Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Day 1. The Danube Excursion: Munich—Deggendorf

Written by David Stäblein


Munich —> Winzer —> Mühlham —> Deggendorf


The bus ride from Munich to Deggendorf along the Isar river

The landscape en route from Munich to Deggendorf is dominated by the flat valley of the river Isar. The river has carried a lot of material from the Alps to the lower part of the river near Deggendorf. This is the reason the soil here consists of an eight-meter-thick layer of river sediment. The Isar valley is surrounded by hills, in a landscape where erodible brown soil has been heavily deposited. The colluvium from this landscape, combined with the river sediments, makes the area the perfect place for agriculture (primarily sugar beet and corn). The Mühlbogental is an area near Deggendorf which has become the focus of concentrated industry; here lies a paper mill, as well as a BMW production site that was built on subsidies to discourage migration out of the region.

To the south of Deggendorf the Isar flows into the Danube (Donau in German), which was, in former days, only constrained in its meandering by the Bavarian Forest (a cool, infertile, and mountainous range dominated by gneiss) in the north east. Today, many dikes bound the naturally wandering landscape of the Danube, and the ancient current is limited by a row of hydropower plants spanning the whole of the Danube’s course through Bavaria. Together, the hydropower plants in Bavaria produce around 15 percent of Germany’s electricity supply. All the best spots for these plants have been occupied, which means that the expansion of hydropower is only possible if the plants become more efficient (to reach the goal of 17 percent). The flood defenses around Deggendorf were first installed in the 18th century and have since been expanded and modernized. Throughout the year (especially around June and August) numerous small flood events (below HQ 30) hit the area, but the dikes and polders usually prevent severe damage to surrounding communities. Continue reading


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Radical Hope: Inspiring Sustainability Transformations through Our Past

Conference Report (Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Germany, 3–4 July 2017)

By Erika Bsumek and John Barry

Hope by Vaclav Havel

Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world
Either we have hope within us or we don’t.
Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit.
You can’t delegate that to anyone else.
Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy
when things are going well,
or the willingness to invest in enterprises
that are obviously headed for early success,
but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.
Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism.
It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.
It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live
and to continually try new things,even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing
to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily,
without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

In early July 2017, the Rachel Carson Center, together with University of Austin, Texas hosted a two-day workshop on “Radical Hope.” It brought together 21 people from a variety of continents and disciplinary perspectives to explore and exchange ideas on that renewable and essential resource: hope. A resource that is often sadly and noticeably lacking in academic and popular conversations on the dominant framing of the Anthropocene in terms of ecological “crisis,” pragmatic pessimism, and scientific “realism.” Continue reading


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Danube: Environments, Histories, and Cultures

A Place-Based Workshop

4–11 June 2017

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Route along the Danube. Photo modified from David McGregor, CC BY-SA 2.0

Winding through Central and Eastern Europe, the once longstanding frontier of the Roman empire, the Danube, has carved its way into the landscapes and cultures of the countries it traverses. But the marks of humans, imprints of the Anthropocene, are also clearly visible on the river itself—and on the ecologies and landscapes surrounding it. By uncovering and reading landmarks across time and place, the interactions between societies and rivers can be recounted from different perspectives as multifaceted environmental histories. Continue reading


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Knowing Nature: The Changing Foundations of Environmental Knowledge

Conference Report (Beijing, China, 25–27 May 2017)

By Katrin Kleemann

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Photo: Katrin Kleemann.

Historians like traditions and they like to invent them. Helmuth Trischler, director of the Rachel Carson Center and head of research at the Deutsches Museum, made this remark as he looked back at the conference’s five-year history. In May 2017, international scholars came together in China for the fifth time since 2012 to discuss environmental history. Jointly organized by the Center for Ecological History (CEH), the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (RCC), the conference took place in Beijing at the Renmin University of China from 25 to 27 May. Its 24 participants came from North and South America, Africa, Europe, and of course Asia.

The opening ceremony included welcoming remarks by several prominent faculty members of Renmin University: Vice President Dayong Hong; Xingtao Huang, dean of the School of History; and Mingfang Xia, director of the CEH and a senior professor in the School of History. Shen Hou, deputy director of the CEH and associate professor of history at the university, provided translations both during the opening ceremony and throughout the conference. Continue reading


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Household Consumption and Environmental Change in the Twentieth Century

30–31 May 2017, Bologna, Italy

In May 2017, the University of Bologna’s Department of History and Culture hosted a workshop entitled “Household Consumption and Environmental Change in the Twentieth Century.” The workshop was co-convened by RCC alumnus Giacomo Parrinello (Sciences Po, Paris) and professor of contemporary history Paolo Capuzzo (University of Bologna). The event was co-sponsored by the RCC and the University of Bologna. Twelve scholars from the US, Germany, and Italy convened to discuss the links between consumer culture (and practices) in the household and ecological transformations on multiple spatial and temporal scales.

By Giacomo Parrinello

Rikki_Chan

The papers, all pre-circulated in advance, were grouped into three panels: food and the kitchen, household technologies, and energy and the home. The three panels were preceded by an introduction by the conveners, which presented the central concern of the workshop: the apparent contradiction between awareness of negative ecological impact of mass consumption and the affects and identities embedded in consumer practices. Continue reading


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Transitions in Energy Landscapes and Everyday Life in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

27–29 April 2017, Munich, Germany

A report on the workshop sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), Rachel Carson Center, and the Deutsches Museum (Germany), convened by Heather Chappells (University of British Columbia), Vanessa Taylor (University of Greenwich), Frank Trentmann (Birkbeck College), Helmuth Trischler (Deutsches Museum), and Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center).
By Vanessa Taylor and Heather Chappells

 

The modernizing force of electricity, symbolized by pylons traversing the countryside to transform urban and rural space, is a recurrent theme in narratives of twentieth-century energy transition. This workshop aimed to consider wider interpretations of landscape across scales— from mega-structures to micro-grids, from the home to the hearth— to understand energy landscapes from an everyday perspective. With participants from a wide range of disciplines we explored the symbolic meaning, socio-political construction, and material manifestations of energy transitions across space and time. We wanted to conceptualize consumers and communities as entangled in and shaping energy landscapes, not as bystanders in evolving socio-technical networks. How, we asked, have people engaged with these landscapes over time in their roles as energy users and producers, consumers and citizens in the everyday contexts of home, work, and leisure?

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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