Uses of Environmental Humanities: Nicole Seymour

The Uses of Environmental Humanities series explores diverse and creative ways of thinking with the Environmental Humanities in responding to socio-environmental challenges. Contributors address the influence of the Environmental Humanities and ways in which we might use this field of study, offering insights into the interactions between societies, science, politics, and culture. The series is curated by Samantha Rothbart.

“The Aesthetics and Affects of Art in the Plasticene”

By Nicole Seymour

We’ve all seen it: a dead bird carcass on the ground, plastic shards and objects heaped where its stomach would have been. The image comes from US artist Chris Jordan’s photo series Midway: Message from the Gyre (2009–present) and, along with others in the series, it has been widely circulated as an emblem of the Anthropocene and, more specifically, the Plasticene.

Photo: Chris Jordan (via US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters) / CC BY 2.0 [Public domain]
As an environmental humanities scholar who has long been engaged with questions of aesthetics and affect, and who has recently started a project on microplastics, I am particularly struck by Jordan’s body of work, especially his recent documentary Albatross (2017). Filmed on the Midway Islands, the same location for his photo series, Albatross documents the births, lives, and occasional plastic-related deaths of the titular birds. (In one segment, we learn that parent birds can inadvertently swallow plastic when fishing in the ocean, and then later regurgitate it into their offspring’s mouths. When the fledglings need to purge later in order to fly, the plastic can tear their insides—leading to slow and painful demises. Albatross thus clearly hopes to move viewers emotionally, perhaps to the extent that they reduce the use of plastic in their own lives. Read More

On Environmental Grief and the Rights of Nature

Guest post by Kriss Kevorkian

*Featured image: Jill Hein

Twenty years ago, when I first coined the term environmental grief—the grief reaction stemming from the environmental loss of ecosystems caused by either natural or human-made events—I thought I was the only one grieving the destruction and ecocide I saw taking place around me. Fortunately, a few well-respected scientists told me that I had put a name to a vague feeling people had but couldn’t identify. Environmental grief was exactly what scientists, conservationists, and even science reporters were reacting to as they continued to observe species after species declining in front of their eyes. At a conference at Oxford University in 2006, I presented my research to a group of environmental scientists. When I talked to them, it was as though a light bulb had gone off. They too had experienced something for which, until that moment, they hadn’t been able to give a name to. But, at the time, there were also those who didn’t seem to understand environmental grief at all. At a second conference, several people asked me, “Why would you grieve about the environment?” Read More

Uses of Environmental Humanities: Salma Monani

The Uses of Environmental Humanities series explores diverse and creative ways of thinking with the Environmental Humanities in responding to socio-environmental challenges. Contributors address the influence of the Environmental Humanities and ways in which we might use this field of study, offering insights into the interactions between societies, science, politics, and culture. The series is curated by Samantha Rothbart.

“Four Ways of Seeing the Uses of Ecomedia Studies”[1]

By Salma Monani, Gettysburg College

Digital media permeates everyday life worldwide. All across the globe, from New York City to Nome,  from Nanjing to Mankosi, people can pull out a smart phone, tap on its screen, and access not only written words and photographs but also films, video games, and a host of other interactive and mixed media. As someone who remembers a time before such everyday access, who is uncomfortably a “digital immigrant,”[2] and spent my childhood without a computer (let alone a cell phone), I’m tempted to think about such media the way so many environmentalists have engaged technology for what seems like an eternity—with alarm at “the end of nature” and hand-wringing about “nature deficit order.” There is, of course, a tired hypocrisy to such declarations. Like so many others, I use digital media more than I don’t—not only for work but for play, sociality, and retreat. And, since I’m not alone in my use but rather one of over 2.1 billion people who owns a smart phone, there’s got to be some use in thinking about digital media in more than terms of gloomy (and doomy) binaries of technology versus Nature. This is the project of ecomedia studies. The field explores both digital and analog media through ecocritical lenses, and encourages interrogation of the entanglements of nature and culture that mark our everyday use of media.[3] Below I reflect on various uses of the field, bringing my own personal interest in the value of Indigenous media and its insights to the fore.

Read More

(Um)Weltschmerz: An Exercise in Humility and Melancholia

Conference Report (7–20 October 2018, Munich)

Nearly three years to the day after the Marie Curie ENHANCE ITN’s official kick-off  in Munich, a final conference titled (Um)Weltschmerz: An Exercise in Humility and Melancholia marked the official end of the program. After three years of intensive collaboration, the wide variety of academic disciplines and topics of the twelve doctoral researchers of ENHANCE came together in a four-day conference. The title (Um)Weltschmerz, a conjunction of Umwelt (environment) and Weltschmerz (the suffering of being in the world)—and a play on the recent term solastalgia—connotes the emotions felt for changing environments that were explored in this conference from a variety of perspectives.

Read More

City Environments around the Globe: Past Challenges, Future Visions

Conference Report (10–12 February 2019, New York University, Abu Dhabi)

The new collaboration between Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU Munich) and New York University (NYU) focuses on understanding urban environments over time and aims to explore urban issues and challenges via a comparative, transnational, and global framework. The second installment took place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

By Elena Torres Ruiz

We kicked off the workshop with an early-morning exploration of Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangroves. Our guide John Burt (Biology, NYUAD) elaborated on the relevance of such coastal ecosystems: Over half the human population lives within 100 km of a coast, and coastlines contain more than two-thirds of the world’s largest cities. As a result, humans have substantially modified the world’s natural coastal environments to suit their needs. Kayaking through the mangroves, we observed a stunning diversity of birds, the shallow waters alive with crustaceans and fry, mangrove roots lining the edges of sandbanks, and finally, construction equipment signaling the impending transformation of these habitats. John elaborated on the extraordinariness of these fragile, yet adaptive, systems that have suffered from human intervention as well as benefitted from it by way of increased access to nutrients and freshwater. Read More

Snapshot: Valeria Berros Wins Berta Càceres Award

At the 2nd Conference for the Defense of the Environment and Good Living, alumna Valeria Berros was among the recipients of the Berta Cáceres Award, conferred by the Network of Women Defenders of the Environment and Good Living (RedDABV), together with authorities of the Argentinian senate. Named for the Honduran environmental activist and feminist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in 2016, the award recognizes women’s achievements in defending human and environmental rights. Read More

The Uses of Environmental Humanities

By Samantha Rothbart

*Featured image: “Leaving the opera in the year 2000,” a futuristic depiction of Paris. Hand-colored lithograph by Albert Robida (late 19th century).
La Paresse (“Laziness”) by Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton, via Wikimedia Commons.

Years ago, when I began the daunting task of deciding what to study university, it seemed that everyone around me was warning against the frivolity of a humanities degree. If I wanted to go down that route, I’d become a penniless writer, an actor down on her luck, or join the ranks of unemployable historians, anthropologists, or sociologists milling idly about. What exactly did such people do? How did they live? Without a business degree, I was told, my future looked grim. Those same people would likely have scoffed upon even hearing the term “Environmental Humanities,” never mind discovering that it is an actual field of study in which one can obtain a degree. Big environmental problems needed scientists and engineers to solve them. What could the Environmental Humanities possibly be good for? As it turns out, rather a lot. Read More

“Fridays for Future” and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Daniel Dumas and Maryam Tatari

*Featured image: The rain did not keep people from assembling for the Fridays for Future march in Munich. Photo: Geoffrey Craig.

On 15 March this year, 1.5 million people—young students in particular—took to the streets around the world to protest for climate justice, as part of the Fridays for Future (FFF) movement. Since last summer, when 16-year-old Swedish high-school student Greta Thunberg started “skipping” class each Friday to protest her government’s inadequate action to address climate change, FFF has grown into a global movement. FFF brings together young students (and many others) who are worried about their future and are fed up with global leaders’ relative lack of action to curtail pollution and environmental destruction. Read More

Ecologizing Urban Ontologies in the Anthropocene

MCTS-Forum Workshop Report (17 November, 2018, Munich)

By Nika Pitkänen

In November 2018, the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS) of the TUM, the Rachel Carson Center (RCC) of the LMU, and Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (HFF) hosted an interdisciplinary Workshop titled Ecologizing Urban Ontologies in the Anthropocene. On the evening of 16 November 2018, Karin Jurschick (HFF) hosted a screening of the film Natura Urbana, directed by urban geographer Matthew Gandy (Cambridge University). The following transdisciplinary discussion with students and fellows of all participating institutions formed the base for the Workshop the following day.


Read More

Picking Hops in Nineteenth-Century Wisconsin

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

*Feature image: Group of men, women, and children gathered in a hop field, possibly that of Paul Saavles. Image ID 26259, 1874, by Andreas Larsen Dahl. Newark, Rock County, Wisconsin. Used with the kind permission of Wisconsin Historical Society,

By Jennifer Jordan

From 1873 to 1879, in Dellona, Wisconsin, Ella Seymour kept a sporadic record of her life. Her careful handwriting curled across the blue and red lines of the little ledger she used as a diary. She recounted the weather, illness, chores, and visits like so many of her fellow diarists of the nineteenth century. She reports: “We arranged beds, cleaned windows, and Ida mopped some. Ma and I took care of Arthur [presumably a little brother] by turns in the night.” On 31 August, she washed, ironed, and churned. On 1 September, she ironed and baked. And on 3 September, she picked 1 ½ boxes of hops.

Photo by author. Ella Seymour’s diary, Seymour Family files, Wisconsin Historical Society Archive, M93-113, Box 1.

Read More