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Perennial Problems: Histories of Health and Environment across Borders

20-21 September 2019

While the link between human health and environmental change is of growing concern for our present times, histories of health and environment so far have been centered on the global North to the exclusion of the global South. Few historians have focused on how structures of power, including imperialism, race, gender, and class affect humans’ experiences of environment, and many workshops on the subject focus a single specific issue like mining, cancer, or nuclear power, or on one geographic region, generally Europe or North America. By broadening our scope and highlighting the inequities of environmental change, we seek to provide meaningful discussion about the state of the historical field of health and environment, and the power dynamics which underlie terms like “anthropocene” and “human-driven climate change.”The topic itself is of global importance, and many Canadians are searching for a place to hold meaningful discussion and learn more about the crisis we are facing.

Hosted by the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University, our workshop brings together a group of Canadian and international scholars researching histories at the intersection of health and environment, who will engage in historical, interdisciplinary and public conversations about how understanding past decisions can shed light on humans’ roles in environmental change. We have selected papers which examine the ways in which the environment has been shaped to benefit “elites” and also papers on how these changes are often detrimental to marginalized populations including colonial subjects in Africa, Indigenous populations in North America, working class citizens, and minority groups.

Perennial Problems Tentative Programme

All Panels in McMaster University, L.R. Wilson Hall, LRW 2001


Friday, September 20, 2019

9:00 AM: Introduction and Opening Remarks

9:30 AM: Panel 1 – Park, Forest, Coast: Healthy Landscapes for Healthy Bodies

  • Karen Jones, University of Kent, Green Lungs and Green Liberty: The Modern City Park and Public Health in the Urban Metabolic Landscape
  • Clare Hickman, Newcastle University, The Pine Forest: A Sensory Healthscape
  • Glen O’Hara, Oxford Brookes University, Coastal Britain as a Modern Version of Purity

11:00 AM: Break

11:15 AM: Panel 2 – Extraction and its Costs

  • Rocio Gomez, Virginia Commonwealth University , Revolutionary Diagnosis: The Silicosis-Tuberculosis Debate and Mexican Mining, 1938-1946
  • Paul Hackett, University of Saskatchewan, The Impact of Northern Development on Indigenous Health and Chronic Disease: Lessons from the Past
  • Brian Leech, Augustana College, Zombified Miners from Zombie Mines: Popular Culture Meets the Unhealthy Landscapes and Bodies of the Mining Industry

12:45 PM — Catered Lunch (at LRW 2802) 

1:45 PM: Panel 3 – Development and its Costs

  • Fred Burrill, Concordia University, Health, Wellness, and Class Domination in Gentrifying Saint-Henri, Montreal
  • Kirsten Moore-Sheeley, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of California Los Angeles, Malaria Ecologies in a Precarious Age: Climate Change, Poverty, and Illness in East Africa since 1980

3:00 PM: Break

3:15 PM: Panel 4 – Colonialism and Science 

  • Adedamola Seun Adetiba, Rhodes University, “Pineapples are Dangerous in Towns”: The Intersection of Plantation Agriculture and Malaria Control in Colonial Nigeria
  • Adebisi David Alade, McMaster University, Vector-Borne Diseases and Sanitation in West Africa: Complicating British Colonial Hygiene and Public Health Campaigns in the Inter-War Years
  • Vanessa Heggie, University of Birmingham, Adaptation in the Anthropocene: Which Bodies Belong Where in the Twentieth Century?

5:30 PM: Diner at Bean Bar


Saturday, September 21, 2019

9:30 AM: Panel 5 – Healthscapes/Sickscapes

  • Letitia Johnson, University of Saskatchewan, A “Showplace” of Forcible Relocation: The New Denver Sanatorium and Japanese-Canadian Health Care during the Second World War
  • Kenneth Reilly, Western University, “Covering For Our City Blight”: Kudzu and Public Health in Atlanta
  • Urmi Engineer Willoughby, Huntington Library, Cultivating Malaria: The Historical Ecology of Fever in Louisiana’s Wetlands, 1716-1860

11:00 AM: Break 

11:15 AM: Panel 6 – Technology and its Costs

  • Christophe Lécuyer, Université Sorbonne, Can a Bhopal-Like Accident Happen in Silicon Valley?
  • Alex Souchen, Western University, Drowned at Sea: Slow Violence, Public Health, and the Pollution of Underwater Munitions
  • Brandon Cordeiro, McMaster University, Tooth Fairies and Atomic Tests: The Voice of Women and the Baby Teeth Collection Program

12:45 PM – Concluding Remarks