Cocaine, Schizophrenia, and Nuclear Reactors: Life as an RCC Editor


By Brenda Black

Our work as editors at the RCC requires us to be generalists (because of the wide variety of topics encountered), but also capable of interpreting highly specialized texts (because it is impossible to edit what one does not understand).

For one issue of Perspectives, my google search history included: cocaine, schizophrenia, bottlenecking, sermons, Hitler, synapses, placebo effects, Hume, slave rebellions, and peacocks. For other articles, I have found myself researching topics such as: How does a nuclear reactor work, or, more mundanely, how do automobile engines work. Another time I desperately wished I had taken a course in organic chemistry so that I could understand a discussion of industrial chemicals, and yet another article had me researching different agricultural methods such as no-till farming.

One of the most interesting and challenging articles I have edited was concerned with palynology, the study of pollen, something I hadn’t known even existed. This scientific field can provide intriguing insights into environments of the past through analysis of the pollen contained in the sediments of bogs and other natural archives. Used in combination with archaeological records and geochemical analysis of metals in the environment, palynology can help us reconstruct the history of human activities such as agriculture and mining. Read More

John Agbonifo To Help Found African Network of Environmental Humanities

RCC alumnus John Agbonifo is part of team that is in the process of creating the African Network of Environmental Humanities (ANEH). The ANEH is a new multidisciplinary association of scholars resident in Africa and abroad who share a common passion to explore and understand the nexus between human societies and the environment, and how the humanities influences scholarly understanding of that connection. The ANEH will address the dearth of African humanities scholarship on how the environment shapes human societies and vice versa.

In a statement about the new network, John Agbonifo writes that “The origin of the African Network of Environmental Humanities can be traced to the initial conversations with Christof Mauch, Rachel Carson Center (RCC), Munich, who readily supported the idea, and offered to assist in birthing the Network in every way possible.”

Other founding members include Noah Attah (Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Nigeria), Djanabou Bakary (Uni­ver­sity of Maroua, Cameroon), David Olanya (University of Gulu, Uganda), Daisy Ebeniro (University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria), and Tony Olusanya (Osun State University, Nigeria).

The RCC congratulates John for his involvement in this groundbreaking initiative and looks forward to supporting and engaging with the ANEH.

Videos: Lunchtime Colloquia, April

We have had some more exciting talks in our lunchtime colloquium series this month! Check out the videos below. For more videos, including a series of short interviews with fellows about their research at the RCC, please visit our YouTube channel.

Angelika Krebs:  “‘And What was there Accepted Us’: Landscape, Stimmung, and Heimat

Thomas Princen: “Imagining the End of the Fossil Fuel Era”

CfP: Turning Protest Into Policy

The ASEH invites proposals for its 2015 conference that will convene March 18-22 in Washington, DC. The conference theme is “Turning Protest into Policy: Environmental Values and Governance in Changing Societies.” The program committee particularly encourages panel and roundtable proposals that engage the theme in creative ways: environmental justice movements around the world, international or local protests that reveal changing environmental values, policy decisions at the national and international levels, and judicial rulings that have altered policy or resource use.

The deadline for submissions is 20 July, 2014.

For more information, please visit the ASEH website.


CfP: North Atlantic Fisheries History Association 14th International Conference

Between the Commons and the Market: New Cultural, Social and Economic Perspectives on Fisheries History and Coastal Heritage

Historians, social scientists, museum professionals and other scholars working in the field of fishery and coastal heritage are cordially  invited to the 14th NAFHA Conference, which will take place at the Norwegian College of Fishery Science, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, 24-27 September 2014. The conference is organised in association with the Norwegian Museum Network of Fishery and Coastal Culture, and the Council for Fishery and Coastal Museums. PhD students and younger scholars are particularly encouraged to participate in the conference.

This conference engages with new perspectives in fishery history and coastal heritage. It will build upon recent historical scholarship in these fields, such as the two-volume North Atlantic Fisheries History (2009, 2012) and the forthcoming five-volume Norwegian Fishery and Coastal History (August, 2014). These works reflect the new multidisciplinary scholarship on the historical exploitation of marine resources, and stimulate the debate and reflection on cultural, social and economic approaches to the development of fisheries and coastal communities over the long term. The conference aims to be inclusive. We welcome speakers and delegates from different disciplines and perspectives, and persues a broad thematic and chronological approach.

For more information please click here to download the CfP.

Photo of the Week: Annka Liepold


Kuta Beach, Bali, during “Trash Season.” On top of the regular daily trash left behind at the beaches, this is a phenomenon that occurs annually between the end of December and the end of February. Because of strong winds, plastic discarded in the ocean in Java is washed ashore on the beaches of Bali’s southwestern coast. According to the Jakarta Post this can be up to an astonishing 20 tons per day! Although the Balinese are trying to keep their beaches clean for the tourists, they struggle (and fail) to keep up during “Trash Season.”

Car Parks and Edgelands: An Interview with Artist Edward Chell

Chell_motorwayFor your most recent project, Eclipse, you’ve painted sixty plant silhouettes on gesso panels. These are common woodland plants that are also found in less conventional landscape spaces, such as motorway verges. Collisions between the natural world and car travel are an underlying theme in your work. Could you expand on the thinking behind the strange juxtaposition of taxonomic systems that inhabit this work?

People go to the woods as strangers from their everyday life in the city or in the town; we go to experience natural habitats, back to nature – somehow this idea of being natural seems more authentic – and the car park is a threshold at this point of change, where people either sit in the car with a Thermos or get out and take their dogs for a walk. We go to places like King’s Wood to experience ‘nature’, but the woodland is artificial. It’s managed, it’s controlled. Some of it is coppice – it’s ancient but nonetheless forms an industrial site. Much of the rest is in large part a plantation.

Some visitors come to King’s Wood to have this kind of communion with nature. Are you suggesting that this leisure tourism is a folly?

We travel and engage with landscape largely as tourists. Today relatively few people work in the landscape – it’s no longer an agricultural economy as it was two hundred years ago – so our experiences are largely premised on tourism. ‘Oh! Let’s go and have a look at that because it will do us good!’ It somehow edifies. But there are other considerations –in travelling to places like the woods we leave a carbon footprint, we leave mess, we leave litter, we leave fumes – all these things have a massive impact. Read More

Scenarios: Using Science Fiction to Think About the Future

Photo Courtesy: Richard Hurd, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo: Richard Hurd, Flickr Creative Commons

Post by Jenny Seifert. Reposted with kind permission of Adam Hinterthuer at UW-Madison Center for Limnology.

Change is constant and inevitable—in jobs, in relationships, in business, and in nature. It can make us feel downright powerless to realize that nothing is certain. So why even bother trying to plan ahead?

Well, when it comes to thinking about how people might cope with big changes that will affect us all, such as climate change, planning ahead…way far ahead…could make a big difference in how future generations—you know, our children’s children—will live in a changed world.

In fact, by thinking through what is possible, we do have some power in determining how our communities react to both foreseeable and unforeseeable changes to our environment. And a diverse team of scientists at the UW-Madison is currently trying to help envision potential futures in the very region they call home: the Yahara Watershed.

The Yahara Watershed is a 536 square mile area of southern Wisconsin that, in addition to the UW-Madison, is home to 372,000 people, the state capital, and four iconic lakes: Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, and Kegonsa. Freshwater is central to Yahara’s cultural identity, economy, and daily life.

As this map shows, land in the Yahara Watershed is used for all sorts of purposes, from agriculture to development to public open space. Managing the area for these mixed uses is a challenge.
The Yahara Watershed is used for all sorts of purposes, from agriculture to development to public open space. Managing the area for these mixed uses is a challenge. Map by: Eric Booth. Data from USDA-NASS, USDA-NRCS, USGS, WDNR, CARPC, Columbia Co., and Rock Co.

As this map shows, land in the Yahara Watershed is used for all sorts of purposes, from agriculture to development to public open space. Managing the area for these mixed uses is a challenge. Read More

Outsmarting Technology: Elephants as Non-Human-Actors in Wildlife Conflicts

By Ursula Münster

elephant herd
Elephant herd.

What differentiates humans from other animals is a question that has long occupied scholars in the life sciences and humanities alike. For the conservation biologists, farmers, and indigenous Adivasis I met during my ethnographic fieldwork at a wildlife sanctuary in South India, it is precisely the resemblance of certain animal species to humans that puzzles them in their daily lives. Wild Asian elephants in particular are renowned for their almost-human cleverness in this region of the Western Ghats of Kerala. Working and living side by side with elephants, both scientists and forest dwellers highlighted the exceptional intelligence, cognitive abilities, and social behavior of these large pachyderms. These traits make elephants unpredictable actors in wildlife conservation, and their abilities pose enormous challenges for mitigating the severe human-elephant conflicts in this densely-populated and fragmented forest landscape of South India.

“They are just like us” was the judgment frequently made regarding elephant behavior by small-scale agriculturalists, who encounter wild elephants on an almost-daily basis on their paddy fields, coconut plantations, and vegetable gardens at the border of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.

coconut trees destroyed by elephants
Coconut trees destroyed by elephants.

The elephant trenches and electric fences that the forest department built for their protection are not of much use in preventing the hungry herbivores from entering the farmer’s agricultural fields. Read More

An Interview with Verena Winiwarter, Austrian Academic of the Year

VerWin_1This interview was conducted by Klaus Taschwer for To view the German text, please click here. Thank you to Rachel Shindelar for helping to translate the interview.

Austria’s environmental journalists have selected you as academic of the year. Surprised?

Yes, I was completely surprised. Most of the previous recipients have a profile that is rather different from mine. I was nevertheless very happy, because it provides another opportunity to bring environmental history into the mainstream.

In 1998 you wrote the first “Austrian” environmental history dissertation and in 2007 you became the first Austrian professor in environmental history. How should we understand these terms?

They are best understood in light of our research. For instance, in a project that we have just completed, entitled “Enviedan,” we researched the changes in the Danube in the Vienna region from 1500 to the present, analyzing the many unanticipated and long-lasting consequences of the regulation of the river on the ecosystems and society. In another project, which began in March 2012, we focus on the effects of ski tourism on the Austrian landscape and environment.

Environmental history is at heart the history of the side effects of human activities. Doctors and pharmacists inform people of the effects and possible undesired side effects of medicines; environmental history does the same with regards to nature. Read More