Labour, Environment, & Neoliberalism (with Erik Loomis)

This podcast conversation with Erik Loomis marks the end of the “Bedtime Stories” series. I’d like to revisit this and work up some more podcasts in the future—I enjoyed these conversations and interactions tremendously. I hope that individually and cumulatively they are informative and provoke responses to thinking about the past through a catastrophic lens.

This catastrophic conversation revisited class through a labour perspective. It is worth comparing Loomis’s discussion here with Malm’s reflections on capitalism. Loomis and Mizelle also overlap in their comments on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. Loomis is an historian at the University of Rhode Island. He is the author of Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests
(Cambridge University Press) and Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe (The New Press). He is currently finishing up a new book, American History in Ten Strikes, which will also be published by the New Press (2018).

Previous

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)

26 September: “Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions” (with Cindy Ermus)

3 October: “Histories of the Future & the Anthropocene” (with Libby Robin)

10 October: “Günther Anders and the Catastrophic Imagination” (with Jason Dawsey)

17 October: “Convergence: Capitalism, Climate, Catastrophe” (with Andreas Malm)

24 October: “Catastrophic Meanings: Consuming the Great Flood of 1927” (with Susan Scott Parrish)

31 October: “Disaster, Race, & Diaspora” (with Richard Mizelle, Jr.)

“Disaster, Race, & Diaspora” (with Richard Mizelle, Jr.)

Last night turned into this morning turned into this afternoon turned into this evening. I am late in posting this week’s podcast, with Richard Mizelle, Jr. This is the second podcast on the great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which was a focal point of my teaching and reading interest last winter. That was married with a deep dive into the blues. All of which drew me to Mizelle’s book, Backwater Blues: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the African American Imagination. Mizelle, an historian at the University of Houston, is the author of one of the very coolest lines in academic history. In his introduction he writes: “Contrary to what your parents told you as a kid, there was such a thing as the boogie man. His name was John Lee Hooker.”

This podcast picks up on a number of themes explored in the previous podcast with Susan Scott Parrish. But the discussion turns to questions of public health, diaspora, and, of course, the blues.

Next week: 7 November: “Labour, Environment, & Neoliberalism” (with Erik Loomis)

Previous:

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)

26 September: “Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions” (with Cindy Ermus)

3 October: “Histories of the Future & the Anthropocene” (with Libby Robin)

10 October: “Günther Anders and the Catastrophic Imagination” (with Jason Dawsey)

17 October: “Convergence: Capitalism, Climate, Catastrophe” (with Andreas Malm)

24 October: “Catastrophic Meanings: Consuming the Great Flood of 1927” (with Susan Scott Parrish)

Catastrophic Meanings: Consuming the Great Flood of 1927 (with Susan Scott Parrish)

This is the first of two “Bedtime Stories” podcasts that use the 1927 Mississippi Flood as their departure point. As I was starting to work on this podcast, I was also preparing to teach my catastrophic history course for the first time. I was also racing through multiple histories of the blues at the same time. Around that time, one of these interests stumbled upon Susan Scott Parrish’s imminently forthcoming book, The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History. I ordered it immediately. And started reading as soon as it arrived. The reading was a happy balance of work and pleasure: I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but justified it as “work.” I summoned up the courage to e-mail Parrish and ask if she might be willing to submit to an interview on the book.

Susan Scott Parrish is a Professor in the Department of English and the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan. The Flood Year 1927 is a marvellous combination of literary analysis and environmental history.

Next week: 31 October: “Disaster, Race, & Diaspora” (Richard Mizelle, Jr.)

Previous:

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)

26 September: “Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions” (with Cindy Ermus)

3 October: “Histories of the Future & the Anthropocene” (with Libby Robin)

10 October: “Günther Anders and the Catastrophic Imagination” (with Jason Dawsey)

17 October: “Convergence: Capitalism, Climate, Catastrophe” (with Andreas Malm)

Convergence: Capitalism, Climate, Catastrophe (with Andreas Malm)

Last fall, I taught a graduate seminar in global environmental history. The focus for the course was the Anthropocene, which was beginning to dominate much of the recent environmental discourse (see my recent podcast conversation with Libby Robin on the Anthropocene here). I opened selected weeks to the larger environmental history community, which attracted an eclectic group of conversationalists for those weeks. None was more vibrant than the session on Andreas Malm’s Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. It’s a terrific book, and it provoked some interesting discussion. Just as I was settling down to read Malm’s book, I came across this article in Jacobin, which I thought would inspire good debate about the term and its possible misdirections. I was delighted, then, when Malm was amenable to a chat about his book, his sequel, Fossil Empire, and the role of capitalism in the contemporary environmental crisis.

Andreas Malm is a human ecologist at Lund University in Sweden. His work examines the historical power relations of climate change. In addition to Fossil Capital, his next book is The Progress of this Storm: On Society and Nature in a Warming World, which will be published by Verso in early 2018.

Next week: 24 October: “Catastrophic Meanings: Consuming the Great Flood of 1927” (with Susan Scott Parrish)

Previous:

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)

26 September: “Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions” (with Cindy Ermus)

3 October: “Histories of the Future & the Anthropocene” (with Libby Robin)

10 October: “Günther Anders and the Catastrophic Imagination” (with Jason Dawsey)

Günther Anders & the Catastrophic Imagination (with Jason Dawsey)

This week is Günther Anders week on the “Bedtime Stories” podcast. Anders might be little known amongst environmental historians, but he is arguably one of the most important catastrophic thinkers of the twentieth century, and would reward some study. I came across Anders’s work while reading Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s work on “enlightened catastrophism,” and was immediately hooked. There is a moving lucidity in his writing when it comes to catastrophe. His correspondence with Claude Eatherly is particularly powerful as an introduction, but there are bits and pieces of his work that have been translated. I have referred to Anders a few times on this blog (start here and here and here). But the truth is that the bulk of his work has not yet been translated into English, which is a shame.

Which is not to say that Anders’s work has received any attention from English-speaking scholars. Looking for more access to Anders and his writing on catastrophe, I discovered Jason Dawsey’s PhD dissertation, “The Limits of the Human in the Age of Technological Revolution: Günther Anders, Post-Marxism, and the Emergence of Technology Critique.” The discussion below is another result of a cold call to a gracious colleague I’d not met before. It serves as a terrific introduction to Anders’s work and thinking. Dawsey is an historian at the University of Tennessee, and the editor, with Günther Bischof and Bernhard Fetz, of The Life and Work of Günther Anders: Émigré, Iconoclast, Philosopher, Man of Letters (Transatlantica Series, Volume 8).  (Review here).

Next week: 17 October: “Convergence: Climate, Capitalism, Catastrophe” (with Andreas Malm)

Previous:

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)

26 September: “Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions” (with Cindy Ermus)

3 October: “Histories of the Future & the Anthropocene” (with Libby Robin)

“Histories of the Future & the Anthropocene” (with Libby Robin)

Let’s get this out of the way right at the outset: there are very few people whose work I admire, appreciate, and enjoy more than Libby Robin’s. Her writing, talks, and insights into environmental history, the history of science, and the intersections between the two are always worth heeding. More: her work on the future and the Anthropocene are incisive and provide valuable direction for engaging with these difficult and under-considered topics. I was thrilled when she was willing to sit down for an interview, even if catching up with her globe-trotting posed some tricky time zone challenges. Our catastrophic conversation ranged across themes of the Anthropocene (there’s a terrific oral history here) and into ideas about how to tackle the history of the future.

[EDIT]: Note that this interview was conducted in October 2016. The world has changed since then. More markedly than any of us might have imagined. Too: my audio introduction to Libby Robin includes information that was current then, but not now. By way of updated introduction, Robin is an historian based at the Fenner School for the Environment and Society at the Australian National University. I first met her through her work on Expertise for the Future, an international and interdisciplinary venture that married history, technology, environment, and society to use the past to reflect upon our environmental futures. That project curated a terrific collection of primary source documents tracing The Future of Nature: Documents of Global Change (Yale University Press, 2013). The Environment: A History, co-authored with Paul Warde and Sverker Sörlinis in preparation with Johns Hopkins University Press.

Next week: 10 October: “Günther Anders & the Catastrophic Imagination” (with Jason Dawsey)

Previous:

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)

26 September: “Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions” (with Cindy Ermus)

Catastrophe in the Age of Revolutions

One of the great pleasures of doing this podcast was meeting new people. Cindy Ermus and I had never met. There might have been a few quick Twitter interactions, but that was about it. Her work on the Plague of Provence and on disasters in the Gulf South make explicit and important connections with catastrophic history, and I was also especially keen to get her insight on the relationship between disaster and revolution. This turned out to be one of my favourite interviews—made all the richer for the fact that we started out as relative strangers. The conversation was fascinating, and it went in a number of directions I hadn’t anticipated.

Cindy Ermus is an historian at the University of Lethbridge. She is the editor of Environmental Disasters in the Gulf South: Two Centuries of Catastrophe, Risk, and Resilience, forthcoming in January 2018 from LSU Press. In addition, she is a co-founder and editor of Age of Revolutions, an historical blog that helps to situate these questions within a critical and broader context.

Next week: 3 October: “Histories of the Future & the Anthropocene” (with Libby Robin)

Previous:

5 September: “Dysfunctional Relationships: Love Songs for Pesticides” (with Michelle Mart)

12 September: “Catastrophic Environmentalism: Histories of the Cold War” (with Jacob Hamblin)

19 September: “Disaster Narratives: Predictions, Preparedness, & Lessons” (with Scott Knowles)