BLACKOUTS: Using Energy Regimes to Narrate Place, Race, and Ethnicity
This session will focus on energy regimes both to analyze the history of race, ethnicity, and civil rights within the United States between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and as a means of fostering dialogue between environmental historians and other historical subdisciplines interested in narratives of place-based racial and ethnic inequality. Increasingly during the postwar era, the field of history has fragmented into subspecialties whose practitioners seldom, if ever, communicate with one another. Environmental historians are especially sensitive to this issue and have recently broadened their methodological approach and subject matter to more directly engage social, political, cultural, and other histories. Gender and the human body, warfare and the state, technology and technological systems, for example, have all become important categories of analysis for environmental historians in recent years. In an effort to better understand how such efforts are being perceived outside the field of environmental history, this session hopes to use each of the three panelists’ presentations to spark a discussion not only about the history of energy and race, but perhaps more importantly, regarding the linkages between environmental and other types of historical practices.
While the three papers comprising this session explore the role of energy regimes in shaping the lives, locations, and narratives of people within the United States, together they illustrate the environmental, social, and political inequalities experienced by people around the world in the modern era. While Steven Stoll’s paper, “Mountaineers Are Always Free,” examines the impact of energy extraction on rural communities in Appalachia to better understand similar experiences of peasant peoples worldwide, Mark Fiege’s paper, “Crude Freedom,” focuses on the shift from organic energy sources to coal and petroleum and the consequences of this transition for the Great Migration of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fiege, like Stoll, situates his study in a broader global context of mobility and migration unleashed by the exploitation of fossil fuels. Finally, Neil Maher’s “Spaceship Earth” traces the interplay during the post-World War II period between the space race and the civil rights movement of the so-called “long 1960s,” illustrating how NASA, in response to protests from civil rights activists, worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to “spin-off” its Apollo spacecraft’s energy-efficient heating and cooling systems for use in low-income urban housing projects during the urban crisis of the 1970s.
In order to highlight the panel’s attempt to foster communication across historical subdisciplines, Professor Andrew Wiese, a noted expert on urban, social, and African-American history, will comment; the panel organizers chose Professor Wiese as commentator in part because he is not an environmental historian. Ellen Stroud, who has written extensively about both environmental and urban inequalities, will chair.