Bathsheba Demuth is an environmental historian, specializing in the lands and seas of the Russian and North American Arctic. In this essay, Bathsheba accompanies a Gwitchin friend on a moose hunt north of the Arctic Circle, and witnesses patterns of contrasting stories manifested in the landscape: one of conquest and inattention seen in collapsing river banks and melting permafrost; and another of restraint, held in the quiet knowing of the moose. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Bathsheba Demuth: "The Reindeer at the End of the World: Apocalypse, Climate, and Soviet Dreams"
Bathsheba Demuth, Assistant Professor of History and Environment and Society at Brown University, is an environmental historian, specializing in the lands and seas of the Russian and North American Arctic. She is interested in the how the histories of people, ideas, places, and non-human species intersect.Climate change and other alterations to the Earth caused by human activity are often described in apocalyptic terms: as Armageddon, or the end of the world. Nowhere is this more true than in the Arctic, where the rates of warming are twice that of temperate regions and have been visible for decades. In this lecture Bathsheba Demuth explores the Chukchi Peninsula, in far eastern Arctic Siberia.The indigenous Chukchi people have traditionally been herdsmen and hunters of reindeer; those who live along the coasts of the Arctic Ocean, the Chukchi Sea, and the Bering Sea have customarily hunted sea mammals such as seals, whales, walruses, and sea lions. Russia launched a series of vigorous military campaigns against the Chukchi in 1729. The Chukchi put up a ferocious resistance and, when surrounded, they frequently committed mass suicide rather than surrender. By the 1760s, the Russian government decided that the cost of vanquishing the Chukchi was too high in terms of money and troops and ended the war on the condition that the Chukchi cease attacking Russian settlers and pay the yasak (the yearly tax that native Siberians paid in furs).In the 1930s, the Chukchi were forced into Soviet economic collectives which disrupted their indigenous lifeways. The Chukchi Peninsula became a region of mines and gulags. It’s a place that has experienced radical changes with Russian contact, the founding of the Soviet Union, and then with its dissolution. Weaving a story of devoted Bolsheviks, Chukchi nomads, and herds of reindeer, Demuth will ask what kinds of narratives suit the empirical experience of radical change, what is lost when we emphasize rupture, and what is gained by paying attention to the ruins left by past ways of living as we face a transformed Arctic and planet.https://ohc.uoregon.edu
UO Today interview: Bathsheba Demuth, History and Environment and Society, Brown University
Bathsheba Demuth reads from and discusses her book "Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait," a comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada. These frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: How, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved?She will give a virtual talk "The Reindeer at the End of the World" on May 4, 2021. Register: https://ohc.uoregon.edu
Environmental historian Bathsheba Demuth on the new normal, Senior citizens panel on 2020 and the pandemic, Jessica J. Lee on her memoir Two Trees Make a Forest, Sports reporter Doug Smith on 25 years of the Raptors
The Sunday Magazine
This week on The Sunday Magazine with guest host David Common:• Environmental historian Bathsehba Demuth on 'the new normal'• Canadian seniors talk about what it's been like to live through 2020• We revisit Piya Chattopadhyay's conversation with memoirist Jessica J Lee• Toronto Raptors longtime chronicler Doug Smith Find more at cbc.ca/Sunday
A conversation with Dr. Bathsheba Demuth about her book Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait (WW Norton, 2019). Explore more at http://www.brdemuth.com. The Writing Westward Podcast is a production of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University and hosted by Brenden W. Rensink. Subscribe to the Writing Westward Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, and other podcast distribution apps and platforms. Follow the BYU Redd Center and the Writing Westward Podcast on Facebook or Twitter or get more information @ https://www.writingwestward.org. Theme music by Micah Dahl Anderson @ www.micahdahlanderson.com
Reindeer at the End of the World – Bathsheba Demuth
Emergence Magazine Podcast
In this narrated essay, ecological historian Bathsheba Demuth travels across the easternmost edge of northern Russia—home to the Native Chukchi people and their herds of reindeer. As she uncovers the history of this landscape, she encounters the allure of the apocalyptic arc—the promise of a new world—and the rise and ruin of the Soviet ideology that sought to impose its utopian vision on the Chukchi, their reindeer, and the natural cycles of the Russian tundra. Through the Soviet project’s ambition to “tame” the tundra and turn the living world into an economic resource, we are confronted with uneasy parallels to capitalist society. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Bathsheba Demuth on her monumental book Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. From the 19th century through today, governments and capitalists on the Russian, Soviet, and American Arctic borderlands extract energy from a natural world whose reproductive cycles they don't comprehend and strive to convert Indigenous people into national subjects.Support this podcast with a contribution at Patreon.com/TheDig
Dig: Arctic Energy Frontiers with Bathsheba Demuth
Bathsheba Demuth on her monumental book Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. From the 19th century through today, governments and capitalists on the Russian, Soviet, and American Arctic borderlands extract energy from a natural world whose reproductive cycles they don't comprehend and strive to convert Indigenous people into national subjects. Support this podcast with a contribution at Patreon.com/TheDig
Environmental Historian and author Bathsheba DeMuth explores the past to better understand the present. As the COVID-19 pandemic settles in for the foreseeable future, the Brown University Professor and host Katie Bausler look back to the flu pandemic of 1918, and infectious diseases brought by European explorers that devastated indigenous peoples going back hundreds of years. And the impact of political denial on public health.
Mill Valley Public Library interviews Bathsheba DemuthFloating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait by Bathsheba Demuth is the best book I’ve read in the last year but before raving about it, I want to share a story. One morning when I was living in Alaska I woke up with the song ‘Celia of the Seals’ by Donovon in my head. I remember drinking coffee in bed while listening to the song over & over that morning. The song was inspired by Celia Hammond, a 1960s supermodel that often appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine and often in fur coats. Hammond, while still a model, became an animal rights activist and protested fur for fashion. Donovon’s song, in short, is a protest song against clubbing baby seals to death. Later that morning I ran into a friend at an arts & craft fair, who showed me the sealskin pillow she had just purchased for her husband as a birthday gift. Out of my own amusement of the coincidence, I responded by sharing with her that I had just listened to Donovon’s song on repeat. The contrast between purchasing seal products and song protesting seal products seemed to generate some brief awkwardness between us and she quickly introduced me to the Alaskan Native artist that made the pillow as if to say, ‘See, it’s okay’ and then asked him, ‘You didn’t club the seal, did you?’ to which he said it had been shot and then most humbly added, ‘Poor seal.’ I’ll come back to this after I rave about the book. My own experience and interest in Alaska no doubt provided some bias in my appreciation of Demuth’s book but despite that, it still stands as an amazing piece of work. It is more than an environmental history of a place but uses a single place to capture so many other substantial global implications about humanity, civilization and the ‘nonhuman world’ to use the author’s words. For me to say the place itself, the Bering Strait, is objectively unique might be subjective but I’ll say it all the same. The strait’s narrow point separates two continents just south of the Arctic Circle with fifty miles of salt water that turns to ice in winter, and is home to walrus, whale and seal in the seas and wolves, caribou and fox on land. Ravens observe them all from the sky. It is also home to indiginous people that have lived in the region for thousands of years. The span of history Demuth focuses on is the last 200 hundred years, which includes the time before foreign whaling ships arrived but in short order covers the Soviet and American (IE communist and capitalist) pillaging that impacted the natural environment and all lifeforms that call Beringia home. The book is beautifully framed with recognition that the lifespan of a bowhead whale has observed all of this history. The geographical place is as alluring as its inhabitants and history but what makes this book so special is Demuth’s exceptional writing craft and storytelling. The stories of the non-human world are categorized in five sections (sea, shore, land, underground, and ocean) that flow as seamless as the rising and falling tide. Demuth exquisitely describes the value of walrus, not only in the capitalist or communist sense of value, but primarily the natural value of walrus: their tusks stir nutrients from the seafloor that release nitrogen into the water that allows photosynthetic organisms to bloom – and the bloom feeds squid, clam, small fish and tube worm. Without walrus, the ecosystem falls apart. The same is true of every other animal species that call the Bering Strait home, as well as the people that depend on them. Demuth’s words are equally elegant as powerful – the line I quote in the interview, ‘Death made invisible by those who consume it’ is just one phrase of many that profoundly, by virtue of being blunt, express and reinforce the destruction to Beringia by foreigners – ‘Knowledge of the whales was eradicated from the consumed products’ or that yankees ‘Took ivory and pelts in exchange for alcohol and starvation’ paint the reality of the damage done. More than gut-punch phrases, Demuth can capture complexities in a single sentence: ‘At the end of the 19th century federal policy toward native people conflated christianity with civilization, civilization with progress, and progress with productive growth, which came from individuals taking raw nature and working it into valuable things sold for profit.’ Literary references in the final pages of the book (‘Springs were silent. The population was a bomb.’) followed by one more gut-punch phrase (‘Pollutants filled streams and bloodstreams’) prompted me to request an interview to be based on a single page from the book. By the time of the interview I had abandoned my plan to base the interview on a single page and struggled to find the right way to approach my questions because, as I shared with Demuth, her book left no question unanswered and covered everything a reader such as myself could hope for. In fact, the edited episode consists of two interviews spliced together because I felt I missed my mark during the first interview. I’m ethically bound to share that I also took liberty and replaced an original question with an overdubbed one, which brings me back to my story about Donovon and sealskin. For many years before I woke up that morning in Alaska with ‘Celia of the Seals’ in my head, I identified with the views of the singer as it was pretty easy to oppose the concept of clubbing seals. But my time in Alaska changed that opinion and not because I briefly met a man that had shot a seal and made a pillow with its skin. I learned and observed first-hand three points from Demuth’s book: 1. people that have lived in that region sustainably for thousands of years are dependent on the resources available and 2. foreign imposition, be it capitalism or communism, forced a demand on the supplies and 3. consumers of the supplies are more to blame for the death of the seals than the person that clubbed (or shot) the seal. The question I overdubbed was not about ‘Celia of the Seals’ but rather a different song by Donovon – ‘The Universal Soldier’ in which the singer casts blame on all soldiers in all wars for their complicity in their acts of violence. It’s a logical argument – if there are no soldiers, then the leaders can’t send anyone to battle. I asked Demuth if the same view applied to the whalers with harpoons in hand or the miners destroying the land and polluting the water in search of gold but in the final edit removed my framing of the question about Donovon. I don’t mean to suggest that I now approve of clubbing baby seals but just that it is more complicated than universal condemnation. The executioner shouldn’t be judged when the jury is wearing fur. Or something like that – I’m not as good of a writer as Demuth. A documentary film called The Angry Inuk exemplifies the complexities of modern sealskin products. When indigenous people that have lived sustainably for thousands of years on natural resources in their environment have a capitalist system imposed on them, how else can they make an income in this new system without capitalizing on what is available to them? I no longer share Donovon’s views of either song and while I’m being critical of him, I’ll add a few more words of commentary to further rip him and say his songs are only pleasant to my ears because of his producers that helped arrange the songs. But before either of Donovon’s songs came to mind in the context of Floating Coast, I started thinking of a different song as soon as I began reading the book, which is Dem Bones by James Weldon Johnson. Because the head bone is connected to the neck bone and the neck bone is connected to the shoulder bone and the shoulder bone is connected to the back bone. In Floating Coast, Demuth beautifully hits home how each form of life in the Bering Strait is connected to all other forms of life. Any disruption or destruction to the balance affects everyone and everything. The Bering Strait provides an easy example to see this truth but the same is true of every ecosystem.