Seeking Panelists for ASEH 2018: The Environmental History of Pipelines

Philip Wight's picture
Call for Papers
July 7, 2017
California, United States
Subject Fields: 
Canadian History / Studies, Economic History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies, Geography

We are seeking presenters for an ASEH 2018 panel on the environmental history of pipelines.

With the recent battles over the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Trans Mountain pipelines (among others), the political, economic, and environmental consequences of these energy infrastructures has become a pressing contemporary issue. As Christopher Jones and others have demonstrated, oil and gas pipelines have been in operation for hundreds of years and have played a formative role in energy production, transportation, and consumption throughout North America and beyond. Yet despite their ability to illuminate political economies, supply chains, and the contours of environmental concern, relatively few scholars have explored the environmental history of pipelines. While historians have recognized the geopolitical importance of pipelines for regions like the Middle East, far less attention has been devoted to their role as infrastructures of considerable environmental continuity and change.

This panel seeks to explore the environmental history of pipelines—from the expertise needed to locate and engineer them, to their status as targets of environmental activism, to their abilities to tap distant resource frontiers and their far-reaching impacts on the natural environment. We seek to investigate pipelines through the conference themes of “environment, power, and justice.”

Environment: Pipelines have always exerted environmental change far beyond their narrow physical footprints. Energy infrastructures like pipelines are far more than steel pipes that move oil and gas; they are carbon conduits that incentivize production and consumption, helping
capital and commodities connect people, create livelihoods, sustain cultures, perpetuate political economies, and dramatically transform the natural world. With such connections in mind, how did pipelines spread both energy and pollution over time and space? How have pipelines
transformed the natural world?

Power: Pipelines not only transport “power” in the form of petroleum products. They are also the technological product of one of the world’s most capital-intensive and politically-influential industries. How has capital and corporate leadership structured pipeline infrastructures? These “midstream” infrastructures also rely heavily on the technical expertise of engineers. How have experts deployed local and foreign environmental knowledge to construct and operate pipelines? How has the path dependence of these energy infrastructures reflected and rebuffed their designers’ intentions?

Justice: Standing Rock exemplifies how pipelines can serve as agents of environmental and racial injustice. The transgressions of pipeline owners have often acted to spur social justice movements. Yet examples like the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System suggest that pipelines can also fund generous social welfare states and redistributionary politics. How have pipeline companies, local communities, politicians, and First Peoples analyzed and communicated the environmental harms and benefits of pipelines? In what ways have pipelines operated as agents
of both equitable resource use and injustice? How has the (in)visibility of these carbon conduits shaped their public perceptions and environmental public policy?

This panel brings together a diverse group of new and established scholars—Tina Adcock (Simon Fraser University), Sean Kheraj (York University) and Philip Wight (Brandeis University)—and seeks a wide range of perspectives on pipelines. We welcome papers dealing
with one or more of these themes. Furthermore, we are open to papers exploring pipelines in any geographical context, but are especially interested in those that investigate pipelines throughout North America, the global north, and subarctic/arctic regions. 

Contact Info: 

If interested, please respond to Philip Wight at no later than July 7th with
an overview of your proposed contribution and C.V.

Contact Email: