Thursday, April 28, 2011

ASEH 2011 Conference Review, Day 2: Friday April 15

For the first session, 8:30-10:00, I attended a panel entitled, "The European Experience with Sustainable Practices in the Later Middle Ages." Not exactly Gilded Age or Progressive Era material, but I do teach a Western Civ I class and we just covered the Middle Ages, so this panel grabbed my interest. Richard Hoffman covered the ecological crisis of the 14th century and argued that we should drop the use of crisis and use the concept of a tipping point instead as a descriptive term. He further argued that much of the reason for famine and disease in the awful 14th century had less to do with overuse of land, as has been supposed by historians, and more to with climate change, rainfall pattern changes, and volcanic activity. In other words, factors well beyond anyones control. There is much here I can use in my class next time I teach it. The other panelists focused on the medieval laws regarding land use and the sustainability of the use of woodlands. Taken together they argue that there were some sustainable values, both enshrined in law and through popular practice. Thus, the panel can be said to have collectively argued that Middle Age era Europeans were better stewards of the land than previously thought.

For the second session, 10:30 to noon, I attended a panel entitled, "Protestantism and Environmental History." I selected this session for two reasons. First, Mark Stoll was presenting a paper and I find his study of the relationship between religion and environmentalism to be quite interesting. Second, in my dissertation on William Temple Hornaday (and the same will be true in my upcoming biography) I make the case that his religious upbringing left an indelible stamp on his worldview which, in turn, had a profound effect on his conservation ideology. Susan Bratton showed how both pioneer churches and more modern mega churches in Texas shaped their land. Neal Pogue described how the environmental movement lost the conservative Protestants (who leaned towards moderate conservation)in the early 1970s with neo-Malthusian calls for birth control and neo-pagan worship of the earth (as church going Christians often perceived it). Mark Stoll examined the religious roots of John Burroughs, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman to determine if there was a connection between their sect and nature philosophy. He concluded, yes, there is a strong connection. Burroughs the Baptist, for example, was not a conservationist largely because his religious heritage was one of individualism. The Baptist tradition did not look favorably to government or to collective action.

Then it was off to the bird watching tour of south mountain and Audubon Rio Salado Bird Preserve. We saw lots of things. Being partial to small songbirds, I think my favorite was a verdin.

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