Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lecturing in Munich

The Rachel Carson Centre (Rachel Carson's 1962 book, Silent Spring, describing the effects of DDT on songbirds is recognized as the start of the modern environmental movement) at Ludwig-Maximillian Universitat Munchen (LMU) is a new research and teaching unit focusing on environmental history. Christoff Mauch, the director of the Centre, and I met at a "Rivers in History" conference he organized for the German Historical Institute in Washington DC some years ago. Christoff suggested I come to Munich. Nadine Klopfer, a charming young professor who researched the cultural divisions shaping Montreal`s urban landscape and teaches Canadian Studies, organized a lecture series on Canadian environmental history and I was on my way.

In the Yukon I do not often have the chance to network with other historians so it has been a real treat for me this week. At the Centre I met Andrew Isenberg who has written a fascinating history of the destruction of the North American bison herds and another book on the California gold rush, both have been a help to me in my work on the Klondike gold rush and Yukon wildlife management history. I also met Patrick Kupper, a Swiss historian of national parks who is just finishing up a book on national parks aaround the world. One of the chapters is written by Brad Martin, the PhD student who has been working with me in Whitehorse. So it has been a comfortable, interesting and cosmopolitan experience of a global network to which I belong.

My lecture was about learning to drive boat on the Yukon River. A pair of First Nation brothers from Dawson City have taught me not only about how to avoid sandbars but to come to an understanding of how they see the world. While we Newcomers see the material world as a place to exercise our power to obtain the resources we need to live, the Aboriginal people of the Yukon basin see themselves in a partnership with all of the animals and plants around them. This shows itself in the belief that the animals and plants they harvest for their use will return to them only if they are treated with respect and care.

The paper was well received and I was happy to have made the effort to prepare the paper and take the time to come to Germany to deliver it.

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