Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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“Key Debates in Environmental Anthropology”—A Report on the Inaugural Conference of the Environmental Anthropology Working Group

by Oliver Liebig

On 26th and 27th September 2016, the Environmental Anthropology Working Group (a subgroup of the German Anthropological Association) met at the Rachel Carson Center for their inaugural conference. The meeting was convened to discuss the key debates and standpoints in environmental anthropology, as well as its diverse engagements with current environmental problems, such as climate change, species extinction, deforestation, industrial pollution, the food crisis, industrial agriculture, and water management.

The organizers—Rebecca Hofmann (PH Freiburg), Ursula Münster (RCC), and Carsten Wergin (University of Heidelberg)—conceptualized the meeting as a space for open discussions about the field of environmental anthropology, rather than for longer presentations about participants’ research. The meeting therefore started with all participants introducing themselves and giving brief statements on their research interests and motivations.

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Brainstorming at the environmental anthropology workshop. Photo by Laura Kuen.

Tom Griffiths (Australian National University) gave the keynote talk on bushfire in Australia. He illustrated the role fire has had for Aboriginal people since precolonial times. He showed how fire was and is at the heart of Aboriginal cultivation, through the use of firesticks to strategically burn areas of land to allow particular plants and wildlife to thrive, and how they also used fire to provide space for hunting. After the 2009 tragedy of a bushfire in southeast Australia, non-Aboriginal communities who lived in the forest were seriously harmed. These communities now experience themselves as communities in crisis. Their first question was: “How did the fire know we lived here?” This question then brought up several related ones: “What happened on that day? What does it mean in the long term? How can we renew for the future? How can we better include local histories and knowledges into fire management?” The keynote thus introduced some of the core topics of environmental anthropology: how can anthropologists better understand entanglements between environmental phenomena, social and power relations, and ontologies? Continue reading


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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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Urban Cultures of Sustainability

Conference Report (Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS) at the Albert-Ludwig-University, Germany, 11–14 July 2016)

From 11 to 14 July 2016, the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society and the FRIAS (Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies) project group A Green City Mandate? co-hosted a Graduate Student Seminar and International Workshop on Green Cities and Urban Cultures of Sustainability.

The project group invited an interdisciplinary group of young scholars and students from various disciplinary and national backgrounds, as well as several distinguished scholars from the fields of sustainable urban development, urban geography, environmental history, and ecocriticism to work together on issues of “green cities.”

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Riches of Nature, Limits of Nature

“Riches of Nature, Limits of Nature: Donald Worster and Environmental History”

Report on an International Conference (Beijing, China, June 26-28, 2016)

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In June of 2016, the Center for Ecological History (CEH) along with the School of History at Renmin University of China, hosted an academic conference honoring environmental history’s doyen Donald Worster (RCC alumnus). The theme was “Riches of Nature, Limits of Nature: Donald Worster and Environmental History.” Inspired by the publication of his latest book entitled Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of American Abundance (Oxford UP, 2016), the CEH invited more than two dozen environmental historians (among them were many of Worster’s former graduate students) from all over the world to thank him for his stimulating example and to present him with the long-term effects of his writings and teaching. 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

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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