Harvard Book Store welcomes environmental historian BATHSHEBA DEMUTH for a discussion of her book, Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait. She will be joined in conversation by poet JOAN NAVIYUK KANE.
Whales and walruses, caribou and fox, gold and oil: through the stories of these animals and resources, Bathsheba Demuth reveals how people have turned ecological wealth in a remote region into economic growth and state power for more than 150 years.
The first-ever comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada, Floating Coast breaks away from familiar narratives to provide a fresh and fascinating perspective on an overlooked landscape. The unforgiving territory along the Bering Strait had long been home to humans—the Inupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia—before Americans and Europeans arrived with revolutionary ideas for progress. Rapidly, these frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: how, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would the great modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved?
Drawing on her own experience living with and interviewing indigenous people in the region, as well as from archival sources, Demuth shows how the social, the political, and the environmental clashed in this liminal space. Through the lens of the natural world, she views human life and economics as fundamentally about cycles of energy, bringing a fresh and visionary spin to the writing of human history.
Floating Coast is a profoundly resonant tale of the dynamic changes and unforeseen consequences that immense human needs and ambitions have brought, and will continue to bring, to a finite planet.
“In Floating Coast, Bathsheba Demuth has written a brilliant hybrid book about one of the most fragile and forgotten of Anthropocene front-line territories, the Bering Strait. Uniting ecology, anthropology, reportage and more, this is a superb work of environmental history, often reminiscent to me of Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams in its combination of rigorous research, intense looking and listening, and its clear ethical vision.” —Robert Macfarlane
“Demuth has now herself written the history she calls for. Floating Coast is a historian’s Moby Dick, a great white whale of a book that spans centuries and links landscapes, living beings, and the flux of time, into a marvelously readable narrative.” —Amitav Ghosh
“Floating Coast is an extraordinary piece of history writing, seamlessly weaving together disparate elements. It is astonishingly rich in ethnographic detail, ecological precision, economic circumstance and historical texture.” —Nature
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.