Author Blog

  • Supply or Demand? Integrating Perspectives on the Historical Transition from Coal to Hydrocarbons

    Written by guest bloggers, Odinn Melsted and Irene Pallua.

    Icons COAL OIL and NATURAL GAS

    Since the mid twentieth century, oil and natural gas – in short: hydrocarbons – have been the dominant energy carriers in industrialized countries. They have been the main energy providers for cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, industries and home heating. What is often overlooked is that the rise of hydrocarbons meant the decline of coal. At the midpoint of the twentieth century, coal was still the fuel of choice in railroad and maritime transportation, for industrial production, in residential heating, as well as electricity production. Yet between the 1940s and 1970s, a relatively short period of time in energy history, coal was largely pushed aside by hydrocarbon alternatives. Recent research on historical transitions and today’s practical experiences in attempting to implement a renewable energy transition have, however, revealed that incumbent energy systems tend to be resistant to change. How, then, could hydrocarbons take over so quickly?

    graphs

    Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) area. Own figure based on data from Arnulf Grübler, “Energy Transitions,” in: Cutler Cleveland, ed. Encyclopedia of Earth (Washington, D.C.: National Council for Science and the Environment, 2008.

    One of the main challenges when dealing with energy history is to assess the scale of a transition. One way of doing so is to take a look at historical energy data. The figures above show Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) in OECD countries from 1900 to 2000 for different energy carriers. The graph on the left depicts the absolute values of energy carriers in exajoules. Here we can see that oil and natural gas multiplied between 1940 and 1970, accounting for much of the simultaneous increase in overall energy supply. In addition, we can identify a diversification from coal to multiple fuels. On the right, the figure shows the same data as relative shares, which reveals that coal lost its dominance in the energy mix as hydrocarbons took over. By looking at both absolute values and relative shares, we can see that coal clearly lost its dominant position to hydrocarbons, but at the same time maintained a status quo; its total supply only decreased slightly at first and then actually increased in the long run. How can this contradiction be explained? In what context did hydrocarbons replace coal, and what accounts for the continuing importance of coal in the energy mix?

    Those are some of the questions we deal with in our article entitled “The Historical Transition from Coal to Hydrocarbons: Previous Explanations and the Need for an Integrative Perspective”, which appears in the Canadian Journal of History’s special issue on the Material Realities of Energy Histories. We are currently both PhD candidates at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and have been working on dissertation projects on the history of energy. As we both focus on continuities and changes in the use of different energy carriers in the second half of the twentieth century (Odinn Melsted on Iceland’s energy system and Irene Pallua on the Swiss heating sector), we have been faced with the challenge of explaining how and why the transition from coal to hydrocarbons took place so quickly in so many different parts of the industrialized world. We each discovered that the existing literature on energy history only marginally deals with the question of why hydrocarbons replaced coal. All too often, oil and natural gas are portrayed as the superior fuels that were bound to take over from coal inevitably. When diving deeper into the vast literature on coal, oil and natural gas, the changes in energy supply systems, evolution of industries, transportation and heating, however, we discovered that many causal explanations have already been provided. Yet the disparity of the literature has made it difficult to grasp them and see them in the context of the over-arching transition from coal to hydrocarbons.

    black and white photograph

    black and white photograph

    black and white photograph

    Coal was long the fuel of choice for steam locomotives, industrial production and residential heating, but largely replaced with hydrocarbons in the mid twentieth century. This was due to a variety of causes, ranging from competitive prices and policy to limit smoke pollution, to the physical advantages of hydrocarbons, which are lighter, cleaner, have a higher energy density and are easier to control in combustion than coal. Pictures: Wikimedia Commons.

    In the article, we draw together the causal explanations for the transition from coal to hydrocarbons. One of the problems we discovered in the research process is that the literature presents a gap between two perspectives: one on energy “supply” and another on “consumption.” The supply perspective focuses on the diversification of the overall energy supply system, where oil and natural gas were introduced to formerly coal-dominated energy economies. The consumption perspective, on the other hand, focuses on how consumers in different areas of the energy economy decided to switch from coal to hydrocarbon alternatives.

    We therefore integrated these perspectives and conceptualized the shift from coal to hydrocarbons as a complex transition that occurred at two levels. On the one hand, hydrocarbons became available as alternatives to coal at the level of energy supply, which created favourable circumstances for energy consumers to shift to hydrocarbons. On the other hand, individual energy consumers in railway and maritime transportation, residential heating, industrial production, and electricity generation actively decided to use hydrocarbon alternatives as substitutions for coal. By revisiting the explanations of the rising use of hydrocarbon energies in the mid twentieth century, we hope to direct attention to this hitherto understudied, yet nonetheless decisive transition in energy history and present an innovative approach to the analysis of historical fuel transitions.

    Odinn Melsted is the recipient of a DOC-fellowship of the Austrian Academy of the Sciences at the Department of History and European Ethnology at University of Innsbruck. His doctoral project deals with Iceland’s low-carbon transition during 1940–1990 and has also been supported by the Landsvirkjun Energy Research Fund.

    Irene Pallua is a PhD candidate at the Department of History and European Ethnology at University of Innsbruck. Her main research interest is in history of energy at the juncture of technology, society, and the environment. She is currently working on her PhD project on the history of heating in Swiss households.

    Read their article in the latest issue of CJH, “The Historical Transition from Coal to Hydrocarbons: Previous Explanations and the Need for an Integrative Perspective”—free for a limited time here.

  • How to be a Man: If Beale Street Could Talk brings a new generation to James Baldwin

    “We were all men, all fragile and broken in some way, in need of love and grace and the salve of a mother or father or estranged lover. We were all Baldwin’s children. The fact of this lineage and the generosity of our father confirmed that we, his readers, were worthy of love.”

    —Barry Jenkins, Esquire, December 2018

    Barry Jenkins, director of 2016’s Academy Award-winning Moonlight, admits a feeling of kinship with James Baldwin’s readers, but also his characters: the exuberant Giovanni, the tortured David. Baldwin, the father, offers an emotional tutelage, guides boys into manhood, so that they too can offer a path forward for a new generation. And so: Jenkins’ new film, based on Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.

    Fittingly, Jenkins’ talk of fragile men and Baldwin-the-Father is written for Esquire, a magazine with a long relationship to Baldwin. It was in Esquire that Baldwin published some of his most famous essays, such as “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy” and “Fifth Avenue, Uptown.” While tackling what was then called “the Negro Problem,” the always shrewd Baldwin tied his writing on race to issues of masculinity, seeking a common understanding with the presumably white, middle- or upper-class readers of a magazine subtitle “The Magazine for Men.” So it is that in “Black Boy,” Baldwin writes:

    I think that I know something about American masculinity which most men of my generation do not know because they have not been menaced by it in the way that I have been. It is still true, alas, that to be an American Negro male is also to be a kind of walking phallic symbol: which means that one pays, in one’s own personality, for the sexual insecurity of others. The relationship, therefore, of a black boy to a white boy is a very complex thing.

    The lengthiest and most compelling of Baldwin’s Esquire pieces is a 1968 interview, published shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., in which Baldwin addresses social unrest, Stokely Carmichael, and the ideas of whiteness and Blackness. Central to the interview is Baldwin’s appeal that white men acknowledge and confront their history.

    Esquire may give Baldwin space to make his appeal, but the magazine does much to undermine it. For example, the cover of the magazine reads “James Baldwin tells us how to cool it this summer.” The image is of seven stylishly dressed, cool Black men lounging on ice blocks. “Cool it” is immediately associated with its demotic or vernacular use—perhaps Baldwin is going to tell readers about his favourite nightclubs or albums. Within the magazine, however, the interviewer uses some version of the phrase “cool it” six times. In the context of the interview, “cooling it” refers to relaxing racial tensions; the cover, and the rest of the magazine, diminishes the seriousness of this situation. One need only flip a few pages to discover a feature offering “Advice for Summer Drinkers: Cool It!” Here, the idea of “cooling it” is not about riots, but a suggestion for how to prepare drinks. Altogether, this single issue offers Baldwin’s compelling critique of masculinity and whiteness to the exact audience who needs to hear it … and then seemingly takes steps to dismantle that critique. The magazine offers contemporary readers a glimpse into the push-and-pull of the cultural politics of race, class, and manhood.

    And now, 50 years later, Esquire offers up space to Jenkins to promote his own film, based on Baldwin’s work, and to discuss the author’s influence on his own life and career. In so doing, Jenkins is able to reach out to a similar audience (not identical, but similar enough) to the one Baldwin addressed decades ago, and offer them his own take on the intersection of race and masculinity, his own take on how to be a man.

     

     

    Brad Congdon received his PhD from Dalhousie University, where he is an Instructor in Gender & Women’s Studies and English. He is the author of Leading with the Chin: Writing American Masculinities in Esquire, 1960-1989.

     

  • Cold War Entanglements, Third World Solidarities: Vietnam and Palestine, 1967–75

    Written by guest blogger, Evyn Lê Espiritu.

    In recent years, activist solidarity with the ongoing Palestinian liberation struggle against Zionist erasure has been gaining national momentum and visibility.  In 2016, for example, the Movement for Black Lives Statement (M4BL) included language critiquing the US’s alliance with the State of Israel and, by extension, American complicity with the displacement and genocide of the native Palestinian people.  In summer 2018, following Israel’s violent military response to the Great March of Return, M4BL reaffirmed its demand that the US end its financial and political support of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.  Rather than remain at the level of abstraction, such solidarity rhetoric was grounded in historical and contemporary linkages between the situated struggles of Palestinians and African Americans against entwined processes of settler colonialism, racism, and segregation.  In the words of a recent M4BL statement: “We understand that we are connected to the Palestinian people by our shared demand for recognition and justice and our long histories of displacement, discrimination and violence.”  Palestinian activists, in turn, expressed solidarity with M4BL, citing parallels between occupation in Palestine and Ferguson.

    In light of these articulations of situated solidarity, the research and writing of my recent article in Canadian Review of American Studies, “Cold War Entanglements, Third World Solidarities: Vietnam and Palestine, 1967–75,” was driven by my desire to connect contemporary solidarity with Palestine with my own historical inheritances as a second generation Asian American and daughter and granddaughter of Vietnamese refugees on my mother’s side.  In other words, I was motivated by a desire to ground my solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle in the specificity of my situated positionality.  In 2013, the Association of Asian American Studies passed a Resolution to Support the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, affirming its mission to “advance a critique of U.S. empire, opposing US military occupation in the Arab world and U.S. support for occupation and racist practices by the Israeli state.”  Shaped by histories of American imperialism, militarism, and capitalism in the Asian Pacific, Asian Americans are intimately familiar with formations of U.S. empire and therefore uniquely positioned to critique contemporary imperial intervention in the Middle East.  But what about Vietnamese Americans and Vietnamese history more specifically?

    The late 1960s moment was one of anticolonial struggle and Third World Solidarity.  In particular, two major wars in the Global South would influence American geopolitics and shift the balance of world power: the American War in Vietnam (1954-1975) and the June War in Israel-Palestine (1967).  While the former would precipitate the unprecedented defeat of the American superpower, inspiring anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles around the world, that latter would dramatically expand Israeli occupation over the West Bank and Gaza and consolidate American military and financial support of the Zionist nation-state.

    The fates of Vietnam and Palestine, and their concurrent anti-colonial struggles for national independence, were thus entangled.  American withdrawal from Vietnam was motivated in part by a decision to strengthen military presence in the Middle East, in an attempt to curb the threat of Soviet Union influence in the area.  Yet the shared histories of these two revolutionary struggles has been largely neglected by scholarship on the Cold War, American empire, or the Global South, in part due to area studies divisions that dictate the cartographies of knowledge production.

    This article seeks to rectify this gap in scholarship by charting political entanglements and demonstrations of solidarity between Vietnam and Palestine that have been structured both by and in spite of US imperialism.  Wary of reproducing American exceptionalism by re-centering the US in its critique of American empire, this article highlights direct articulations of solidarity between Vietnamese and Palestinian freedom fighters from 1967 to 1975, drawing from archival research conducted at the Institute of Palestine Studies (IPS) in Ramallah.  For example, in a message to the International Conference for the Support of Arab Peoples held in Cairo on 24 January 1969, Vietnamese anti-colonial leader Hồ Chí Minh asserted that the “Vietnamese people vehemently condemn the Israeli aggressors” and “fully support the Palestinian people’s liberation movement and the struggle of the Arab people for the liberation of territories occupied by Israeli forces.”  Likewise, in a press interview conducted in 1970, Palestinian Liberation Executive Committee Chairman Yasser Arafat affirmed the “firm relationship between the Palestinian revolution and the Vietnam revolution through the experience provided to us by the heroic people of Vietnam and their mighty revolution.”  On a more quotidian level, following General Võ Nguyên Giáp’s unexpected victory over the French colonists in the 1954 Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, Palestinian soldiers took inspiration from the Vietnamese and adopted the nickname “Giap.”  Remembrances of this historical moment of solidarity still exist today.  When I conducted research in the West Bank in 2016, I was often asked my ethnicity.  When I mentioned that I was half-Vietnamese, some of the older men exclaimed excitedly and shared memories of their celebration of the Vietnamese victory over the French and then the Americans, drawing parallels with their own experiences of struggle against Israeli occupation.

    While I draw inspiration from these Third World articulations of Global South solidarity, I also remain cognizant that Asian American Studies and postcolonial studies, rooted in a legacy of leftist political activism, have a tendency to romanticize the anti-colonial rhetoric of revolutionary leaders such as Yasser Arafat and Hồ Chí Minh, ignoring the violent byproducts of their state-building projects.  As a child of a Vietnamese refugee and subject of the South Vietnamese diaspora—many of whom were displaced by the very Communist state established in Vietnam in the wake of Hồ Chí Minh’s death—I also want to take seriously critiques of the Vietnamese Communist state’s retributive justice against the South Vietnamese anti-Communists and its continual human rights abuses against its citizens, as voiced by members of the South Vietnamese diaspora as well as Vietnamese human rights activists currently working in Vietnam.

    As an Asian American and South Vietnamese diasporic—that is, as the inheritor of both leftist, anti-imperial politics as well as insistent criticisms of the Vietnamese Communist party—I am motivated by a desire to reconcile these seeming political contradictions between the revolutionary rhetoric of Hồ Chí Minh and the oppressive control of the Vietnamese Communist party.  Here, I turn to postcolonial feminist Neferti Tadiar’s concept of “divine sorrow,” which dwells with the residual affective ghosts of Vietnam’s painful war-torn past.  According to the current Communist Party in Vietnam, 1975 marked a moment of revolutionary victory: independence from American imperialism and the fulfillment of the late Hồ Chí Minh’s Communist plan.  However, the concept of “divine sorrow” entails a rejection of this state-sponsored narrative of teleological success— which works to silence critiques of the current Vietnamese government’s human rights abuses and curtail other political imaginaries— in favor of pre-1975 Third World Liberationist revolutionary promise. “Promise” here refers to the radical potentiality of multiplicitous revolutionary futures, too soon foreclosed by the Vietnamese State’s monopolistic consolidation of political power.

    In the 1960-70s, it was North Vietnam’s revolutionary victory that heartened and inspired Palestinian freedom fighters struggling for their own national liberation.  In the contemporary moment, in the wake of Vietnam’s seemingly concluded revolution, it is perhaps the ongoing Palestinian liberation movement that could stimulate today’s Vietnamese activists to reactivate the revolutionary potentials of their seemingly foreclosed anti-colonial struggle and hold the contemporary Vietnamese state accountable to its own revolutionary ideals.

    Photo of Evyn Lê Espiritu

    Evyn Lê Espiritu is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow of Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies at College of the Holy Cross. Her research engages with critical refugee studies, settler colonial studies, trans-Pacific studies, and diaspora theory, and has been published in Canadian Review of American Studies, Amerasia, qui parle, and LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory.  She is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively entitled Archipelago of Resettlement: Vietnamese Refugee Settlers in Guam and Israel-Palestine.

    Read Evyn Lê Espiritu’s recent article in the CRAS Special Issue on Vietnam, War, and the Global Imagination “Cold War Entanglements, Third World Solidarities: Vietnam and Palestine, 1967–75”—free for a limited time on UTP Journals Online.

  • “The view of the nation, Sire, is that the Constitution be respected:” Support for the French Constitution of 1791 on the Eve of the Republican Revolution

    Written by guest blogger, William S. Cormack.

    This article is part of a larger project on the French Legislative Assembly and the demise of the Constitution of 1791. I have always been interested in the French Revolution’s shift from its original moderate phase to its more radical phase. The period of the Legislative Assembly, from September 1791 to August 1792, has been relatively neglected by scholars. Yet these were months of great political significance, of high drama, of fear and uncertainty.

    One of the most dramatic episodes occurred on 20 June 1792 when crowds invaded the Tuileries palace in Paris. While Louis XVI made no concession to the popular militants, who demanded he sanction the Legislative Assembly’s decrees against émigrés and refractory priests, this journée is usually seen as step toward the insurrection of 10 August that overthrew the monarchy. The events of 20 June, however, provoked an outpouring of protest from across provincial France: departmental directories, district councils, municipalities, political clubs, and groups of ordinary citizens sent addresses and petitions to the Legislative Assembly denouncing the events in Paris. The address presented by a delegation from the Seine-et-Oise echoed the sentiments expressed in many other petitions: “We come in the name of the citizens of our department to foil the factious who dare to present to Your Majesty the shocking view of a few misled individuals as the view of the nation. The view of the nation, Sire, is that the Constitution be respected.”

    In examining this period, historians have emphasized the importance of the king’s attempted flight in June 1791 to undermining the early revolutionary consensus. Scholars have also explored the emergence of the popular movement in Paris, the rise of the Jacobin Club and its provincial network of popular societies, and the fateful consequences of France’s declaration of war against Austria in April 1792. All of these factors help to explain the fall of the constitutional monarchy on 10 August 1792, but their examination often reveals little about those who opposed the coming of a second revolution. My interest in that question was stimulated by Michael P. Fitzsimmons’ The remaking of France: The National Assembly and the Constitution of 1791, which argues that the importance of the constitution has too often been minimized or neglected. The same could be said for those who supported the Constitution of 1791 on the eve of its collapse. With regard to the provincial denunciations of the events of 20 June 1792 in Paris, historians have tended to characterize such protests as “royalist.”

    Yet reading these documents in the Archives Nationales, I found it striking that their statements of loyalty to Louis XVI are overshadowed by expressions of commitment to the principles of 1789. The petitions’ authors feared that the crowd’s intimidation of the king, incited or encouraged by the Jacobin Club, threatened the rule of law, individual liberty, the independence of the national legislature, and, above all, the survival of constitutional government. Thus provincial reactions to the journée of 20 June 1792 suggest evidence of a more subtle political division in France between radicals and defenders of the liberal revolution. The failed efforts to defend the Constitution of 1791 perhaps have relevance to our contemporary world where political moderation is out of fashion and rising populism threatens the ideal of written constitutions upholding individual rights and the rule of law.

    Photo of William S. Cormack

    William S. Cormack received his Ph.D. from Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, in 1992. In 1995 Cambridge University Press published his first book, Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy 1789-1794. Since 1998 he has been a member of the Department of History at the University of Guelph in Ontario, where he teaches modern European history. His new book, Patriots, Royalists, and Terrorists in the West Indies: The French Revolution in Martinique and Guadeloupe, 1789-1802, comes out with the University of Toronto Press in November 2018. His current research concerns the French Legislative Assembly and the demise of the Constitution of 1791. His article in the CJH/ACH is entitled “Defending the Liberal Revolution in France: Provincial Reactions to the Parisian journée of 20 June 1792,” and is available for FREE for a limited time at UTP Journals Online.

  • Presumed Heterosexuality in the Archives

    Written by guest blogger, Erin Gallagher-Cohoon.

    Between 1946 and 1948, US Public Health Service (USPHS) researchers deliberately exposed Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers, asylum patients, and sex workers to syphilis, gonorrhea, and chancroid. Leading up to this study, it was discovered that penicillin could cure syphilis and gonorrhea, and researchers were eager to learn whether penicillin had potential as a preventative and not just a cure. The original study design called for a sexual transmission method, although this was quickly supplanted by medical exposures. To put it more bluntly, the original study design called for hiring sex workers (who had either tested positive or were simply assumed to be infected with a venereal disease) to have sex with prisoners and soldiers and thus, it was hoped, to transmit venereal diseases from the women to the men. It was politically inadvisable in the United States for government researchers to be hiring sex workers. So they headed to a country with legalized prostitution, Guatemala.

    In 2015, in the midst of my research on the USPHS’ Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study, I came across a part of the history that made no sense to me.

    At this point in my studies, the records of the lead medical researcher, Dr. John C. Cutler, had been redacted and digitized (see https://www.archives.gov/research/health/cdc-cutler-records). So, I imagine I was squinting at my laptop in confusion.

    National Archives and Records Administration

    I was reading the patient index cards. Patient 147, a male asylum patient, “was a known, highly promiscuous and active homosexual.”[1] He was not the only male subject whose index card included a reference to same-sex sexual activities.

    These homosexual encounters were significant to me because they contradicted Dr. Cutler’s own words. In his “Final Syphilis Report,” he wrote: “homosexual contacts did not significantly alter experimental results.”[2]

    National Archives and Records Administration

    How, I wondered, could Dr. Cutler so readily dismiss the possibility that homosexual contacts might have been experimentally significant? On one hand, it seemed to me, he was dismissing the same-sex sexual activity of his male research subjects; while on the other, he was recording the existence of these “contacts,” and later archiving them for future researchers to find.

    The easy answer is that these encounters, based on his records, were statistically rare, and that “no clinical evidence of spread of syphilis by this route was observed.”[3] As I argue in my recent article in the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, however, this does not sufficiently explain the contradictions within the records. Rather, as the original study design shows, the study was based on a flawed understanding of disease transmission that assumed the presence of an infected female body, an assumption that was fundamentally heteronormative. Within this context, homosexual behaviour was implausible or, at best, irrelevant.

    [1] Patient 147, Index Cards, Insane Asylum Female Patients Con't, Hollinger Box 1a, CDC Record Group 442, Records of Dr. John C. Cutler, National Archives and Records Administration at Atlanta. Although grouped with the index cards of 'Insane Asylum Female Patients Con't,' this patient was in fact male. On 19 September 1947, it was noted that "Penis-papule at right of frenum, 3x5 mm. The frenum and foreskin surrounding papule are indurated."

    [2] Records of Dr. John C. Cutler, Final Syphilis Report, Folder 1, 29.

    [3] Records of Dr. John C. Cutler, Final Syphilis Report, Folder 1, 27.


    Erin Gallagher-Cohoon (Department of History, Queen's University) recently published “Despite Being ‘Known, Highly Promiscuous and Active’: Presumed Heterosexuality in the USPHS’s STD Inoculation Study, 1946–48” in the Fall 2018 issue of Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. The article is free to read for a limited time here.

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