Interested in joining the seminar? Download the schedule for 2018-2019 here and check out the 2019-2020 Call for Proposals.

The Boston Seminar on Environmental History is an occasion for scholars as well as interested members of the public to discuss aspects of American environmental history from prehistory to the present day. Presenters come from a variety of disciplines including history, urban planning, and environmental management.

 

Most seminar meetings revolve around the discussion of a pre-circulated paper. Sessions open with remarks from the essayist and an assigned commentator, after which the discussion is opened to the floor. After each session, the Society serves a light buffet supper.

 

Attendance is free and open to everyone. Subscribers who remit $25 for the year will receive early online access to any pre-circulated materials. Subscriptions also underwrite the cost of the series. Pre-circulated materials will be available to non-subscribers who have RSVP’d for a session on the Monday prior to the program. Subscribe to this seminar series and you will receive access to the seminar papers for FOUR series: the Boston Seminar on African American History, the Boston Area Seminar on Early American History, the Boston Seminar on Environmental History, and the Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture. We recognize that topics frequently resonate across these four fields; now, mix and match the seminars that you attend! 

Join us for an in-depth exploration of the latest scholarship. Subscribe

September

Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Radical Nonviolence and Interracial Utopias in the Early Civil Rights Movement 25 September 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Victoria Wolcott, State University of New York at Buffalo Comment: Jason Sokol, University of New Hampshire This paper examines how radical pacifists refined nonviolent direct action to challenge racial ...

This paper examines how radical pacifists refined nonviolent direct action to challenge racial segregation and inequality in the United States. These activists adopted the methods of earlier utopian communities by living communally and practicing a prefigurative politics that called for immediate change.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

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October
Environmental History Seminar Panel: Native American Environmental History 9 October 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Lisa Brooks, Amherst College; Strother Roberts, Bowdoin College; Ashley Smith, Hampshire College; Thomas Wickman, Trinity College Moderator: Cedric Woods, Institute for New England Native American Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston This panel will explore the intersections of environmental history and indigenous studies—the ...

This panel will explore the intersections of environmental history and indigenous studies—the questions that each field engenders in the other, as well as the perspectives that native and non-native scholars bring to their research as they traverse both fields. Questions of race, gender, geography, and sources enliven this growing body of scholarship. Join us for a stimulating and wide-ranging conversation on these and other topics.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Governing the “Black Power” City: Leon H. Sullivan, Opportunities Industrialization Centers Inc., and the Rise of Black Empowerment 30 October 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Jessica Ann Levy, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Julia Rabig, Dartmouth College This paper traces the Opportunities Industrialization Center’s rise from its meager founding ...

This paper traces the Opportunities Industrialization Center’s rise from its meager founding in North Philadelphia to one of the largest black community development programs in the United States. In doing so, it sheds new light on the financial and intellectual investments made by American business, government bureaucrats, and civil rights entrepreneurs like Sullivan in transforming black dissidents into “productive citizens,” “productive” having economic and civic connotations.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
November
Environmental History Seminar Ditched: Digging Up Black History in the South Carolina Lowcountry 13 November 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Caroline Grego, University of Colorado Boulder Comment: Chad Montrie, University of Massachusetts Lowell For nearly three centuries, Black sea islanders enslaved and free have dug thousands of miles of ...

For nearly three centuries, Black sea islanders enslaved and free have dug thousands of miles of ditches that channeled the South Carolina Lowcountry, for purposes from rice to phosphate to mosquito control. This piece explores the evolving projects of environmental use and management in the Lowcountry, through the conduit of ditches, and traces the history of how the environment, politics, and labor intersected in the miry ditches of the region from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar In Search of the Costs of Segregation 27 November 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, University of Massachusetts Lowell Comment: Kenneth W. Mack, Harvard Law School Historians generally treat Jim Crow as a legal, political, and cultural system shaping where African ...

Historians generally treat Jim Crow as a legal, political, and cultural system shaping where African Americans went, whether they voted, and how they acted. Yet it was also an economic system that imposed financial burdens. This paper explores how segregation made the activities undertaken by African Americans—from gaining education to property—more expensive for them and how it excluded them from economic advancement.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
December
Environmental History Seminar A Nice History of Bird Migration: Ethology, Expertise, and Conservation in 20th Century North America 11 December 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Kristoffer Whitney, Rochester Institute of Technology Comment: Marilyn Ogilvie, University of Oklahoma This paper focuses on the historical relationships between migratory birds, scientists, and amateur ...

This paper focuses on the historical relationships between migratory birds, scientists, and amateur experts in 20th-century North America, especially Margaret Morse Nice. Nice, simultaneously a trained ornithologist and an enthusiastic amateur across disciplines, almost single-handedly introduced the American ornithological community to European ethology. Her bird-banding work exemplified the tensions in natural history around expertise, gender, and conservation.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
January
Environmental History Seminar Camp Benson and the “GAR Camps”: Recreational Landscapes of Civil War Memory in Maine, 1886-1910 15 January 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM C. Ian Stevenson, Boston University Comment: Ian Delahanty, Springfield College This chapter examines sites where veterans transitioned the Civil War vacation toward a civilian ...

This chapter examines sites where veterans transitioned the Civil War vacation toward a civilian audience: Camp Benson, where several Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) posts built a campground, and at the “GAR Camps” where a single veteran proprietor built rental cottages. The chapter asks why postwar civilians would want to mimic the veteran desire to associate healthful destinations with wartime memory. How do these outdoor landscapes explain the nation’s healing process from the Civil War?

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Better Teaching through Technology, 1945-1969 29 January 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Victoria Cain, Northeastern University Comment: Heather Hendershot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Uncertainty about media technology’s affective and political power plagued post-World War II ...

Uncertainty about media technology’s affective and political power plagued post-World War II efforts to expand media use in schools around the nation. Would foundations or federal agencies use screen media to strengthen participatory democracy and local control or to undermine it? Was screen media a neutral technology? This paper argues that educational technology foundered or flourished not solely on the merits of its pedagogical utility, but also as a result of changing ideas about the relationship between citizenship and pictorial screen media.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
February
Environmental History Seminar POSTPONED Amputated from the Land: Black Refugees from America and the Neglected Voices of Environmental History 12 February 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Bryon Williams, Academy at Penguin Hall Comment: John Stauffer, Harvard University This event has been POSTPONED due to inclement weather. This paper focuses on dictated narratives ...

This event has been POSTPONED due to inclement weather.

This paper focuses on dictated narratives from the 1840s and ‘50s, accounts delivered by blacks who fled the U.S. to settle in the wilds of Ontario. These first-person accounts of environmental encounter and expertise are unrivaled in depth, breadth, and detail among black ecological writing of any era. New environmental histories need such accounts that not only counter dominant American environmental and political myths, but offer black-lived stories of environmental belonging and agency.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Our Own Orient: Mecca, California, and Dates 26 February 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Eleanor Daly Finnegan, Harvard University Comment: Laura Barraclough, Yale University Residents changed the name of Walters, California to Mecca in 1904. They were trying to use the ...

Residents changed the name of Walters, California to Mecca in 1904. They were trying to use the exoticism of the Middle East to sell dates. This paper will focus on Mecca, California and the Indio Date Festival, looking at the complicated ways in which Orientalism has changed in the United States, its relationship to consumerism, and the economic connections made to the Middle East.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
March
Environmental History Seminar Biological Exchange in the Pacific World in the Age of Industrial Sugarcane Plantations 12 March 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Lawrence Kessler, Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Comment: Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut This paper traces how sugarcane planters directed circulations of plant and animal species in the ...

This paper traces how sugarcane planters directed circulations of plant and animal species in the Pacific World. This new biological exchange served the political and economic interests of the plantation owners and their allies. Planters, however, were unable to control the biological exchange processes they created. This paper thus argues that through the creation of new patterns of biological exchange, sugarcane plantations induced ecological changes throughout the Pacific World.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Panel: Carceral Culture 26 March 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Melanie D. Newport, University of Connecticut—Hartford, and Morgan Jane Shahan, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Elizabeth Hinton, Harvard University This panel examines carceral culture in the twentieth century. Morgan Jane Shahan’s paper, ...

This panel examines carceral culture in the twentieth century. Morgan Jane Shahan’s paper, “‘Making Good’: On Parole in Early 20th Century Illinois,” traces the experience of ex-prisoners, and exposes the negotiations between employers, voluntary organizations, prisons, and parolees. Melanie Newport’s chapter, “‘I’m Afraid of Cook County Jail’: Making Space for Women in Chicago’s Jails,” addresses how women both inside and outside Cook County jail contested the plan to double the jail’s capacity in the 1970s.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
April
Environmental History Seminar Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice in Boston 9 April 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Michael Brennan, University of Maine Comment: Daniel Faber, Northeastern University When environmental justice became a widely understood framework for action in the 1990s, the core ...

When environmental justice became a widely understood framework for action in the 1990s, the core tenets of owning land, developing the built environment, and sustaining existing social institutions had long been a practice for Boston’s minorities. To this end, members of Roxbury’s Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) worked to create an urban village in Dudley Square. The story of the DSNI demonstrates the utility of examining a topic in both a social and environmental sense.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Boston’s North End: Post-World War II Italian Immigration, Segmented Assimilation, and the “Problem of Cornerville” 23 April 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required James Pasto, Boston University Comment: Marilynn Johnson, Boston College This paper examines the dynamics and impact of Italian immigration in the North End via the lens of ...

This paper examines the dynamics and impact of Italian immigration in the North End via the lens of segmented assimilation. Depending on age, gender, parental style, and opportunity, some immigrants assimilated “downward” into the Italian American street culture of the neighborhood, becoming more susceptible to the drug abuse and violence of the ‘70s and ‘80s, while others assimilated “upward” into a new Italian identity tied to the North End’s gentrification as an Italian neighborhood.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

More
More events
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Radical Nonviolence and Interracial Utopias in the Early Civil Rights Movement 25 September 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Victoria Wolcott, State University of New York at Buffalo Comment: Jason Sokol, University of New Hampshire

This paper examines how radical pacifists refined nonviolent direct action to challenge racial segregation and inequality in the United States. These activists adopted the methods of earlier utopian communities by living communally and practicing a prefigurative politics that called for immediate change.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Environmental History Seminar Panel: Native American Environmental History 9 October 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Lisa Brooks, Amherst College; Strother Roberts, Bowdoin College; Ashley Smith, Hampshire College; Thomas Wickman, Trinity College Moderator: Cedric Woods, Institute for New England Native American Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston

This panel will explore the intersections of environmental history and indigenous studies—the questions that each field engenders in the other, as well as the perspectives that native and non-native scholars bring to their research as they traverse both fields. Questions of race, gender, geography, and sources enliven this growing body of scholarship. Join us for a stimulating and wide-ranging conversation on these and other topics.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Governing the “Black Power” City: Leon H. Sullivan, Opportunities Industrialization Centers Inc., and the Rise of Black Empowerment 30 October 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Jessica Ann Levy, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Julia Rabig, Dartmouth College

This paper traces the Opportunities Industrialization Center’s rise from its meager founding in North Philadelphia to one of the largest black community development programs in the United States. In doing so, it sheds new light on the financial and intellectual investments made by American business, government bureaucrats, and civil rights entrepreneurs like Sullivan in transforming black dissidents into “productive citizens,” “productive” having economic and civic connotations.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Environmental History Seminar Ditched: Digging Up Black History in the South Carolina Lowcountry 13 November 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Caroline Grego, University of Colorado Boulder Comment: Chad Montrie, University of Massachusetts Lowell

For nearly three centuries, Black sea islanders enslaved and free have dug thousands of miles of ditches that channeled the South Carolina Lowcountry, for purposes from rice to phosphate to mosquito control. This piece explores the evolving projects of environmental use and management in the Lowcountry, through the conduit of ditches, and traces the history of how the environment, politics, and labor intersected in the miry ditches of the region from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar In Search of the Costs of Segregation 27 November 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, University of Massachusetts Lowell Comment: Kenneth W. Mack, Harvard Law School

Historians generally treat Jim Crow as a legal, political, and cultural system shaping where African Americans went, whether they voted, and how they acted. Yet it was also an economic system that imposed financial burdens. This paper explores how segregation made the activities undertaken by African Americans—from gaining education to property—more expensive for them and how it excluded them from economic advancement.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Environmental History Seminar A Nice History of Bird Migration: Ethology, Expertise, and Conservation in 20th Century North America 11 December 2018.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Kristoffer Whitney, Rochester Institute of Technology Comment: Marilyn Ogilvie, University of Oklahoma

This paper focuses on the historical relationships between migratory birds, scientists, and amateur experts in 20th-century North America, especially Margaret Morse Nice. Nice, simultaneously a trained ornithologist and an enthusiastic amateur across disciplines, almost single-handedly introduced the American ornithological community to European ethology. Her bird-banding work exemplified the tensions in natural history around expertise, gender, and conservation.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Environmental History Seminar Camp Benson and the “GAR Camps”: Recreational Landscapes of Civil War Memory in Maine, 1886-1910 15 January 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM C. Ian Stevenson, Boston University Comment: Ian Delahanty, Springfield College

This chapter examines sites where veterans transitioned the Civil War vacation toward a civilian audience: Camp Benson, where several Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) posts built a campground, and at the “GAR Camps” where a single veteran proprietor built rental cottages. The chapter asks why postwar civilians would want to mimic the veteran desire to associate healthful destinations with wartime memory. How do these outdoor landscapes explain the nation’s healing process from the Civil War?

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Better Teaching through Technology, 1945-1969 29 January 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Victoria Cain, Northeastern University Comment: Heather Hendershot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Uncertainty about media technology’s affective and political power plagued post-World War II efforts to expand media use in schools around the nation. Would foundations or federal agencies use screen media to strengthen participatory democracy and local control or to undermine it? Was screen media a neutral technology? This paper argues that educational technology foundered or flourished not solely on the merits of its pedagogical utility, but also as a result of changing ideas about the relationship between citizenship and pictorial screen media.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Environmental History Seminar POSTPONED Amputated from the Land: Black Refugees from America and the Neglected Voices of Environmental History 12 February 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Bryon Williams, Academy at Penguin Hall Comment: John Stauffer, Harvard University

This event has been POSTPONED due to inclement weather.

This paper focuses on dictated narratives from the 1840s and ‘50s, accounts delivered by blacks who fled the U.S. to settle in the wilds of Ontario. These first-person accounts of environmental encounter and expertise are unrivaled in depth, breadth, and detail among black ecological writing of any era. New environmental histories need such accounts that not only counter dominant American environmental and political myths, but offer black-lived stories of environmental belonging and agency.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Our Own Orient: Mecca, California, and Dates Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.
Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
26 February 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Eleanor Daly Finnegan, Harvard University Comment: Laura Barraclough, Yale University

Residents changed the name of Walters, California to Mecca in 1904. They were trying to use the exoticism of the Middle East to sell dates. This paper will focus on Mecca, California and the Indio Date Festival, looking at the complicated ways in which Orientalism has changed in the United States, its relationship to consumerism, and the economic connections made to the Middle East.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Environmental History Seminar Biological Exchange in the Pacific World in the Age of Industrial Sugarcane Plantations Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 12 March 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Lawrence Kessler, Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Comment: Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut

This paper traces how sugarcane planters directed circulations of plant and animal species in the Pacific World. This new biological exchange served the political and economic interests of the plantation owners and their allies. Planters, however, were unable to control the biological exchange processes they created. This paper thus argues that through the creation of new patterns of biological exchange, sugarcane plantations induced ecological changes throughout the Pacific World.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Panel: Carceral Culture Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.
Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
26 March 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Melanie D. Newport, University of Connecticut—Hartford, and Morgan Jane Shahan, Johns Hopkins University Comment: Elizabeth Hinton, Harvard University

This panel examines carceral culture in the twentieth century. Morgan Jane Shahan’s paper, “‘Making Good’: On Parole in Early 20th Century Illinois,” traces the experience of ex-prisoners, and exposes the negotiations between employers, voluntary organizations, prisons, and parolees. Melanie Newport’s chapter, “‘I’m Afraid of Cook County Jail’: Making Space for Women in Chicago’s Jails,” addresses how women both inside and outside Cook County jail contested the plan to double the jail’s capacity in the 1970s.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Environmental History Seminar Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice in Boston Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. 9 April 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Michael Brennan, University of Maine Comment: Daniel Faber, Northeastern University

When environmental justice became a widely understood framework for action in the 1990s, the core tenets of owning land, developing the built environment, and sustaining existing social institutions had long been a practice for Boston’s minorities. To this end, members of Roxbury’s Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) worked to create an urban village in Dudley Square. The story of the DSNI demonstrates the utility of examining a topic in both a social and environmental sense.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close
Modern American Society and Culture Seminar Boston’s North End: Post-World War II Italian Immigration, Segmented Assimilation, and the “Problem of Cornerville” Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.
Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
23 April 2019.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM James Pasto, Boston University Comment: Marilynn Johnson, Boston College

This paper examines the dynamics and impact of Italian immigration in the North End via the lens of segmented assimilation. Depending on age, gender, parental style, and opportunity, some immigrants assimilated “downward” into the Italian American street culture of the neighborhood, becoming more susceptible to the drug abuse and violence of the ‘70s and ‘80s, while others assimilated “upward” into a new Italian identity tied to the North End’s gentrification as an Italian neighborhood.

To RSVP: email seminars@masshist.org or call (617) 646-0579.

close