The Spring 2017 issue of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society is now available on Project MUSE, https://muse.jhu.edu/journal/524.
VOL. 115, NO. 2 | Spring 2017
Environment and Environmentalism in Kentucky
Guest Edited by: Richard W. Judd (University of Maine) and David Stradling (University of Cincinnati)
The Lay of the Land: Environmental History, the South, and Kentucky
By Mark D. Hersey, associate professor of history at Mississippi State University and director of the Center for the History of Agriculture, Science, and the Environment of the South.
Leading off the special issue on environmental history, Mark Hersey’s essay examines the evolution of environmental history as an academic subfield. Hersey pays particular attention to how and why southern environmental history was slow to take root, arguing that southern historians and environmental historians often had different priorities. That has changed, however, within the last ten to fifteen years. Although southern environmental history is now flourishing, Hersey argues that more work can and should be done on Kentucky environmental history, starting with this special issue.
Birth of the Bluegrass: Ecological Transformations in Central Kentucky to 1810
By Andrew P. Patrick, doctoral candidate in history at the University of Kentucky
Andrew Patrick offers a new periodization of the ecological history of central Kentucky by telling the deeper history of the region, stretching back to the Fort Ancient culture (1000–1550). He reveals a complex story of mutual influence and co-evolution between land and people, where the landscape exists somewhere on a continuum between natural ecosystems and more completely fabricated places like cities. By tracing the history of the landscape back to the Fort Ancient period and using recent archaeological and scientific research to buttress the historical record, Patrick reveals that “the Inner Bluegrass was not a pristine wilderness unsullied by human actions prior to European arrival; instead the land emerges as a dynamic factor that underwent multiple transformations.”
Water, Workers, and Wealth: How “Mr. Peabody’s” Coal Barge Stripped Kentucky’s Green River Valley
By Eileen Michelle Hagerman, doctoral candidate in history at the University of Maine, and editor of the journal Maine History
Eileen Michelle Hagerman’s article explores the business and public-relations strategies used by Green River Valley coal operators who sought to expand strip-mining operations. Beginning in the 1920s, some coal operators fought back against miners’ unions by turning to mechanized strip mining. But, to be successful, they needed greater access to markets. Thus, after World War II, mine owners in the region formed the Green River Valley Citizens League, a Chamber of Commerce–style organization that advocated for river improvements. The League succeeded, and more strip-mined coal flowed down the Green River. In the process, however, the local environment in many places was decimated, leaving behind problems that western Kentuckians still face today.
Kentucky’s “Atomic Graveyard”: Maxey Flats and Environmental Inequity in Rural America
By Caroline Peyton, lecturer at Cameron University
Located in rural Fleming County, the Maxey Flats Disposal Site began accepting radioactive waste in the early 1960s. As Caroline Peyton notes, state officials believed the facility would bring jobs and tax revenue to the state. However, the dreams of turning Kentucky into a “nuclear paradise” never came true. Instead, Maxey Flats Disposal Site turned into a nightmare for local residents when reports surfaced in the early 1970s that radioactive waste had seeped out of the protective trenches and into the environment. Local citizens’ groups formed to protest the facility, and the state eventually shuttered it in the late 1970s. However, environmental remediation was slow to come. Maxey Flats offers an instructive case for how state regulatory systems and risk assessments sometimes fail—with potentially harmful consequences for humans and the environment.
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