Archive for May, 2012

Not Seeing the River for the Trees

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on July 2, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There is one comment at the original post.]

Below is the text of my presentation proposal for the American Society of Environmental History’s 2011 conference in Phoenix, April 12-17:

    “Not Seeing the River for the Trees: How Place Fostered and Constrained Human Actions Along Oregon’s Willamette River”

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Blogging the ASEH 2010 (pt. 1): Willamette River Cruise

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on March 23, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are also comments to the original post at this link.]

Hawthorne Bridge. 
Image taken while descending gangplank to the tour boat.

This is my first post discussing my experience at the 2010 American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) conference, held here in Portland from March 10-14. This post will focus on the Willamette River cruise on on Wednesday, March 10, from noon to about 4:00 p.m.

I’ll commence with an admission: I spent about two years writing a thesis on the topic of Willamette River pollution, and I grew up on the Oregon coast, but until this river cruise I had not been on the river! Scandalous!! In some sense, however, this doesn’t really mean anything — after all, how many present-day historians of the Civil War were on the field at Gettysburg in the midst of the battle? Nonetheless, there is something to be said for experiencing the actual site(s) upon which unfolded aspects of one’s historical research.

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I missed the boat!

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Sep. 5, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

On the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 11, the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group (CAG) held its monthly meeting on a boat touring the Willamette in Portland’s harbor. CAG member Jim Robison invited me to this tour in July, while I was out of the state on vacation, and I replied that I would certainly be there.

I had taken a tour of the Willamette this past April, and had earlier biked along the Columbia Slough. I was looking forward to another opportunity to experience the river directly. So, I wrote the tour information down in my planner and settled into another week of vacation in sunny Nebraska . . .

. . . and then I got back to Portland, dove in to the remainder of the Summer quarter with my students, and didn’t think about that tour until week after it occurred.

I got wrapped up in the final week of the Summer quarter, which was the week of the CAG harbor tour, and the date simply slipped my mind. After the quarter was over, I found myself thinking about how fun the upcoming harbor tour would be, so I checked my planner and realized that I had missed the boat!

Let this be a lesson to myself that I can’t juggle 10,000 things without the benefit of my planner, and my planner isn’t any use to me unless I actually refer to it consistently. The cost of this oversight is missing-out on opportunities.

So, having expressed this mea culpa, let’s get to some details of this harbor tour . . .

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Willamette River films & videos

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Oct. 7, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

I just stumbled upon a resource providing links to various historical films & video footage of the Willamette River:

City of Portland Office of Healthy Working Rivers, “Our Rivers in Motion: A selection of films and videos about the Willamette and Columbia.”

I’ve yet to click-through the links on this page, but I’m putting it here for my future reference, and yours.

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It couldn’t possibly get any more exciting than this!

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on March 13, 2011. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Of late I’ve been extremely focused on my book project. Today I’ve been immersed in archival sources relating to the City of Portland’s attempts to design, fund, and build a comprehensive sewer interceptor and primary treatment system in the 1920s and 1930s. The story is fantastically complex and I’ve been piecing together the chronology, learning about the motivations and personalities of the key players, trying to condense the key events at the local, state, and national levels in a way that will convey the complexity in an intelligible way.

One of the key elements my book will stress is that while the Willamette River pollution abatement movement was centered in this region and abatement advocates worked within a specific set of technological, political, economic, and ecological systems, the movement at every stage relied upon public and private input. For example, in the 1930s Portland city officials benefited from the expertise of two of the foremost professionals in their field, Harrison P. Eddy of Boston, and Abel Wolman of Baltimore. In 1943, Portland city leaders benefited from the clout of renowned New York City planner Robert Moses to jump-start the sewage system plans that Eddy and Wolman had proposed.

Oregon’s abatement advocates also relied upon funds and research assistance from such federal agencies as the National Resources Planning Board and the Public Works Administration, and regional organizations such as the Pacific Northwest Regional Planning Commission.

As part of my research process, I’ve also discovered an interesting Internet resource:

    ** A collection of materials “related to the history of sewage conveyance systems. Many of these have been displayed in a traveling exhibit entitled “The Collection Systems Historical Photo and Artifacts Display.” The overall collection of sewer history materials covers the era from approximately 3500 BCE through the 1930s CE.”

It’s hard to have more fun with one’s clothes on, let me tell you!

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Dioxin and Willamette River Pollution: A First Step Into the Toxic Waters

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on May 18, 2011. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

This post provides some preliminary research and analysis on dioxin pollution in the Willamette Watershed connected to pulp and paper mill effluents.

I was recently at an environmental history conference and found myself in a discussion with someone doing research on dioxin pollution from pulp and paper mill effluents. As we were sharing stories, I realized that I had not seen a single reference to the word “dioxin” in any of the government reports, newspaper articles, professional journals, letters, or other primary sources from the 1900s into the 1960s that I have consulted thus far. Over the past few weeks, I’ve searched various primary and secondary sources, with the goal of determining just when dioxins became a known toxin, and when they were linked empirically with pulp and paper mill effluents, to determine if I had inadvertently missed something very important (and would have to re-write my thesis), or if this type of pollution hadn’t been discovered until after the 1960s (and I was OK).

Here is what I have found thus far . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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