Before the Country: The Native Renaissance and Our Search for a National Mythology

With the recent reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, we asked author Stephanie McKenzie to share how her book is still resonating with scholars interested in the study of the Native Renaissance in Canada.


I’m not sure how others might understand what I hope is the continued significance of Before the Country, a study of the literary, political, and social context of the Native Renaissance of the late 1960s and 1970s and non-Indigenous mythologizing that followed on the heels of this movement. I hope my monograph has increased interest in this body of literature.

The study is still very relevant to me and has spurred on further scholarship. Building on theories surrounding the study of oral literatures, I have now immersed myself in a consideration of the aesthetic markers in written literatures that grow out of oral traditions. This focus was at the heart of Before the Country when I turned to the theories of Milman Parry and Albert Lord to help make sense of writing produced by mature Indigenous voices during this Native Renaissance.

There was little-to-no criticism during the time I was writing to help understand why the poetry of Chief Dan George, to offer one noteworthy example, carried such distinct markings of an aesthetic that was fresh in Canadian poetry when post-modernism was beginning to take hold. Recently, I have turned to Parry and Lord’s fieldwork in former Yugoslavia where they studied the gusle and guslar traditions and tried to define the formulaic characteristics of oral literatures. Living in Serbia for three months in 2017, I took gusle lessons and also produced my fourth book of poetry, Bow’s Haunt: The Gusle’s Lessons. I thought that, perhaps, pragmatic study of this instrument and immersion in a culture might grow my theoretical insights.

I am belabouring an explanation of my own scholarly growth to highlight how Before the Country is still relevant to me and how I hope its assertions might still be examined by others. When I was writing Before the Country I was largely digging through boxes in the library of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Many Indigenous texts of the late 1960s and 1970s lay buried in boxes with the exception of seminal works like Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed and Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel.

I believe that when Indigenous literature could no longer be ignored in the late 1980s and early 1990s and when academic units in Canada were scrambling to create courses and programmes for the study of Indigenous literatures, they immediately embraced what was before them – the writings of Tomson Highway, Jeannette Armstong, and Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, for example. They did not turn back to what I think is the most important body of Indigenous literature in Canada: the building blocks of what has become the most exciting creative writing in this country today.

Perhaps the academy’s omissions were due to a lack of time. Most certainly, the omissions had to have a lot to do with the fact that a significant amount of Indigenous writing of the 1960s/1970s was out of print. This is still true today.

I hope that a belief in the continued relevance of Before the Country leads to the following: the re-issuing of Indigenous texts from this time period; a serious revisioning of the Canadian literary canon, which needs to include these voices; a continued challenging of greatness in the study of poetry that still does not really account for notable aesthetics of Indigenous literatures during a foundational stage.

I also hope that the greatest fault of Before the Country – the lack of fieldwork – will prompt scholars to reconsider the essential role of ethnography and anthropology in literary analysis. When I was writing this study, I simply spread books in front of me, read and critically responded to texts in isolation. On the one hand, I think this was healthy as it solidified the fact that Indigenous literatures do not have to be handled with kid gloves. They grow from ancient traditions (albeit arrested during the residential school period) which can hold their own. They deserve intricate criticism.

On the other hand, though an understandable, if not virulent, avoidance of ethnographical research during the 1980s and 1990s, commensurate with the desire to efface a longstanding objectification of “the Indigenous,” is explicable, I don’t think this is healthy. It is important to understand what shapes voices and from where voices emerge. This is what the gusle has taught me and what Before the Country inevitably pointed to.

With the reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, I would hope that people would still consider this scholarship relevant, even if that means to challenge, refute, or reveal weaknesses in the book. There are many. However, I would hope that the book’s existence underscores the relevance of Indigenous literature of the late 1960s and 1970s and the reason behind my commitments.

 

Stephanie McKenzie teaches in the Department of English at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Corner Brook. Listen in on Dr. McKenzie’s recent podcast, Poetry and the Gusle, in which she discusses her recent book and shares her research on the gusle, a musical instrument that accompanies epic poetry in Southeastern Europe. For more information see www.stephaniemaymckenzie.com.


Looking for more on the subject? You might also be interested in Cheryl Suzack’s Indigenous Women’s Writing and the Cultural Study of Law.

“Flicking switches, turning dials, and pressing buttons”: The important work of energy historians

Written by guest blogger, Andrew Watson.

I don’t think it’s too much of a cliché to say that most of us have only the vaguest idea what the origins are of the energy we consume on a daily basis. Many of us living in the world’s industrialized countries have it hammered into our daily lives that we should turn the lights off when we leave a room, that we shouldn’t leave the front door open on a cold day, and that we shouldn’t leave the engine idling. Doing these things is a “waste,” so we’re “saving” energy (and money). We’re concerned about an abstraction, but not because we appreciate its true form.

In my introduction to the CJH/ACH special issue on the Material Realities of Energy Histories, I used Plato’s simile of the cave to convey the veil that shrouds our understanding of energy in the 21st century. In his parable, Plate describes prisoners in a cave who have never known any other life. Their gaze is fixed on a wall. Behind them, a light casts shadows on the wall, and the prisoners are convinced that these images are the objects themselves. It is only upon their release and ascendance to the surface that the prisoners come to understand the difference between the shadows dancing on the wall of the cave and the true form of the world.

The phenomenal power of fossil fuels has led us into the false perception that energy is, to quote Christopher F. Jones, “profoundly immaterial.” As Jones argues in his contribution to this special issue, “The Materiality of Energy,” we use so much energy today that we somehow don’t even notice. How is this possible? Under what historical circumstances has the industrialized (and industrializing) world come to detach energy consumption from most knowledge about its origins?

letter Figure 1: Coal breaker, anthracite coal mining, Scranton, Pa. Source: Library of Congress

In the opening article of the special issue, Jones lays out two useful types of arguments that historians of energy should consider in beginning to answer this question. First, modern energy regimes are shaped by the material realities of energy delivery infrastructure. Using oil and coal in the eastern United States as case studies, Jones explains how important it was that pipelines and canals had very different influences over energy pathways. Second, the materiality of an energy source fundamentally influences its production and consumption. Using anthracite coal as an example, Jones reveals that the transition from one fuel to another is never inevitable, but mediated by human negotiation with physical properties of competing fuels.

letter Figure 2: The first oil well. Reproduction, copyrighted in 1890, of a retouched photograph showing Edwin L. Drake, to the right, and the Drake Well in the background, in Titusville, Pennsylvania, where the first commercial well was drilled in 1859 to find oil. Source: Library of Congress

Jones prompts us to grapple with material questions. Energy histories can help us understand the material realities of what are largely abstract understandings. Released from the belief that the material realities of our energy systems and experiences stop at the gas pump, or the light switch, or the thermostat, energy historians (like the ones featured in this special issue) can help society break free of those bonds and turn to see the fire burning behind us.

Banner: Oil rig at Titusville, Pa. Source: Library of Congress

Read the Editor’s Note in the latest issue of CJH as well as Christopher F. Jones’s article The Materiality of Energy, both free to read for a limited time here.

Human Teaching in Hard Times: An Interview with Dr. Alan Sears by Dr. Tonya Davidson

In this guest post, Tonya Davidson (Carleton University), sociology professor and co-editor (with Ondine Park) of the forthcoming book Seasonal Sociology, talks with Alan Sears (Ryerson University) about teaching in higher education during these dark times. From the cost of tuition to the challenge of making liberal arts relevant, and the search for a pedagogy that forges not just practical but human relationships, this wide-ranging discussion tackles the contradictions of teaching and learning in a neoliberal age.


In October 2018, Dr. Alan Sears visited Carleton University to be featured in the Department of Sociology-Anthropology’s Colloquium Series. He gave an excellent talk titled, “Resistance in Right Populist Times.”

Alan is an accomplished scholar of sexualities, left politics, social movements, and education. His writing includes Retooling the Mind Factory: Education in a Lean StateThe Next New Left: A History of the Future (Fernwood) and (with James Cairns) The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century, as well as the now-classic A Good Book in Theory. While celebrated for his scholarship, Alan is also a very dedicated and thoughtful teacher. When I was his colleague at Ryerson University for four years, he was one of my key teaching mentors so I jumped at the chance to ask Alan to also be our guest for the first “Teaching Talk” of the semester in the Sociology-Anthropology Department. Predicting that his thoughts on teaching could easily find a wider audience than the group of colleagues gathered in our departmental lounge, I transcribed that interview and present it for you here.

TD: You proposed the title for this talk, “Human Teaching in Hard Times.” Can you tell us what hard times you’re referring to?

AS: I guess the hard times I am thinking of probably have geo-political origins. The long impact of neoliberalism and cutbacks and austerity have had a huge effect on what it is like to be teaching at a post-secondary level. One of the aspects of this is the stress that students are under because of tuition fees, because of the employment they are doing to get by, because of what housing is like now, and because of their deep anxieties about the future. The questions that are always in their minds are: what are they going to do with their degrees and what’s next in their lives?

And then the character of instruction is increasingly supposed to be efficient in content delivery with a real emphasis on information transfer. I think that the shift in the idea of what learning and teaching is supposed to be is increasingly to think of students as materials we are mass producing and the final consumer of what we are producing is the employer. So that has an impact on us in terms of metrics, which in post-secondary education means measurable outcomes in terms of what students could do before and after. Look, I think we can learn a lot by focusing on the learning that is accomplished rather than the teaching that we do, but I also think there is a whole human growth element in education that is flattened by a lot of outcomes discussions.

The scale, at least at Ryerson where I teach, is that most classes are 70 students or more. I teach our capstone course and it’s 100 plus students. The nature of that makes human relations very difficult. I think the most transformative part of any educational relationship, which are always mutual relationships if they work properly, is a human relationship.

TD: Students have always had anxiety to a degree. Have you noticed a change in your thirty years of teaching?

AS: Absolutely.

TD: How do you deal with that within your own institutional constraints? How do you deal with student anxiety?

AS: I find it a real challenge. I saw a chart recently that someone had developed showing the history of tuition fee increases in Ontario and the pay rates for summer employment. I was an undergraduate student at Carleton University in 1973 which happened to be the year that tuition in Ontario was at its lowest in real dollars. That corresponded with, because of government funding, relative ease at getting summer jobs that paid quite well, so I could earn enough money in the summer to pretty much cover my year, including tuition. Now tuition fees are higher and there are fewer summer jobs with decent pay. Students are working more hours for less pay, building up higher debts, and they are worried about their future given the difficulty of obtaining secure employment.

I think that is a formula for generating anxiety, and it’s really noticeable in all kinds of ways. We’ve never been particularly good at raising a discussion about what comes after a degree, but I notice it particularly now in a very sharp anxiety about what the relationship is between an undergraduate education in sociology and what follows.

It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?”

I think that the model we have is an elite model that presumes that when people graduate, their class-based networks that are gendered and racialized and have a lot to do with migration status, will surf them between graduation and wherever they’re going next. So if they’re interested in a job in so and so, their mother will call their uncle who works in that area. And that works for some. In the film The Graduate, the summer after graduation was spent by the pool with parents’ friends advising you to get into plastics or whatever was hot at the time. Very few students have the luxury of a summer by the pool or parents’ friends who can give them advice about various sectors, or who can afford a free internship, or who have a way of knowing about occupations that are different from what they’ve been exposed to so far in their lives.

So I think the anxiety is real, and I think it’s incredibly sharp, and it sometimes plays itself out as hostility towards us. I’ve noticed a certain tension around grades, a kind of a more hostile bargaining because that seems to be something that you can deal with more directly. And textbooks, that’s another pain point: “why is this book so expensive?” Sadly, for a lot of other things, like tuition fees or class sizes, there’s little active opposition because there is a feeling that you can’t do anything about it. I think the anxiety plays out in many ways.

TD: Professors have different attitudes about whether there is a place in a sociology program for teaching school-to-work transition skills, or other career-focused projects. How do you approach that, especially in your capstone course?

AS: This is one of the contradictions I continually negotiate. Because I am a committed political critic of the system, I understand when people talk about concern that the neoliberalization of the post-secondary system means, for working class people, a much more occupational focus, and there’s no doubt this happens. And yet if you look at what’s happening in Britain and the US for example, there is a desire to preserve liberal arts education, but only for the elite. It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?” That message is something that is very specifically aimed at institutions with a working-class clientele. And I think the concern is that a liberal arts education creates inflated expectations for everyone without differentiating between students with varying life trajectories. Policy-makers are interested in changing that system, particularly in Canada where the university system tends to be more social democratic, to create a more hierarchical system where liberal arts play a smaller role. This is especially the case in institutions that have historically included a higher proportion of working class and first-generation students, like Ryerson or Windsor where I have taught. There’s a part of me that thinks, well let’s resist that push and let’s fight and honour a liberal arts education. I really do believe that that’s necessary and I think the greatest bulk of a student’s education in sociology or anthropology or whatever they are taking should absolutely be in a proud liberal arts tradition that’s challenging students to think critically and so on.

I also think there’s a serious equity issue around being honest about the fact that the transition to work is difficult and we have really failed on our end. We feel like we’ve done our job by pushing them off a cliff at graduation and waving goodbye and giving them a certificate. I think we owe them more. I don’t think career integration needs to consume a lot of the curriculum. I think little bits of it, strategically inserted, can go a long way. We shouldn’t distort the curriculum.

We’re doing a pilot course this year called “career integration” for fourth-year students where they’ll get to do a job shadow experience in a workplace that’s of interest. We’re also building in self-advocacy around worker rights and the like, but also stuff like resume preparation, sample interviews, and how to claim a sociology education in a job interview so you don’t just say “well it’s because I hated English.” At the very least, it gives students a way of describing what they got out of their degree, or, in some cases, just creating space for them to figure out if they got anything out of it. I believe seriously that there’s a class, racial, equity, and migration justice built into this experiment. If we want to simply claim that we do liberal arts in a pure way, we are ignoring the socio-economic relations that surround the institution and the histories that inform our ideas about what a liberal arts education is.

TD: Have you noticed in shifting hard times, different types of student engagement with questions of free speech, bias, and felt that through hostility?

AS: I think I’m fairly fortunate that Ryerson is a downtown Toronto campus with a very high first-generation student body; roughly 60% of the students in our program identify as racialized. The nature of who the student body is means that a lot of the pro-equity ideas are taken for granted, and few students will stand up and challenge fundamental notions of social justice. And I think there’s some self-selection there too because our program is quite equity-focused. I think the students who are most likely going to be upset about that transfer out of our program. I personally haven’t faced it that much.

One of the things that’s happened is that we’ve made our “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course required, and it is taught with a very Indigenous-centric perspective that presumes settler colonialism, presumes Indigenous sovereignty, and presumes that universities are colonial institutions. I would guess that course will be one of the litmus tests in our department. I would guess that will be one of the places where even people who know that they’re not supposed to say something racist might express discomfort. That’s the way that settler colonialism operates, it creates a kind of entitlement that may lead to a different order of challenges from students. Certainly, I know people who teach in the US, and other places in Ontario who talk about how much their students have been emboldened to challenge even the most basic equity stuff in classes, but so far, I feel like I’m in a little bit of a bubble around that.

TD: Those two initiatives at Ryerson – the “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course as a mandatory course and the “Career Integration” course both sound like great responses, or pedagogical forms of resistance to these hard times. One of the things that has always struck me about you, Alan, is how you are simultaneously very critical of post-secondary education, and broader political and social structures, but somehow seem stubbornly optimistic. So my final question is: what do you find hopeful about teaching sociology in “hard times”?

AS: I think that most students are very perceptive and critical about the injustice in the world today. They do not have illusions that this is the “best of all worlds” or a meritocracy. They know someone is making a killing off of the precariousness and suffering so many face.

The challenge is that they might think that this is the “best of all possible worlds” – and that they do not see a better world as possible, particularly through their own actions. So there is a real base among our students for a new radicalization, if they can begin to realize the power they have to change the world. But that radicalization will not happen through the classroom, which even at its best is a site of alienated labour. For me, human teaching is about trying to reduce the damage done in post-secondary education while working outside the institution to build the movements and counter-power that can challenge these injustices.


For more on millennials, education, and social movements we suggest: The Democratic Imagination and The Myth of the Age of Entitlement.

 

Raised on Oil: From Childhood Memories to Research on Port City Refineries and the Global Petroleumscape

Written by guest blogger, Carola Hein.

Among my early childhood memories are Esso items. My father worked for the German branch of the parent company, Exxon, an American oil company. He would often bring home collectible sticker images of wild animals or fish that I could collect in albums published by Esso. From the small Esso man to the Esso tiger, our home hosted a number of company promotional products. Every time we travelled we stopped at Esso gas stations to fill up the tank. In my early mental map, petroleum played a structuring and entertaining role, one quite different from the large refineries where my father worked.

letter Figure 1: Esso Oil Drop Man was an emblem of the company present at gas stations during the 1950s. Source: ExxonMobil

In my contribution to the special issue, entitled “Old Refineries Rarely Die”: Port City Refineries as Key Nodes in the Global Petroleumscape,” I focus on refineries. These huge, highly specialized and expensive industrial structures are globally similar and usually hidden in large industrial areas, often in fenced-off port locations. I trace their historic evolution, form, and function in global networks.

The article explores exemplary cases in four select periods of the petroleum industry: the lighting age (1860s–1910s), the car age (1910s–1950s), the plastic age (1950s–1980s), and the period since the 1980s with early attempts to go beyond oil. I examine the relationship between major refineries and nearby (port) cities of Philadelphia, Dunkirk, Suez, Abadan, Rotterdam, and Tehran. These refineries are fascinating places in themselves, but they are also part of a much larger network of oil spaces. Few people realize the pervasiveness of petroleum, but it is all around us.

letter Figure 2: Philadelphia Oil Refinery, 1980. Source: Library of Congress

Studying architecture and urban planning, I didn’t expect to encounter the oil world again. The first article that I wrote and published was about the City Nord business district in Hamburg built in the 1950s. The district was designed to give relief to the inner city where big companies occupied multiple buildings and clogged up space. A new, American-inspired comprehensive plan for a business district was designed to host large-scale headquarters each of which was designed by an architect after a design competition. In the City Nord, companies built city-like headquarters with a hairdresser, cafeteria and other services on-site. Three major oil companies were among the first occupants: Esso, BP, and Shell. Each of the companies opted for a unique design. BP’s building stood out with its hexagonal elements and open floor plan, whereas Esso had a glass-clad modernist building served by elevators.

As I continued to study architectural and urban history, I began to pay more attention to the impact of oil on the built environment. Investigating the history of the selection of a capital for the European Communities, today’s European Union, I found projects for business districts in Milan and in Paris (La Defense), in which oil headquarters played an important role. Studying the works of the French planner Maurice Rotival, I realized that he not only planned a capital of Europe in 1945, but his career largely floated on oil. Trained in Paris, Rotival worked in Caracas, where oil revenue allowed for large-scale replanning of the city centre. After becoming acquainted with the Rockefeller family and their architect Wallace Harrison, Rotival was appointed professor at Yale University.

From project to project, I discovered an interconnected network of spaces that were driven by oil interests, some more and some less visible, and a layer of representation of these oil spaces (or their absence) in corporate publications as well as artistic, architectural, and other commentaries from the public at large. The different parts of what I have termed the petroleumscape vary in space and visibility: some are as big as a refinery and storage tanks in a major port, others are as small as gas stations.

Among the diverse industrial, administrative, retail, and ancillary spaces that form the petroleumscape, refineries have the most important “staying power” and they are the focus of my contribution to the special issue on the Material Realities of Energy Histories. Refineries have a number of requirements for implantation. They need access to water, both for industrial processes and shipping. They also need distribution infrastructures. Once these connections are built, refineries tend to stay in place, attracting flows of oil rather than following them. Even when their ownership changes during periods of war and nationalization, of destruction and re-appropriation, their location stays the same.

letter Figure 3: Adaban Oil Refinery. Source: Wikipedia Commons

My article explores the history of the construction of refineries as part of global transformations and national strategies. It examines how the location of refineries globally has changed over time as a result of colonization, decolonization, and war. It explores their spatial impact on their mostly urban neighbors, and it examines what their presence means for post-oil landscapes. By considering the multitude of ways in which petroleum has shaped a broad range of spaces in people’s everyday lives, the article provides insight into the relationships between energy landscapes, space, and culture.

Such an enhanced understanding will hopefully inspire the reader to reflect upon the diverse ways in which new sustainable energy networks will reshape our spaces and lifestyles. Such a reflection might even inspire producers, designers, and parents to provide new kinds of trinkets, toys, and other products to children, who might use them to imagine the energy systems of the future.

Banner image: Adaban the city of oil. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Carola Hein is Professor and Head, History of Architecture and Urban Planning Chair at Delft University of Technology. Her book publications include The Capital of Europe, Rebuilding Urban Japan after 1945, Port Cities, Routledge Handbook of Planning History. Read her article in the latest issue of CJH, “‘Old Refineries Rarely Die’: Port City Refineries as Key Nodes in The Global Petroleumscape”—free for a limited time here.

The emotional energy consumer

Written by guest blogger, Rebecca K. Wright.

Ever since the recent IPCC report was published in October 2018 I have had a sick feeling in my stomach. Talking to others it is clear that the emotions I have experienced, from dread to depression, are not unique. Instead, a range of ‘emotional cultures’ are structuring our response to today’s climate crisis. This is not a new phenomenon. Emotional cultures have long structured society’s relationship to energy and the environment. As such, we have to ask what can energy historians learn from the sub-discipline known as the history of emotion.

Over the past decade, the study of the history of emotion has revealed the active role of emotion and the way emotional cultures structure people’s activities and relationship to the world.i This can be expanded to include how emotion determines the ways in which societies interact with the environment and their use of natural resources. This shifts our focus away from energy systems to the complexities of our subjective life. In short, it raises the question: would more careful attention to how our emotional cultures operate help us better understand our relationship to, and impact upon, the natural world?

Fan Energy Efficiency Office Department of Energy, The Time, March 15, 1990

For the special issue on “The Material Realities of Energy History”, my article “Mass Observation and the Emotional Energy Consumer” set out to explore the role of emotion in energy history. I wanted to examine how emotions shape, and are materialised in energy systems over time. Energy historians have paid little attention to users (let alone emotion) in the past, focussing more on energy supply. Recently, however, there has been increasing focus on users and their role in structuring energy demand.ii The subjective life of users, however, continues to be largely overlooked. To counter this, I wanted to take emotion seriously and build up a profile of what I called the ‘emotional energy consumer’.

This was easier said than done. After all, there are few historical records about how ordinary people feel and experience the world. While there is ample evidence about how people are instructed to feel it is much harder to access what the historian Claire Langhamer has described as the history of emotion ‘from below’.iii In 2017, however, as a Research Fellow at the University of Sussex I was fortunate to spend a year working in what Langhamer has described as an ‘archive of feeling’.iv This is the Mass Observation Archive, based at The Keep, University of Sussex [http://www.massobs.org.uk/].

Founded in 1937 by a group of three left-wing intellectuals, Mass Observation set out to study the everyday life of ordinary people in Great Britain; to provide, in their words, an ‘anthropology of ourselves’. The organisation established a national panel of observers, men and women ranging in age from across the UK, who reported back to the archive about their daily lives. The project ran until the 1950s, when it closed for a variety of reasons. It was resurrected in 1981 as the Mass Observation Project, with a new national panel and is ongoing today. The archive contains hundreds of boxes of diaries, first person accounts, and responses to Directives (a form of written questionnaire) on a range of subjects from attitudes to sex, death, work, and political events such as the Falklands War. The writing in the archive is deeply personal and intimate while also being performative as observers reflected wider social currents and conventions circulating at the time.

Although a major collection for British social historians, Mass Observation might appear an unlikely archive through which to write energy history. And yet, reading through Directive responses collected in the late 1980s and early 1990s, what becomes apparent is how expansive people’s relationship to energy was and how frequently the topic emerged in their writing. Moreover, what also became clear was how people’s relationship to energy was woven into their emotional life. In my article I try capture two different ways in which this happened. The first shows how observers rooted their emotions about energy in longer individual and social timeframes. Those writing to the archive in the 1980s and 1990s had grown up in the 1930s and 1940s experiencing wartime and post-war austerity, and the total transformation of the British home. This lived experience continued to inform domestic practices, habits, spending patterns, social relations and worldviews.

letter F1560, Response to Spring 1987 Directive “Waste, Thrift and Consumerism,” The Mass Observation Project, The Keep, University of Sussex.

The second approach examined how emotions – such as sentimentality, fear and nostalgia, structured interactions with energy in the home. Observers’ hesitancy to turn the hall-way light off after dark or leave the front light on, for example, spoke of wider concerns about the manufacture of fear in Thatcherite Britain. Childhood experiences, social memory, family dynamics, social rhetoric and models of the future, therefore, all shaped the way observers felt and interacted with energy systems through their energy practices. This ranged from the temperature at which they heated their home to which lights they kept on, and what appliances and fuels they chose for cooking.

Approaching energy history through first person accounts, therefore, allows us to understand how emotional cultures structure our relationship to the natural world. These expand beyond abstract feelings to include how emotions are materialised in resource networks and energy systems. Mass Observation can be used as an archive through which to understand the operation of these emotional cultures. But it also suggests a methodology for doing energy history; one that gives serious attention to the multifaceted subjectivities and emotional cultures that structure people’s relationship to energy and the environment.

Banner: inset of Coal Utilisation Council, The Times, October 28, 1952)

With thanks to the Trustees of the Mass Observation Archive for permission to reproduce material from The Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex.

i Key texts include Joanna Bourke, “Fear and Anxiety: Writing about Emotion in Modern History,” History Workshop Journal 55.1 (2003): 111-133; Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004).

ii Frank Trentmann and Anna Carlsson-Hyslop, “The Evolution of Energy Demand in Britain: Politics, Daily Life, and Public Housing, 1920-1970,” The Historical Journal 61.3 (2017): 807-839. The collaborative research project “Material Cultures of Energy” led by Frank Trentmann has drawn attention to the role of consumers in shaping energy systems. See “Material Cultures of Energy: Transitions, Disruption and Everyday Life in the Twentieth Century,” AHRC Award ‘Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past,’ Birkbeck College, 2014-2017. <www.bbk.ac.uk/mce/>, [accessed 18 July 2018].

iii Claire Langhamer, “An Archive of Feeling? Mass Observation and the Mid-Century Moment,” Insights 9 (2016).

iv Ibid.

Rebecca K. Wright is a Lecturer in American History at Northumbria University. Her research focusses on the social and cultural factors that shaped energy systems in the twentieth century. She is currently working on a book manuscript, Moral Energy in America: From the Progressive Era to the Atomic Bomb. Read her article in the latest issue of CJH, “Mass Observation and the Emotional Energy Consumer”—free for a limited time here.