History and Social Science in Houston, Texas: Western Social Science Association Conference 2012

In a couple days a small cohort (or more like a squad) of NDSU historians will descend on Houston, Texas to take part in the 2012 Western Social Science Association conference (the program here). This year Tom Isern is the official conference Program Coordinator, so he went down early (“down” is the direction you need to go to get to Tejas when you live on the northern Great Plains). There are a couple discussions or panels I’ll be sitting in on, and since I was getting my thoughts in order with pen and paper I thought I would just as well blog them.

  • On Thursday, April 12, 2012, about 1630 hours, I’ll be partaking in a book discussion with Tom Isern, James Beattie, and William C. Schaniel. We’ll be discussing James Beattie, Empire and Environmental Anxiety: Health, Science, Art and Conservation in South Asia and Australasia, 1800-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). The key phrase is environmental anxiety, and it considers how nineteenth-century Christianity (which at the time was loaded with romanticism, among other things; perhaps it still is?) and positivistic science (similar kind of situation) anticipated certain environmental results after arriving on the scene (aka, colonizing) throughout the globe. When these theoretical anticipations fell into discord, it resulted in a type of psychological torment, or environmental anxiety. In many ways this work holds thematic continuity with Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden, or Publius Vergilius Maro’s Eclogues, at least an exploration into how humanity has understood nature, and how humans have or have not altered said nature. We’ll likely talk about the word nature itself, and what it means to be natural or unnatural — I often feel unnatural even though Homo sapiens in the evolutionary scheme of things are natural. Once again, though, the word nature can be a slippery one, and its abstraction is one of the reasons why it has persisted (speak in metaphor if you want your statements to have staying power throughout the ages). Isern and I, among others, are anticipating that today’s politicians will appropriate the phrase “environmental anxiety” if they haven’t already. The latest phrase I cobbled together was Industrial Christianity 2.0, a sort of hyper-Max Weberian model for the 21st century.
  • On Friday (04/13/2012) at 800 hours (CST) I’ll be showcasing a poster in, well, the Poster Session. It deals with issues as to how the public has remembered the various sites of memory and mourning that are connected with the Dakota Conflict in the Minnesota River Valley in 1862, and the subsequent Sibley and Sully punitive campaigns in Dakota Territory in 1863 and 1864. I’m working on a research seminar paper for Dr. David Silkenat that deals with this, along with understanding how contemporaneous massacre sites and sites of memory, conflict, skirmish and mourning have been interpreted too. This includes the massacre sites of Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado, and the Bear River Massacre in southern Idaho. I’m in the midst of considering the global implications during this period, when empires (see Russia, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, French, British, Chinese, and so on) sought to assimilate at best and annihilate at worst the indigenes whom were labeled as not fitting the imperial or national mold. For example, the Maori of New Zealand really gave the Brits a go in the 1860s, and so on and so forth.
  • I’m still rounding out thoughts on the panel that explores the Aussie flick, “Red Dog,” and that will take place on Friday (04/13/2012) about 1300 hours (CST). The trailer is just below:

And some out takes here…

  • Notions of Human’s Best Friend surface with dog movies, so last week Isern and I tossed around some ideas. I was thinking about grounding this in prehistory, or those stories anthropologists often tell that explain how otherwise non-domesticated dogs became dogs. Hunter-gatherers invariably create trash, and this trash contains scraps of food, or bones to chew on. Eventually four-legged creatures work their way close enough to the human trash piles for a free nibble, and then they start nibbling away more regularly, and eventually relationships between human and dog form. Pretty soon we’re wondering why dogs circle two or three times before they lay down in the corner of a house, or something along those lines. It probably has to do with being hard-wired to push down foliage and tall grasses before taking dog naps. Homo sapiens have been around anywhere from 200,000 to 150,000 years (we pushed our way out of east Africa) and only sedentary for the last 6,000 years or so. There’s the wolf-dog Two-Socks in “Dances With Wolves,” and there’s the usual suspects of Lassie, Rin-tin-tin, Turner and Hooch, Beethoven, Lewis and Clark’s newfoundland retriever Seaman, and some areas of east Asia that still consider it a delicacy. The floor remains wide open, anyhow. This “Red Dog” flick also has similarities with the work camps and crew culture springing up in western North Dakota’s Bakken oil field these days, too.
  • Also on Friday (04/13/2012) at 0945 hours I’ll moderate a panel with Erika Wright and Anthony Amato entitled, “Unpredictable Developments” — so far I haven’t thought about where this panel will go.

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