Environmental Histories of the Brazilian Cerrado

By Claiton Marcio da Silva

*All images courtesy of the author, taken 2013 (unless otherwise specified). Featured image: Road to the Espírito Santo belvedere, Jalapão State Park, Tocantins

The Brazilian Cerrado made me an environmental historian.

My interest in the agricultural transformations in Brazilian savannas—a biome located in the central part of Brazil that extends over an area of approximately 2.000.000 km²—started when I left the southern and subtropical regions of the country to seek employment in the mythical Brazilian backwoods. For seven years, I lived on the border between the Cerrado and the Amazon, north of Tocantins State, and witnessed the intense environmental transformations the region suffered, mostly as a result of increasing soybean crops. Just as the land has been transformed, so has my relationship with it. The intense shapes, colors, textures, flavors, and smells that characterize this mysterious landscape have shaped my own experiences of this place. Many fond years spent here, and my lively memories, have made Cerrados a fascinating research object for me. Read More

Feeling Eco-Adventurous? An Interview with Author John Morano

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Image credit: Mark Ludak ©


John Morano is a professor of journalism at Monmouth University in New Jersey. He has written four novels in his Eco-Adventure Series, as well as a textbook for film critics, Don’t Tell Me the Ending! He is currently working on his fifth novel, a story about endangered wolves.

What motivated your transition from journalism to creative writing?

I don’t really feel as though I’ve transitioned from journalism. I’m still a journalism professor, but more importantly, I feel that my eco-series is built solidly upon several journalistic ethics and skills. For example, I regularly say to students, “Tell me something I don’t know. Show me something I haven’t seen.” I hope that my books do that for the readers. And while the writing is creative, I try to present real stories, real endangered creatures, real habitats, real environmental concerns that are well researched, in the tradition of investigative journalism. The old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” is one that I often subscribe to.

What was the inspiration for the Eco-Adventure Series?

The series, indeed the first book, was inspired by a single news story that I saw as a grad student on vacation. A woman reporter stood beside a cage. She explained that in the cage was an obscure hamster species. It was a male, the last of its kind and when the hamster ultimately perished, as it surely would one day, the planet would never see this creature again. That was the moment I knew I would write about extinction. What could possibly be more dramatic than that? It was real. It was happening. And, it was happening to both creatures that we knew and that we’ve never heard of. I decided to write those stories. Read More

Migrations, Crossings, Unintended Destinations: Ecological Transfers across the Indian Ocean, 1850–1920

Conference Report (11–12 October 2018, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich, Germany)

By Ulrike Kirchberger

(*Featured Image: “If someday…” by Abhijit Kar Gupta, CC-BY 2.0 via flickr. )

In the age of empire, thousands of species of plants and animals were transferred between Australia, Asia, and Africa. European settlers transported cattle, horses, and sheep between South Africa, Asia, and Australia. Camels were exported from Northern India to the Australian colonies. Australian eucalypts and acacias were planted in South Asia and South Africa. Exotic birds from South Asia were taken to Australia and South Africa. These species were transferred deliberately by European colonists for economic, scientific, and aesthetic reasons. Other species migrated between the continents without human intention. Although some of these transfers and migrations have received much attention, the white settler colonies and the Indian Ocean world are still treated separately by many environmental historians. Therefore, the workshop “Migrations, Crossings, Unintended Destinations: Ecological Transfers across the Indian Ocean, 1850–1920” brought together leading experts from Australia, New Zealand, India, the USA, and Europe to discuss how to write an integrated environmental history of species transfer across the Indian Ocean.

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The Case to Go to Mars—And the Hope for the Earth

By David Munns

*Featured image: Mars Rover. Image: Idaho National Laboratory, [CC-BY 2.0], via Flicker.

We need a “hardy, soiled kind of wisdom,” Donna Haraway wrote in her recent book Staying With the Trouble, if we are to avert disaster from climate change even a little bit. Challenging and controversial, the wisdom Haraway seeks comes from string figures, nonhuman companions, and her own garden—and, she hopes, will produce a time when the Earth possesses at most 2 or 3 billion humans. Haraway’s call to “make kin, not babies” has garnered reviews disturbed by her radical positions. In confronting climate, there are difficult choices ahead, with voluntary childlessness one effective solution: If we are going to reduce our carbon emissions, why not also reduce our biological presence?

Haraway’s call for a steady, controlled, and peaceful population decline over a century or more, in fact, seems hardly confronting in contrast to the wisdom learned during the heyday of the Space Age. Haraway’s call to not make babies echoes the overriding metaphor for environmentalists in the 1960s, “Spaceship Earth.” In Spaceship Earth, all resources were finite and thus the idea broke with easy and complacent notions of unlimited bounty, resources, or growth. The Earth was likened to a closed ecological space ship, lunar base, or Mars station, wherein air, food, and water become supremely rare and precious commodities. Confrontingly, from the earliest days of the Space Race, NASA administrators knew as well as science fiction writers that no material could be discarded as waste just because it became urine and excrement, or indeed the deceased body of one’s crewmate. Time magazine’s science editor in the mid-1960s (quoted by famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke) even suggested that, in order to ensure complete closure of an artificial environment for long-duration space travel, “cannibalism would be compulsory among interstellar travelers.” Read More

The History of Munich’s Waste Management

This post by Christian Schnurr, a student of the RCC-LMU Environmental Studies Certificate Program, stems from his research conducted as part of the exhibition project “Ecopolis: Understanding and Imagining Munich’s Environments.”

Unless otherwise indicated, images are courtesy of AWM. Source: AWM Festschrift.

An opera about rubbish disposal? Die Stadt, composed by Nélida Béjar and directed by Björn Potulski, premiered on 14 December 2016 in the Schwere Reiter theater, as part of the celebration of 125 years of waste management in Munich. Based on the Epic of Gilgamesh, the opera thematizes the structure and order of a civilization, focusing the spotlight especially on waste. Instead of professional performers, employees of the Abfallwirtschaft München (AWM), Munich’s waste management company, sing all of the pieces in the show! Most people would probably not have seen this coming 125 years ago, especially since waste management in Munich began not as a voluntary act, but one of necessity.

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Empirical Ecocriticism

Workshop Report (14–15 December 2018, Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Germany)

By Alexa Weik von Mossner and Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

On 14 and 15 December 2018, the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society hosted the workshop Empirical Ecocriticism. Empirical ecocriticism is an emerging subfield of ecocriticism that focuses on the empirically grounded study of environmental narrative—in literature, film, television, etc.—and its influence on various audiences. The main objective of empirical ecocriticism is to put to empirical test claims made within ecocriticism, and the environmental humanities more generally, about the impact of environmental narratives and art. To this end, it employs empirical methods used in disciplines such as environmental communication, environmental psychology, and the empirical study of literature. Read More

Make Meadows, Not Lawns

“The Heart of the Ecosystem: Taking Responsibility for the Extinction of Bees”

By Rosamund Portus

*Featured image: A roundabout in Mössingen, the “City of Flowers.” Photo: UnreifeKirsche [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

When we think of extinction, we tend to think of a few iconic species, such as the woolly mammoth or the dodo. Although none of us today has ever laid eyes on one—at least not a living specimen— we still mourn their loss. Yet, there are many creatures whose extinction we do not mourn, or just never really noticed. There was little outcry, for instance, when the Levuana Moth went extinct. And very few people are campaigning to save endangered dragonflies. However, most people certainly seem to know that bees are in danger of extinction; it has been splashed across headlines around the world, reiterated in hundreds of articles, and been the topic of many a social media campaign. In Ball and Hayne’s words, “we have been losing sleep over bees.” What is it about them that has prompted this profound response? Read More

RCC Publication Roundup 2018

If you are looking for some good reading material for the festive period and have a taste for environmental history and humanities, look no further! Here is a roundup of the 2018 publications from the RCC and affiliate publishers.

RCC Perspectives

The online journal publishes provocative, less formal pieces related to the Rachel Carson Center’s environment and society research themes.

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Environmental Pasts—Environmental Futures: Perspectives on China

Conference Report (22–24 November 2018, Peking University, Beijing, China)

By Elena Feditchkina Tracy

(*Featured image: from left: Christof Mauch, Elena Feditchkina Tracy, Maohong Bao, Sophia Kalantzakos, and Fei Sheng)
Prof. Dr. Christof Mauch, RCC and Prof. Dr. Maohong Bao, Peking University

RCC fellows and alumni participated in the LMU-China Academic Network 4th Scientific Forum held on 22–24 November 2018, at Peking University in Beijing, China. Scholars joined their colleagues from Renmin University, Sun Yat-Sen University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Tongji University for the workshop “Environmental Pasts—Environmental Futures: Perspectives on China.” The event was chaired by RCC director Professor Christof Mauch, and the director of Peking University’s World History Center, Professor Maohong Bao. The workshop brought together scholars who work on China’s role in global, regional, and local environmental issues and perspectives. Read More

A Fluid History of Wisconsin Breweries

The Taproom is a monthly series that explores the rich history of all things beer. It is curated by Pavla Šimková.

By Doug Hoverson

(*Featured image: This sign from the tiny Hortonville Brewing Co. placed more emphasis on their artesian well than on the beer itself. [Sign c. early 1900s.] Photo credits: University of Minnesota Press. Photo by Robert Fogt, Collection of National Brewery Museum, Potosi, Wisconsin.)

During my research for Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota, a retired employee of the Theo. Hamm Brewing Co. in St. Paul told me: “Beer is 97 percent water, and the other three percent is none of your damn business.” Of course, he knew that I understood the importance of the other ingredients, and I joked with him that in the case of Hamm’s beer it was more like 98 percent water. But water is important to brewing beyond being an ingredient. During the nearly two centuries of commercial brewing in Wisconsin, water was critical to how brewers selected a location, advertised their beer, and interacted with government agencies.

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