Author Archives: Mary E Mendoza

About Mary E Mendoza

Mary E. Mendoza is an Assistant Professor of History and a core faculty member in the Program in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of Vermont. She is working on a book manuscript about the environmental history of the U.S.-Mexico border. In her work, she discusses how the border transformed from a "line in the sand" to a place of increasing physical presence. Her project carefully examines the ways in which the natural and built environments have impacted each other and how construction on the border changed the nature of migration in the borderlands.

CFP: Not Just Green, Not Just White: Race, Justice, and Environmental History

Not Just Green, Not Just White: Race, Justice, and Environmental History

 Eds. Traci Brynne Voyles and Mary E. Mendoza

CALL FOR PAPERS: In 2003, Carolyn Merchant called on environmental historians to redouble their efforts to craft a critical environmental history of race, particularly one that takes into account the vast and urgent stakes of environmental injustice for communities of color. Not Just Green, Not Just White seeks to answer that call, highlighting scholarship that engages our environmental past with an eye toward building socially and environmentally just futures.

This collection brings together voices that analyze the relationships between environment, race, and justice through a historical lens, exploring how environmental injustices are produced in different historical contexts in ways that profoundly shaped, and still shape, the experiences of communities of color in the US. More broadly, these collaborators ask how power relations have been articulated through resources and resource exploitation; how the environment has been a literal and figurative terrain of struggle over rights, inclusion, or differentiation; or how nature has come to signify and symbolize race in ways that produce unequal or unjust power relations. Ultimately, the collection seeks to underscore the reality, long apparent to communities of color but too rarely articulated in scholarship on environmental history, that racial injustice and environmental degradation (and sometimes preservation) are co-constituted.

Race is a critical component to the study of environmental injustice, but environmental history, until very recently, has tended to leave out questions of race. Classic environmental histories have focused on wilderness, whiteness, and white ideals of pure nature, leaving unexamined the different ways in which people of color experience the nonhuman world and engage in environmentalism. This tendency in environmental history reflects dominant American narratives that focus on white individuals and how they have changed landscapes, ignoring how expansion, settler colonialism, economic and agricultural development, resource extraction, and urban planning have dramatically affected the relationship between people of color and their own natural and built environments. This, in short, is a totalizing, universalizing framework that flattens the diversity of human relationships to the non-human world. This collection brings together a number of historians thinking about a range of environmentalisms and environmental histories, with an eye toward building a more environmentally just future – as well as piecing together a more complete picture of our diverse environmental pasts.

The lack of exchange between environmental justice and environmental history goes both ways, and both fields of scholarship can compliment each other in productive ways. Contrary to environmental history, environmental justice scholarship has been focused on contemporary cases of environmental injustice and racism, only infrequently accounting for the rich histories that produce and give form to unequal relationships to resources and environmental protection. Still, many environmental justice studies of gendered and raced environmental epistemologies have added significantly to our understanding of how environmental knowledge and experience are more rich and more complex than simple reductions to “man’s” impact on “nature.” This collection seeks to apply that rich scholarship, with its deep thinking about race as an analytic as well as about the lived realities of people of color, to environmental history in ways that can bring us to a better understanding of the connections between humans and nature, as well as between and within our human communities. As part of this move toward deep thinking about race and diversity, we are attuned to the need for more intersectional applications of this scholarship, looking to the ways in which gender and race (and sexuality and class) together have formed our relationships to the non-human world not only in the present and future, but also in the past.

We will consider historical scholarship that seeks to explore what the human relationship with nature has looked like for various communities and indigenous nations across the US. We are particularly interested explorations of how (white, American notions of) environmentalism, or activities associated with it, have reinforced racial and classist stereotypes by alienating people who cannot afford or who cannot access things like recycling, or buying local organic foods, and excluded the diverse environmental epistemologies and practices of people of color from mainstream environmentalism. Additional avenues of inquiry might look at the ways that diverse communities and peoples have interacted with nature and what it means (or has historically meant) to be good stewards over nature. Ultimately, we hope to bring together a range of scholars working to disentangle whiteness from environment and environmentalism, and in doing so, offer a more diverse approach to our environmental past, present, and future. Continue reading

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The Importance of Transnational Research

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The U.S.-Mexico border is much more than just a line on a map. It is an open wound, a line in the sand, a political construct, a paradoxical place of division and connection, a marker of imagined projections of territorial power, a place that eludes state control.* Over the course of the past two hundred years, the border has transformed from a shifting line on maps, to a “line in the sand,” to an increasingly marked, built, and “fixed” border. Today’s border dissects so many things, yet it remains porous. People, animals, pathogens, drugs, money, ideas, religion, food, goods, water, and countless other things cross the border daily and nothing suggests that this movement will cease—no matter how big a wall we build. And yet, many who study the U.S.-Mexico border treat the border as if there is something absolute about it: many U.S. historians who study the U.S.-Mexico borderlands never research south of the borderline.

In Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, Samuel Truett writes that, “Most Americans have forgotten transnational histories not only because they have trusted maps of the nation, but also because they have succumbed to the siren-song of the state (p.5).” Many historians of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands fit this description, but we don’t have to, nor should we.

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