Environmental History Online

This week we reviewed what already exists online for our particular subjects and potential Clio 1 project topics. This will help us understand how our projects might use these resources, and where our work will fit into existing digital scholarship.

I began by reviewing the general online collections related to Environmental History in the 20th century. This led me to a variety of interesting sources, stories, reference sites, and general information, but few digital history projects or corpus of documents. One interesting project included the “Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau”, which explored the Colorado Plateau from a variety of disciplines (it was also interesting as an example of early academic projects- published 2002).

Another multidisciplinary project was the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill published by the University of California- Santa Barbara Geography Department, but including historical photographs, material from the Marine Protected Areas project, articles putting the spill in context, and other resources.

What struck me about this project was the relative lack of contributions from historians. As such, I thought this might make for an interesting project for which there is little historical scholarship online. I searched for more resources and found Darren Hardy’s “1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill” project which was created while he received his Masters in Environmental Science and Management. Though much of the website reuses articles also linked at the UCSB Geography Department’s website, he transcribed quite a few letters to the editor about the oil spill in 1969. Even more useful is that XML versions of these letters exist on his website and might be suitable for easy text analysis.

Following the google search, I examined other major websites of historical documents not necessarily indexed by google. The Library of Congress has an enormous amount of material, including collections on the American West, historic newspapers, and American Memory. Unfortunately, the American West collection is almost entirely pre-1920 and there is little on the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969.

I also found some interesting newsreel footage of the oil spill from the Prelinger Archives (indexed by the Internet Archive). The footage is quite long and silent, so it is not particularly interesting in its current form. However, the Prelinger Collection has the most permissive copyright license- a Creative Commons Public Domain license. This allows the footage to be used and reused in any way desired. While I don’t envision much video in my final project, it could be a useful part of a website if remixed in an interesting way (perhaps this is a Clio 2 project).

The Center for the American West at UC-Boulder had quite a few publications on oil/energy topics, but focused on oil produced by hydraulic fracturing. The Digital Public Library of America (or its partners) contained few recent sources, but did have the text of a Senate hearing on the Santa Barbara Oil Spill which could be interesting to compare to Letters to the Editor from Darren Handy’s web project.

In this search I’ve learned much about what environmental history resources that exist online. While I’m excited about the possibilities of exploring the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, there are far fewer general resources than I expected. Relevent to post-WWII environmental history there are none of the Google Books public domain works, little in historic newspaper collections, and fewer of the large scale digitization projects which have affected legal history or literature. I expect that one of the strengths of digital environmental history might be it’s ability to be mapped and the large amounts of publicly available data provided by government agencies like the USGS, FSA, NPS, etc. But that is for a future project. In the meantime I will focus on Santa Barbara and GIS shape files from the California Marine Protected Areas Database.

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