The power of activism: speaking out for clean water in the Hudson River

The Hudson River
Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Earth Day 2018 is around the corner. What can we take from it this year, what can we repeat from the past, and what can we do differently? The story of the Hudson River presented by David Schuyler in Embattled River is a great place to start. An investigative narrative filled with lessons to be learned, it is a call to action for all of us who want to live in harmony with nature, and an example of how important it is to raise one’s voice when it comes to leading change.

My dirty stream

Named Mahicantuck (or “river that flows two ways”) by native peoples long before Hudson’s arrival, the Hudson River has been a key battleground in modern US environmentalism since 1962, when Consolidated Edison announced plans to construct a pumped storage electrical generating power plant at Storm King Mountain. But the pollution and bleak future of the Hudson River was as clear as water even before that, and by 1950, the impact of humans and our abuse of the river’s natural resources was evident.

Still waters

Still waters run deep, and a loose coalition of activists were ready to act and defend the river. Led by Scenic Hudson, and later joined by groups such as Riverkeeper, Clearwater, the Hudson River Valley Greenway, and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, the coalition won the first of many legal and publicity battles that would halt pollution of the river, slowly reverse the damage of years of discharge, and protect hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped land in the river valley.

As Schuyler shows, the environmental victories on the Hudson had broad impact. In the state at the heart of the story, the victory resulted in the creation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (1970) to monitor, investigate, and litigate cases of pollution. At a national level, the environmental ferment in the Hudson Valley contributed directly to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the creation of the Superfund in 1980 to fund the cleanup of toxic dump sites.

An ongoing battle

As a result of the Clean Water Act and some enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Hudson River is cleaner than at any time since the dawn of industrialization in the nineteenth century. But the presence of so many chemicals in the water and the flesh of the fish that inhabit it—many of them known carcinogens—makes the efforts of the river’s defenders an ongoing battle, and today the struggle to control its uses and maintain its ecological health persists.

An arm of the sea where salty sea water meets fresh water running off the land, the Hudson River plays a pivotal role in the emergence of modern environmentalism in the United States. Embattled River is proof of what can be achieved when environmental activists stand for nature, and the stories of the pioneering advocates told by Schuyler provide lessons, reminders, and the inspiration to celebrate this Earth Day.

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Featured event:

Join the Olana Partnership from Saturday May 26th onwards, and be part of its First Ever Facebook Book Club with author David Schuyler, to discuss his newly published book Embattled River.

 

 

 

Recommended song  for this post:

 

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is originally from Uruguay and often wonders how she ended up in Upstate New York. Her dream is to own an ice-cream shop. She doesn’t have Wi-Fi at home.

 

 

 

 

 

The power of activism: speaking out for clean water in the Hudson River

Necessary Reading: Books to Celebrate Black History Month

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In our current political landscape, it’s more necessary now than ever to have a richer, deeper, and more nuanced understanding of race in the US. Books that offer a deep dive into subjects as wide-ranging as the intertwined histories of European expansionism and racism, African-American steelworkers in 1920s Indiana, a multiracial neighborhood in Queens, and the translations and reception abroad of a legendary black American poet’s work, can offer illuminating insight into the ways we think about and grapple with race today.

To that end, and to continue our celebration of Black History Month, here is a selection of just some of the books we’ve published over the years on race and African American history. Continue reading “Necessary Reading: Books to Celebrate Black History Month”

Necessary Reading: Books to Celebrate Black History Month

Excerpt: Two Weeks Every Summer, by Tobin Miller Shearer

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Tobin Miller Shearer published Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America with Cornell University Press in 2017. In his book, Miller Shearer focuses on the history of the Fresh Air program, and, in particular, the voices of the children themselves through letters that they wrote, pictures that they took, and their testimonials. Shearer offers a careful social and cultural history of the Fresh Air programs, giving readers a good sense of the summer experiences for both hosts and the visiting children.

As part of our month-long focus on Black History Month, here is an excerpt from the Introduction. Continue reading “Excerpt: Two Weeks Every Summer, by Tobin Miller Shearer”

Excerpt: Two Weeks Every Summer, by Tobin Miller Shearer

Excerpt: Whose Detroit? by Heather Ann Thompson

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Picketers at Detroit Police Headquarters protesting the fatal shooting of a black woman, July 13, 1963. Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University. (P. 39, Whose Detroit?)

Heather Ann Thompson recently received the Pulitzer Prize for her book Blood in the Water. She published Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City with Cornell University Press in 2001 with a revised edition in 2017. As part of our month-long focus on Black History Month, here is an excerpt from the Prologue of the 2017 edition.

Back in 2001, in the first printing of this book, I argued most forcefully that if one wanted really to comprehend the fate of America’s inner cities over the course of the postwar period, one had to begin by fully understanding what had happened in the Motor City. Detroit, I had maintained, was in fact ground zero for any scholar seeking to make sense of why cities across the nation that had seemed to be synonymous with economic opportunity and prosperity in the 1950s became, by the 1960s, the epicenter of countless rebellions for greater racial equality and, then, by the 1980s, bastions of crime and decay. Continue reading “Excerpt: Whose Detroit? by Heather Ann Thompson”

Excerpt: Whose Detroit? by Heather Ann Thompson

Outbox – The Transnational Trend in U.S. Foreign Relations 10 Years In: Reflections on a Path-breaking Book Series

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Recent titles from The United States in the World

by Michael J. McGandy

One hears so much these days, in academic circles, about the transnational that it is surprising that a decade ago it was a new concept in many fields. This was particularly so among historians of United States foreign relations, where high-level diplomacy and affairs of state had been the focus of attention as long as anyone could remember. So it was that the inaugural publications in The United States in the World—a book series dedicated to transnational scholarship—were unexpected, innovative, and trend-setting in the study of what was once termed “foreign affairs.” This year marks the ten-year anniversary of the first two books published in the series, and it is time to recognize the insight of the founding series editors and give tribute to the field-changing impact of the twenty volumes that have been published since 2007.

The story of the series goes back to 2005, when Mark Philip Bradley and Paul A. Kramer collaborated with my predecessor at Cornell University Press, Alison Kallett, to frame the series concept. At that time no press had a series of books in history focusing on the role that non-state actors, flows of capital and peoples, and non-governmental organizations had in state diplomacy and international relations. The editors proposed to push beyond the then-popular idea of global history and then to “draw on domestic and international archives,” “challenge conventional periodizations,” and “explore how people, ideas, and cultures traveled between the United States and the rest of the world.” Moreover, while looking ever outward to the larger world, the books were always intended to enrich and broaden, as Mark and Paul wrote in their series proposal, “our understanding of modern United States history.” Continue reading “Outbox – The Transnational Trend in U.S. Foreign Relations 10 Years In: Reflections on a Path-breaking Book Series”

Outbox – The Transnational Trend in U.S. Foreign Relations 10 Years In: Reflections on a Path-breaking Book Series

Outbox: Trends in the History of Early New York

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Get ready for the return of big history, writes CUP Senior Editor Michael McGandy

by Michael J. McGandy

Big history is making a comeback in the subfield of early American history. Or perhaps I should say that bigger history is once again of interest to scholars and, as an acquisitions editor, I am seeing exemplary work that shows what can be accomplished when one takes on the challenge of offering a more grand and sweeping account of events.

The contrast here is with the more fine-grained, local, and sometimes fragmentary work that came to the fore in the decades-long rise of social and cultural history. Rightfully weary of the big histories of famous men, military conflicts, and affairs of state, historians turned to the particularities of events and personal experience. In so doing they did scholars and lay readers alike a great service by putting us in contact with the daily and intimate aspects of history (often using diaries and court records), the experience of lesser-known historical actors (often women and people of color), and informal practices that structured experience (often unregulated markets, social networks, and resistance movements). And, as a result, today no one can do legitimate research and write meaningful narratives while overlooking these rich dimensions of historical experience. Continue reading “Outbox: Trends in the History of Early New York”

Outbox: Trends in the History of Early New York

The Labor of Addiction: A Personal History of Smoking in the Workplace

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Gregory Wood in 1993

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”  —Mark Twain

By Gregory Wood, author of Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace

As I wrote about the histories of working-class smoking, tobacco control, and nicotine addiction in my book, Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace, I was often reminded of my own difficult past as a heavily addicted cigarette smoker. In fact, the project stemmed from two important sources: first, my discovery of unique documents that detailed the history of working-class smoking practices at Hammermill Paper Company in Erie, Pennsylvania, during 1915; and the insights gained from my own hellish experiences with nicotine addiction. For eleven years, throughout what was my twenties, I was a regular smoker who came to know very well the power of addiction and how tobacco use facilitated challenges to managers’ authority at work.

I began smoking as a new student in college in order to socialize with other individuals who happened to be smokers: in other words, I started using tobacco to fit in with a new peer group. My addiction to nicotine unfolded very quickly, occurring over a period of no more than a month in the fall semester of 1992. Sadly, I took to smoking very, very easily. By December 1992, toward the end of my first semester in college, I needed nearly a pack of cigarettes every day in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Continue reading “The Labor of Addiction: A Personal History of Smoking in the Workplace”

The Labor of Addiction: A Personal History of Smoking in the Workplace