Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Worldview: Taking the Venice Architecture Biennale as an Example

by Jeroen Oomen

This post was first published on 21 November 2016 on the ENHANCE ITN website.

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Drone Impact: Forensic model of a drone explosion, showing that drone rockets are specifically designed to penetrate buildings before explosion and maximize human casualties (main pavilion). Photographs: Jeroen Oomen.

“What is the environmental humanities?” is a question that typically pops up whenever I care to explain that ENHANCE, the doctoral training network I am part of, stands for Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe. And in all honesty: I don’t quite know. Nor do my colleagues, nor do our professors. What the environmental humanities is, is much debated and undecided. To some, it is a new discipline of scholarship, it is “seeking to un-discipline and de-institutionalise modes and means of research,” to “sensitively respond to the need for new forms of engagement and expression called forth by the often destructive, at times regenerative, complexities of human-non human entanglements within the anthro/capitalocene.” Others, me among them, would argue that environmental humanities are just humanities disciplines with an environmental focus. And, I might add, they run the risk of finding themselves caught in a web of politically correct and jargonistic terminology. As one of the guests of the Stories of the Anthropocene festival related to me, “we academics often find immensely difficult ways of expressing what (local) people already know.” I suspect that the debate over what environmental humanities is, and what it should do, will continue indefinitely, and will eventually be decided institutionally rather than by consensus. Even among the 12 ENHANCE PhD students there are vast differences of opinion—as it should be, I would be inclined to say. Continue reading


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Snapshot: Human Evolution Workshop

By Christian Schnurr

The evolution of the genus Homo was influenced in part by the landscape in which early hominins lived. Important archaeological sites are often located in areas with very rough terrain and a rich supply of nutrients and trace elements. These two features could have led wandering animals on paths where early hominins could track them down and hunt them. Furthermore, the rough terrain made it easier for our ancestors to find shelter from predators.

The Lonetal area in the Swabian Alb is famous for its many artifacts from the Aurignacian culture (ca. 40,000–30,000 years ago). Among the discoveries are the oldest sculptures ever found, including a mammoth as well as a lion sculpture, both made out of mammoth ivory. Other findings include fragments of flutes that belong to the oldest humankind has made.

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The workshop group: (from left to right) Christian Schnurr, Simon Kübler, Frank Brown, Geoffrey King, Geoff Bailey, and Anke Friedrich.

These photos were taken during a workshop held by the Rachel Carson Center and LMU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences for students of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program. The field trip to the Swabian Alb included talks by Frank Brown (University of Utah), Geoffrey King (IPG Paris), Simon Kübler (LMU), Geoff Bailey (University of York), and Anke Friedrich (LMU).


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Worldview: Doce River Disaster

“The Bitterness of the Doce River—One Year Later”

By Lise Sedrez

It was way worse than I thought.

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Sludge floating on the Rio Doce. Photographs: Lise Sedrez.

Over the last three days, with a group of colleagues, I looked at the Rio Doce and asked myself how we could have done this to the river. Rio Doce has nurtured Brazilian history for hundreds of years, offering water, wealth, food, joy, and beauty. We repaid it by poisoning it with mercury in gold mining operations in the past, polluting it to critical levels with PET bottles and raw sewage, destroying its riparian vegetation and, finally, burying 600 km of it under tons of mining waste.

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Marriage Trees

“My Tree in Another’s Backyard”

By Anna Leah Tabios Hillebrecht

The first half of September found me in Santa Fe, Argentina, as part of the academic exchange on Transatlantic Perspectives on the Rights of Nature, cosponsored by BayLat and the Rachel Carson Center. It was my first time in South America and I was determined to leave a positive mark. Apart from presenting my research on deconstructing intergenerational equity and identifying the ties that bind nature and future generations at a two-day seminar in Santa Fe, I was also supposed to speak at an NGO-organized activity on “marriage trees” in the Philippines—brought about by specific city and municipal ordinances that require couples to plant at least one tree as part of their marriage license application. Aside from legal issuances, I didn’t know much about trees. So, Valeria Berros, a former Rachel Carson Center fellow and professor at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Santa Fe, invited me for a walk on a Sunday afternoon to the Reserva Ecológica across from the town of Santa Fe.

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View of Santa Fe, Argentina. Photo: Annah Leah Tabios Hillebrecht.

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The Future of Wild Europe

Conference Report (The University of Leeds, UK, 12–14 September 2016)

By Roger Norum

A version of this report was first published  17 October 2016 on ENHANCE ITN.


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This three-day conference was the first of three large events for the ENHANCE ITN (The Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe Innovative Training Network), a three-year Marie Skłodowska-Curie doctoral research program convened by the University of Leeds, the Rachel Carson Center at LMU Munich, and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Because ENHANCE is an inherently interdisciplinary project, we decided to organize the conference around a theme that would not just appeal to both social scientists and humanities scholars, but that would also showcase current research by young and emerging scholars across disparate fields, while also questioning the configurations of the very categories and concepts we use to talk about the environment in the context of a changing Europe—and beyond. Continue reading


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Snapshot: View from the Top

“Environment and Society Doctoral Students Explore the Bavarian Forest National Park”

by Annka Liepold

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Group shot on top of the Lusen.

On 4 July 2016 the members of the Doctoral Program Environment and Society took a field trip to the Bavarian Forest National Park. Marco Heurich, deputy head of the Park’s Department of Conservation and Research, gave the group an introduction to the history of the Bavarian Forest NP and pointed out some of its unique features. Founded in 1970, the Bavarian Forest NP is Germany’s oldest national park and has a sister national park in the Czech Republic—the Šumava National Park—which shares its ecosphere. Continue reading


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Worldview: Watch Your Step!

“Moss Conservation in Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland”

By Katrin Kleemann

All photographs were taken by Katrin Kleemann and used here with her express permission.
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View of the southwest half of the Laki fissure from Mount Laki.

Lakagígar is a fissure volcano in Iceland’s remote highlands that erupted in 1783–84 and left behind a landscape full of lava fields, now covered in lush green moss. Tourists can travel to the Laki fissure only with a four-wheel drive because the terrain is very rough and you have to cross several rivers to reach it. Most of the year, routes to the area are impassable due to the harsh climatic conditions, so visitors can only gain access during the summer months (mid-June to mid-September). Continue reading