Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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Bookshelf: “What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?” by Vinciane Despret, translated by Brett Buchanan

In this special “Bookshelf” post for Women in Translation month, RCC fellow Amanda Boetzkes reflects on Vinciane Despret’s recently published What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?

I cannot think of a more appropriate author to consider during Women in Translation month, than Belgian philosopher Vinciane Despret, whose work speaks to some of the most pressing issues in the environmental humanities with rigor, force, and even humor. What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions? is a compelling account of the terms and conditions under which scientists—from sociobiologists and cognitive psychologists to geneticists and ethologists—interpret animal behavior. More pointedly, it locates the serious gaps in scientific method which cause animal behavior, at the individual and collective level, to be profoundly misunderstood. Yet, it also identifies new forms of questioning that yield surprising insights. Continue reading

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Workshop: Transformations of the Earth

“Talking Transformation in Beijing”
By Bailey Albrecht

This piece was originally published in Edge Effects  on July 12, 2016


In Shanghai’s Natural History Museum there exists a full-sized re-creation of an African plain, complete with a herd of spooked zebras in perpetual flight from a crouching lion. It was neither the zebras, nor the two large taxidermy elephants across the crowded walkway, however, that caught my attention. Toward the right-hand wall stood a tall tree crowded with monkeys. Continue reading

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Making Tracks: Robert Wilson

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“Scholar Activist?”

By Robert Wilson 

My journey to the Rachel Carson Center began five years ago in a hot, stifling Washington, DC jail cell. I had been arrested earlier that day at the White House with sixty-nine other people demonstrating against the Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would carry oil derived from tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. In recent years, similar fossil-fuel projects have come under increasing scrutiny by environmentalists who claimed further development of these carbon-rich tar sands would exacerbate global warming. Climatologist James Hansen went even further, saying the full exploitation of the tar sands would mean “game over for the climate.” In the wake of failed climate negotiations at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, and with the US Congress unwilling to pass cap and trade legislation, it seemed environmentalists had little to lose by launching a civil disobedience campaign aimed at pressuring President Barack Obama to deny TransCanada, the pipeline builder, the permit to construct the pipeline. So, when the call came via email for people to assemble at the White House in the summer of 2011 to commit civil disobedience and risk arrest, I was ready to join them. Continue reading

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Snapshot: RCC Olympic Table Tennis


Combining a well deserved break from the computer, green surroundings, and fresh air, some RCC’ers recently held their own table tennis competition! They took advantage of the warm weather and Munich’s outdoor facilities to share in the spirit of the Olympic Games. Thanks to all those who took part and a special congratulations to gold medalist Alan MacEachern!


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Student Research: Working in the Eye of the Storm

By Jeroen Oomen (Doctoral Candidate)

When the COP21 Paris climate agreement was announced in December 2015, much of the world reacted with relief, disbelief, or skepticism. For the first time since the Kyoto Protocol, after many monumental failures, the international community seemed to have managed to commit to decisive action on climate change. This was the best we could hope for, wasn’t it? Or is COP21 just a symbolic agreement that won’t change the geopolitical reality?

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Bookshelf: “Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity” by Timothy Mitchell

By Arnab Dey

Tim Mitchell’s Rule of Experts has remained with me a long time, and continues to be an inspiration for my work and thinking. Focused on twentieth-century Egypt, Mitchell raises foundational questions about the purported globality of themes such as capitalism, cover imagetechnology, politics, ecology, and power. In doing so, the book opens up a range of discussions that are both theoretically rich and empirically grounded. As such, I believe Rule of Experts has much to offer to environmental history, as well as other fields.

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Making Tracks: Alan MacEachern

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

Albrecht and Alan at the Alte”

By Alan MacEachern

In retrospect, mine was the least dissolute of dissolute youths. But spending post-undergraduate time traveling around Europe, drinking cheap beer, and sharing in overloud barroom debates on the human condition was, I thought, the real deal. By night I slept in damp hostels; by day I wandered the art galleries trying to look complicated. But I did genuinely come to love some artists, whatever that means. In Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, it was Rembrandt. In Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, it was Pieter Breughel.  And in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek, it was Albrecht Altdorfer and, more particularly, his Saint George and the Dragon. As difficult as it is to trace inspiration, that painting, as much as anything or anyone, nudged me in the direction of environmental history.   Continue reading


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