Tag Archives: environmental history

“Bugs” and Blowback: Science and American High Modernism

American policy with regard to science and technology in the twentieth century had often been canceled with what James C. Scott described in Seeing Like a State as a “high modernist ideology”: “…self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature… and, above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws.” (Scott, 4) Implicit in Scott’s “mastery of nature” is one other important characteristic that he doesn’t spell out: the high modernist ideology takes previous modes of human interaction among people and with nature, and reduces these interrelations to zero-sum games. Under the ideological régime of high modernism, war becomes total war, health care shifts its focus from palliative care, abatement, and curing, to the wholesale elimination of specific ailments. Edmund Russell’s War and Nature and David McBride’s Missions for Science both explore American scientific policies that reflect this high modernist tendency toward extermination and elimination, as well as looking at the blowback from such an approach. […] Continue reading

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The (Il)legibility of Smoke

(Some more thoughts on two books I talked about in this post.)

James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State and David Stradling’s Smokestacks and Progressives, while tackling related topics, could not be more dissimilar in approach. Scott’s book is a sprawling history of a type of phenomenon—an account of different iterations of a problem that covers multiple continents and the entire modern era, using a strong theoretical base to tie seemingly unrelated events. Stradling, on the other hand, limits his scope, limiting his book to popular smoke abatement movements in the US between the 1890s and 1940s. Stradling’s book is virtually absent of any underlying theoretical base—his book is primarily a chronicle of the periodic and seemingly unrelated interruptions, upsets, and setbacks that the movement suffered over that time. Despite their widely divergent approaches and subject matter, the two books can be seen as working quite well in dialogue, each book shedding light on what may be perceived as deficiencies of the other. […]

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The (Il)legibility of Smoke

(Some more thoughts on two books I talked about in this post.)

James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State and David Stradling’s Smokestacks and Progressives, while tackling related topics, could not be more dissimilar in approach. Scott’s book is a sprawling history of a type of phenomenon—an account of different iterations of a problem that covers multiple continents and the entire modern era, using a strong theoretical base to tie seemingly unrelated events. Stradling, on the other hand, limits his scope, limiting his book to popular smoke abatement movements in the US between the 1890s and 1940s. Stradling’s book is virtually absent of any underlying theoretical base—his book is primarily a chronicle of the periodic and seemingly unrelated interruptions, upsets, and setbacks that the movement suffered over that time. Despite their widely divergent approaches and subject matter, the two books can be seen as working quite well in dialogue, each book shedding light on what may be perceived as deficiencies of the other. […]

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William Cronon, Changes in the Land

Changes in the Land deals with the impact on the ecosystems of New England by Native Americans and colonial British settlers. Cronon’s basic premise is that Native and English populations viewed the land and its use in fundamentally different ways, … Continue reading

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