way remake the geography, climate and geopolitics of Europe and Africa. Lehmann's essay – in crisp, jargon-free prose – is a salient reminder that we need to understand the history of high modernist engineering in a more holistic way, which includes the socio-political and environmental consequences of such proposals. Sörgel’s proposed Atlantropa Project is notable for its ambitious utopian spirit to regenerate a morbid German economy and reverse cultural decay, as well as its disturbing racist implications for a reengineered African continent.
Alice Hamilton Prize Committee: Benny Andres, chair; Sandra Swart; and Michelle Mart
Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation
Eric Steven Zimmer’s dissertation “Red Earth Nation: Environment and Sovereignty in Modern Meskawki History” stood out from the competitive field of submissions in each of the areas we judge: quality of writing, analysis of the topic, research and documentation, and advancement of the field. "Red Earth Nation" poses a central question: what is the relationship between environment and tribal sovereignty? The answer comes in the form of a provocative examination of the Meskwaki Nation, the only resident Indigenous community in Iowa. Zimmer “flips the story of Indigenous land on its head” to highlight not tribal dispossession but tribal possession, that is, the struggles the Meskwaki encountered in reclaiming lands that had once been their own. To tell this story, Zimmer artfully handled archival sources that were difficult to access, such as private tribal archives, and forged these with governmental materials and interviews. Although the author frames this work as a microhistory, lessons abound for reconsidering relationships among other Indigenous communities, environment, and conceptions of sovereignty. Much has been written about how Native people reconstituted and redefined sovereignty in response to ill-conceived federal policies in North America and beyond. This study argues that there’s more to that story by showing how tribal sovereignty unfolded daily over matters of local and state jurisdiction regarding the administration of natural resources and the people who labored on the land. The committee also notes Zimmer’s commitment to public scholarship, both in the field and in his narrative approach, as representative of the kind of excellence this prize is meant to recognize.
Rachel Carson Prize Committee: Andrew Stuhl, chair; Brian Frehner; and Stephanie Statz