The Making of a Mountain: Constructing the Untersberg Mountain as a Contemporary Spiritual Destination

By: Robert Baumgartner

While waiting for the train back to Munich at the end of our place-based workshop in Berchtesgaden National Park last summer, I browsed the local station bookshop’s section on local tourism, culture, and folklore. With the National Park becoming an ever more popular tourist destination, it was not surprising to see tables filled with hiking guides addressing specific interests like local geology, local wildlife, short trips for families, and mountain bikes.

But, I was intrigued when I found a number of guide books for spiritual tourists—an unexpected demographic for Bavarian tourism. Books like Magisches Oberbayern. Wanderungen zu Orten der Kraft (Magical Upper Bavaria: Hiking Trips to Sites of Cosmic Energy) and Magisches Berchtesgadener Land. Ein Führer zu den vergessenen und neuen Kraft- und Kultorten rund um den Untersberg (The Magical Berchtesgaden Region: A Guide to the Forgotten and New Sites of Cosmic Energy around the Untersberg Mountain) suggest that the area of the national park, especially the northernmost mountain of the Untersberg region, enjoys a special spiritual significance.

Read More

Green Talks: Barbro Soller and the Emergence of Modern Environmentalism in 1960s Sweden

*Featured image: The modern villa family, on the front page of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, 4 November 1968. ©Dagens Nyheters digital archive, used with kind permission.

By David Larsson Heidenblad

The historiography of modern environmentalism revolves around scientists, intellectuals, activists, and politicians. Hence, we know much about the likes of Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner, the formation of the environmental movement, and the making of new environmental policy. However, the role journalists played in, and for, these turn of events remains underdeveloped. Who were the first environmental journalists? What did they do? What consequences did their writings have? In this blog post, I will address these questions by highlighting the work of Swedish journalist Barbro Soller and her public breakthrough as an environmental journalist in the spring of 1968.

Read More

Green Talks: Looking Behind the Scenes of Environmental Journalism

In this new series edited by Maximilian Feichtner, Jonas Stuck, and Ayushi Dhawan of the DFG Emmy-Noether Research Group Hazardous Travels. Ghost Acres and the Global Waste Economy, the authors take a look into the role of environmental journalism in communicating science and spurring change, as well as the challenges journalists face in documenting and writing dynamic events involving the natural world.

By Maximilian Feichtner, Jonas Stuck, and Ayushi Dhawan

“I got an anonymous call. For some reason I thought it was one of the workers out at the platform. I answered the phone and they said something like, ‘The ocean is boiling. The bottom of the ocean exploded’,” said Bob Sollen, former Santa Barbara News-Press reporter. On 28 January 1969, a disastrous leak at the Union Oil well led to a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara; an estimated 11 million liters of crude oil was spewed into the ocean, creating an oil slick 56 kilometers long along California’s coast and killing thousands of birds, fish, and sea mammals. Read More

Memorializing the Landscape: Walking the Stanza Stones Trail

Image of the Beck Stone reused with thanks to John Illingworth, who retains copyright
The Beck Stone. Photo © John Illingworth (cc-by-sa/2.0).

By: Eveline de Smalen

Preparing to take my sister out on a walk in the Yorkshire countryside, I looked at a map. The map, as it often is in these days of technological wonder, was an app that I have on my phone. I am a literary critic, not a cartographer. I don’t know very much about maps. Still, or perhaps for this very reason, I was intrigued. I was studying the terrain between Ilkley and Saltaire, which I heard was a nice place to walk. There seemed to be some runs of water, quite a few paths, a body of water called The Tarn, and a plethora of small black triangles with names like Cranshaw Thorn Hill, Hog Hill, and the mysterious Spy Hill. A white star in a brown circle marked a landmark called Cow and Calf, and there something caught my literary eye: a second brown circle, this one with what seemed like a white obelisk, marked Stanza Stone: Beck.

Read More

Sourdough Cultures

By: Matthew Morse Booker

Introduction: An Embodied Multispecies Environmental Humanities Experience

As one of the first Alumni Fellows at the Rachel Carson Center (RCC), I wanted to return something to the remarkable community of RCC staff, students, and fellows. In North Carolina I am part of the Sourdough Project, a global public science experiment using sourdough bread culture to explore the biological diversity in our homes.[1] With some effort, sourdough allowed us to share an embodied, multispecies environmental humanities experience together.

Family Sourdough

This culture entered my family tree around 1900, the year that 22-year old Charles E. Bunnell and his wife Mary Ann Kline migrated to Kodiak, Alaska to work as teachers.[2] According to their daughter Jean, the Bunnells got the culture as a gift from a “sourdough,” a prospector in the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, who in turn made it locally or brought it from unknown origins outside Alaska.[3] Read More


The Uses of Environmental Humanities series explores diverse and creative ways of thinking with the Environmental Humanities in responding to socio-environmental challenges. Contributors address the influence of the Environmental Humanities and ways in which we might use this field of study, offering insights into the interactions between societies, science, politics, and culture. The series is curated by Samantha Rothbart.

“Environmental Inhumanities”

By Bethany Wiggin

A Freudian slip opens this essay on the uses of the environmental humanities, and it also introduces the EH program that I direct at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH). Inspired by many others, EH at Penn  fosters research collaborations with scientists as well as with collaborators whose environmental expertise may not be readily translated into academic norms of either the humanities or sciences. A good definition of EH foregrounds its intent to “inhabit a difficult space of simultaneous critique and action.”[1] This space lies beyond the research university’s existing disciplinary and other corporate structures: more welcoming, more fluid–better attuned to the people it systemically excludes with knowledge structures predicated on centuries of black and brown oppression. This essay highlights the Philadelphia place-based projects I know best. They’re often on water; they try to imagine and invite other relations to land. What we make together in these liquid spaces often does not look like conventional “research.” That’s precisely the point.

Read More

Stimmenspur: Sound Trails in the English Garden

The album-cover of the audio experiment, which you can download or stream to your phone. We are currently working on a shorter lunchtime version as well as a guided tour that features parts of the experiment. (Photo by Vera Kovács, 2017)

By Vera Kovacs

Have you ever burst into tears when a song came on the radio that reminded you of a loved one lost? Have you ever avoided going a certain route or into a room in your house where you once had a bad experience? Have you ever mimicked the hand gestures of a loved one you missed because it comforts you in a familiar and yet very powerful way? The human brain is one of the biggest mysteries in the world, so it comes as no surprise that certain sounds, places or movements will activate emotions, memories, and instinctive reactions in us. The knowledge that resides within us is not just a cognitive function, but also an embodied experience that we, as humans, project into everything that surrounds us. Moreover, things that we hear, see, touch, smell, or do, inadvertently change the way we experience the world; they change us. How can we enrich the field of the Environmental Humanities by taking seriously the way in which sensory experiences affect our lives? Katharina Müller, friend and co-dreamer, and I, believe the project we have created, Stimmenspur – Sound Trails in the English Garden, can help to answer the question of sensory enrichment. Read More

Environmental Histories—Environmental Futures: Perspectives from Germany and Italy

Workshop Report (17-21 June 2019, Villa Vigoni, Italy)

By Claudio de Majo

June 2019 saw a group of German and Italian scholars come  together in the German-Italian Cultural Center of Excellence Villa Vigoni to discuss national perspectives on environmental history. The event was convened by Roberta Biasillo (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm), Serenella Iovino (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Christof Mauch and Claudio de Majo (both from the Rachel Carson Center, Munich).

From the first session on Monday afternoon, it was clear that the participants came from an array of diverse backgrounds. While environmental history was a trait-de-union for several German and Italian participants, with senior scholars such as Christof Mauch and Gabriella Corona representing environmental history in Germany and Italy respectively, the group also included participants with backgrounds in literary studies and the fine arts, such as leading environmental humanities scholar, Serenella Iovino.

Read More

2020 Visions for Environmental History: Magical Infrastructures

This is the third post in a series on “2020 Visions for Environmental History” being published jointly by NiCHE’s blog The Otter ~ La loutre and Rachel Carson Center’s blog Seeing the Woods, with posts by Lisa MighettoAlan MacEachernArielle Helmick, and Claudia Leal. The series is intended to promote discussion at a session of the same name at the World Congress for Environmental History in late July.

Magical Infrastructures 

By: Arielle Helmick

Lisa Mighetto and Alan McEachern both talked about the sustainability of conferences and conference travel in the previous posts in this series: I’d like to open this discussion up to talk about sustainability in academia more generally. At the Rachel Carson Center—which our fellows have sometimes nicknamed Nirvana, or referred to as a magical place for academics—where I work as managing director, we have had many opportunities to both refine and redefine our vision for the future, and sustainability has been at the heart of this. We have always called ourselves a center, though this is a bit of sleight of hand, at least from an infrastructural perspective. In the terms of the university landscape (and according to our funders, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research), we are a large research project. And it is this word ″project″ that has become more and more a source of worry as we’ve moved through our 12-year tenure (we turn 10 on 1 August 2019, if anyone is counting). Research projects in Germany, and probably in many other countries, have clear start dates, and clear end dates. They are not built to be sustainable. Read More

The Anthropocene: Challenging the Disciplines

eugenio photo 1
Workshop Report (8 April 2019, Vienna, Austria)
Vienna Anthropocene Network, University of Vienna

By Eugenio Luciano

On 8 April 2019, the University of Vienna hosted the workshop “The Anthropocene: Challenging the Disciplines” organized by the recently established Vienna Anthropocene Network. The 12th floor Sky Lounge of the university building at Oskar-Morgenstern-Platz 1 granted the participants a breath-taking rooftop view over the city of Vienna. The surrounding mixture of medieval churches and cathedrals, mountains, and modern architecture constituted the perfect setting to discuss history, nature, and science at the intersection of perhaps the most debated concept of the last decade: the Anthropocene.

Read More