Job Vacancy: Two Student Assistant Positions

The RCC is looking for two students in any humanities subject to assist the work of the center on a part-time basis. Research assistants work between 8–12 hours per week as part of a small team. Duties include library service (supporting our international visiting fellows with library access, photocopying, etc.); assisting at conferences, workshops, and other events; processing outgoing mail; staffing the RCC front desk and library; and various other duties related to the day-to-day work of our busy research institute. Research assistants are an integral part of our community of scholars Read More

Making Tracks: Maurits Ertsen

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.

“When Not a Tree Hugger, Is One a Tree Hater?” (paraphrasing Doug Coupland)

by Maurits Ertsen

I am not an environmentalist. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that I don’t care about environmental issues, or that current agricultural or other production systems should continue irrespective of their environmental and social costs. What I mean is that my work does not consider the environment as a threatened category, or that my motivation for studying the dynamics of human-environment interactions in water systems originates from worries about deteriorating lakes, rivers, or seas. I just want to know how to understand those dynamics. Read More

Medieval Reenactments and Unmediated Nature

pic_blackBy Brenda Black

Several times a year I camp out at medieval festivals, trying to live the way people did a millennium ago. It’s a far cry from authentic in many ways, particularly in respect to hygiene: we have our treated water and container toilets and our food, although cooked over a fire, mostly comes from the grocery store. (None of us particularly wish to contract cholera, and, unfortunately, few festivals include an on-site farm from which to harvest our own food.)

Yet, authentic or not, there is a lesson here that I think is valuable. It’s not just the opportunity to slow down and live for a few days according to a different rhythm, one in which the unyielding measure of minutes and hours is missing. It’s not just an escape from the stress of modern life (yet another essay to be corrected, another deadline to be met). It’s the door it opens for reflection upon life in the past: it is a lesson about how we interact with the world we live in.

Ehrenberg 2012_a

Ehrenberg Medieval Camp.

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Making Tracks: Cameron Muir

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.

“A Place Where All But Man Is Vile, and Every Prospect Displeases”

by Cameron Muir

Reading the other Making Tracks posts I am struck by how often an author’s childhood experiences shapes the subject of his or her environmental research decades later. Now I understand I am destined (doomed, perhaps?) to carry Dubbo with me forever.

Playing in the erosion gully on our farm

This is a town where people would string a Confederate flag across the rear window of their ute, where the bumper stickers declared “No ute, no root,” and where recreation included shooting at road signs. Read More

Making Tracks: Matthew Booker

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.

Why Did Americans Stop Eating Locally?

by Matthew Booker

I am a child of the 1970s. My family might be called “back-to-the-landers.” In our kitchen, on the redwood shelves made from recycled chicken coops, sat Laurel’s Kitchen and the Tassajara Bread Book. My mother drove our VW bus down the long dirt road and into town to shop at the community co-op and the health food store. My mom bought “natural” food. She bought no-spray, wholegrain, brown food. We made our own yogurt and bread.

We also got a lot of food for free. We always had a garden, though it seemed to grow lots of zucchini and little else. Animals were a problem: raccoons ate our chickens, one by one. In some years, deer and feral pigs destroyed everything. We canned Gravenstein apples from the windfalls we picked up at the orchards that covered Western Sonoma County. We picked each year’s jam supply in the blackberry thickets down by the Russian River. Sometimes we got unpasteurized milk from a nearby dairy, and we went to the remaining chicken farmers for eggs (fertilized, memorably on one occasion with chicken embryos inside). One year my mom invested in a side of beef and we kept it in the cold storage in Sebastopol. My mom did not do these things to support local farmers. She did them because it was cheap and because it was “natural.” Read More

CfP: ASLE 11th Biennial Conference

Notes from Underground: The Depths of Environmental Arts, Culture and Justice

Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE)
Eleventh Biennial Conference, June 23-27, 2015
University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho

In Notes from Underground (1864), Dostoyevsky explores relations between modernity and its discontents at an important historical conjuncture: the novella’s unnamed, unpleasant hero rails against capitalist industry, imperialist architecture and an emerging social scientific understanding of human behaviour premised on predictability and knowability. By writing from the underground—from the subterranean, from the murk, from the world of refuse—Dostoyevsky asks us to consider the importance of experiences that lie beneath (and both before and after) the shiny edifices of progress, rationality and industry. But the “underground” also asks us to consider what lies beneath us much more literally: crust, tectonic plates, magma, minerals, fossil fuels, aquifers, lakes, caves, fungal networks, clay, compost, worms, ants, nematodes, roots, rhizomes, tubers, seeds, warrens, nests, vaults, graves, landfills, nuclear weapons and waste, buried treasure. In this act of collection—underground elements, underground agents, underground movements, underground epistemologies—we hope to draw attention to the multiple ways in which things underground and the institutions that variously cultivate, harness and contain them, are constantly changing the terrain (literally and politically) on which we stand. Read More

Environmentalism from Below

Appraising the Efficacy of Small-Scale and Subaltern Environmentalist Organizations

By Marianna Dudley

As the recent World Congress of Environmental History in Guimaraes (Portugal) confirmed, our discipline is a truly international endeavour. But while conferences provide opportunities to present work, discuss ideas and make new friends, busy schedules make it hard to consolidate these experiences into getting work done. Workshops, by contrast, offer a dedicated time and space to work with colleagues to develop ideas and engage in extended discussions of the issues and concepts that underpin – and challenge – our work. The Rachel Carson Center has made the workshop model a core part of its series of events, and was one of several supporters of the ‘Environmentalism from Below’ workshop held in Edmonton, Canada, this August.

Participants at the Environmentalism from Below workshop.
Participants at the Environmentalism from Below workshop.

Organizers Jonathan Clapperton and Liza Piper (University of Alberta) invited fifteen academics and activists to the University of Alberta to explore the efficacy of small-scale and ‘subaltern’ environmental organizations. Between us we crossed North America and the Atlantic Ocean to get to Edmonton, and represented a range of disciplines from environmental history to gender studies, to anthropology, to social archaeology, to geography. Our differences in approach would drive our discussions, as we worked together to define environmentalisms, asking each other: What is radical? What is fringe? What makes successful environmental activism, and should we evaluate small-scale activism in terms of success and failure? Read More

Making Tracks: Mike Hulme

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.

Weather and Culture as a Teenage Boy in Scotland: The Early Days and Development of My Interest in the Environmental Humanities

by Mike Hulme

It is difficult today to talk about the weather without the conversation jumping a few tracks to find oneself somehow engaged in a discussion about global warming or climate change. But it was not always so. I first became interested in the weather in the 1970s as a teenager living on the east coast of Scotland. My passion for the game of cricket meant that I avidly followed the daily summer weather forecasts to find out the chances of my school’s cricket match the following day being interrupted by rain—or in eastern Scotland occasionally by fog (locally termed ‘haar’), or even snow! I wasn’t interested in climate change or even in climate. I was interested in how the condition of the atmosphere where I lived was going to affect the cultural activity with which I was obsessed—the sport of cricket.

I took this interest in weather into my academic study of geography at university where I first learned about theories of climatic change, including the scares of the late 1970s that a premature ice age might be heading our way. Geographers are well trained to study the mutual shaping of human and physical worlds and I became sensitized to an idea of climate that recognized both its physical and cultural manifestations. Geographers should be able to make sense of the statistics of weather as well as understand the bio-social implications of weather. But a unifying theory of climate’s material and symbolic dimensions is harder to construct.

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Photo of the Week: Guillermo Ospina

Photo taken by author.
Photograph: Guillermo Ospina.

Boliche is one of the few remaining peasants in the paramo of La Nevera, a zone located 3,000 meters above sea level (4,200 m. max.) near the Las Hermosas National Park in the peaks of the Central range of the Colombian Andes. Accompanied by his two dogs, an old radio, and a white horse, and with his closest neighbors two hours away, Boliche works alone every day, caring for his dairy cattle. The cattle provide an income sufficient just to buy food. Boliche lives in a 200-hectare plot of land that he inherited from his father, who acquired it by cutting and burning trees and paramos to cultivate potatoes, first, and later to establish pastures for cattle. This happened more than 70 years ago, when Don Antonio (Boliche’s father) arrived from Nariño – a region in the south of Colombia on the border with Ecuador – looking for baldios (lands “without owners”) to colonize. Boliche has an extended family but none of them want to live in the countryside. Life in the high mountains is hard and without amenities; every day requires great effort. Inhabitants in La Nevera, as in other places in rural Colombia, are increasingly scarce. Many left their lands and belongings; they were either forced out or were tired of being caught between the warring parties in a long, endemic armed conflict. Today, only a few remain, holding onto their lives and to the only occupation they know – being a peasant in the mountains.

Photo of the Week: Tobias Schiefer

European Green Toad. Photograph: Tobias Schiefer.

I photographed this European Green Toad (Bufo viridis viridis Laurenti, 1768) in Riem, on the outskirts of Munich. The primary habitats of the European Green Toad in Germany are sand and gravel beds on the floodplains of rivers, a dynamic landscape due to the regular input of virgin soil and freshwater. Due to river regulation measures in the nineteenth century (straightening of natural meanders and deepening of water courses, etc.), this kind of habitat has become extremely rare. For this reason, this species of toad is mainly found today in areas of stone quarrying, e.g. man-made gravel pits. The Green Toad can travel up to 10 kilometers, and is thus a pioneer species, able to react to changes and settle in a new habitat.

This secondary habitat is also fast-changing but ultimately threatened by further anthropogenic land use: the toad is both dependent on human actions and endangered by them. The European Green Toad is a protected species across Europe. In Bavaria, populations are mainly located along the river Danube and the Munich gravel plain (Münchener Schotterebene). Since 2009, the Bavarian Society for the Protection of Birds in Munich (Landesbund für Vogelschutz, LBV München) has been charged with the conservation of the Green Toad in the greater Munich area, which involves monitoring population numbers and responding as necessary.

My work as an environmental consultant constantly brings me up against the question of whether and when it makes sense to engage in nature conservation, and why dynamic and unpredictable natural systems are seen as inherently problematic by many of my fellow humans. I am committed to finding ways in which free and dynamic human populations can live with – or at least alongside – free and dynamic populations of flora and fauna.


Tobias Schiefer is an environmental consultant at Professor Schaller UmweltConsult, Munich