Making Tracks: Jenny Carlson

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.


*(Featured image: Farmland, Blacklands © Andrew Smith, licensed for reuse (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Geograph)

By Jennifer Carlson

My journey to the Rachel Carson Center began in the 1980s on Texas’s blackland prairie, where my family spent weekends on an old farm that my father’s parents owned east of Austin. While my father, mother, and grandfather cared for our cows, fixed fences, or bought supplies in town, my grandmother swept and scrubbed the old house she and my grandfather had built before work led them elsewhere. Too small to feed cows or drive fence posts, I was her “helper,” but I lived for the moment she’d take off her apron and lead me to the tank, a large pond where the cows drank water. Clad in a blue cotton shirtdress and black leather pumps—the same shoes she wore while teaching second grade—she’d guide me on cattle-worn paths between hackberry, huisache (sweet acacia), and cottonwood trees, pointing out all the birds, bushes, and insects there were to be seen. We kept our eyes open for deadly rattlesnakes and water moccasins, but also for gentler things she could take back to her students: a fallen bird’s nest and a piece of Spanish moss made perfect additions to her classroom “nature table.” Read More

Capturing the Environment

“Visualizing the Environment: Environmental Photography Workshop”

By Sasha L. Gora

This very blog is framed around the idea of seeing the woods, but what about photographing the woods? The common expression,“Can’t see the wood (or forest) for the trees,” communicates the sense of not being able to visualize the big picture. One is simply too close, literally or figuratively, to zoom out. But when photographing environments it can be very powerful to zoom in, to focus on just one tree, or even a branch or ribbon of bark, instead of the woods as a whole.

So how does one photograph the woods and the trees?

This is exactly what members of the RCC doctoral program discussed during the second week of July. Eight photographers, two hours with our cameras, one instructor, one garden, one forest, and one ant attack. Read More

Fifty Years Ago, Cockchafers Belonged to Spring…

“The Cockchafer, Part 2”
(In case you missed it, read part 1, Insect Profile: The Cockchafer here!
*(Featured image by dbgg1979 [CC By 2.0], via Flickr)

We met Ernst-Gerhard Burmeister at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology where he has dedicated most of his professional life to the amazing collection of over 25 million zoological specimens, one of the largest natural history collections in the world. The collection owns more than 100 000 of the approximately 500 000 species of beetles (Coleoptera) in the world. He has been an active defender of the zoological collection in political committees and has advised the region of Bavaria on issues of biodiversity. He has also traveled extensively, following mayfly swarms (Palingenia longicauda) in Hungary, and exploring the fauna of the Amazon at the border between Peru and Bolivia. When he spoke to us about his experience of insect loss, however, he returned to the calm of the sunny conference room…

The first time I experienced that sudden feeling of loss was about 20 years ago when I could not find any cockchafers in my garden in May. I used to collect them every year for my daughter’s birthday until she was 30 years old. She was born in May and it became a tradition between the two of us that she loved. When she was small, it had been absolutely no problem to find cockchafers in the garden; but then we began to see fewer and fewer of them until, finally, I had to collect them from somewhere else. Fifty years ago cockchafers belonged to spring. It was the creature that reminded us that nature was awakening. But people live so differently nowadays that they don’t even realize the loss. Who still goes for a walk on a calm May night and observes the cockchafers buzzing around the streetlights? Who realizes what the type of agriculture we are practicing does to insects?

Read More

Insect Profile: The Cockchafer

“The Cockchafer, Part 1”

*(Featured image: Common Cockchafer (Maybug). Copyright Zoonar/Frank Hecker)

By Birgit Müller and Susanne Schmitt

On a warm night in May, the cockchafer crawls out of the earth for the first time to take flight into the bushes and trees. It has been living below ground for four years since it first hatched: a pale, fat, maggot-like grub that will eventually transform into a winged pupa—easy prey for the mice, moles, foxes, badgers, and hedgehogs that lurk above ground. That is why this little creature has kept such a low profile over the winter, developing its chitinous armor. Come May, it can finally make its debut as the messenger of spring. Read More

Crossing Species and Cultures: New Histories of Pacific Whaling

By Ryan Jones

(All photos courtesy of the author)

In late June, the Rachel Carson Center cosponsored a two-day pre-read workshop at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa on “Crossing Species and Cultures: New Histories of Pacific Whaling.” Participants were invited to think about animal-human interactions, as well as the intersection between environmental and cross-cultural histories. The workshop was led by Ryan Tucker Jones (University of Oregon) and Angela Wanhalla (University of Otago) and also received sponsorship from the University of Oregon and the University of Otago’s Centre for Research on Colonial Culture.

Read More

Making Tracks: Birgit Schneider

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.


By Birgit Schneider

I have been interested in representations with a focus on visuality for a very long time. In fact, it wasn’t my early childhood experiences with the outdoors that led to my interest in environmental issues in the first place, but rather my mediated experiences with nature. Like most others, I frequently encounter current environmental issues as they are presented to me through various media—in nature movies or documentaries, weather reports, maps, and even apps—making these mediated experiences even more likely than unmediated ones.

This decided my course, in a way. I became fascinated with how complex the processes of depicting reality can be, and by the power of images to make visible the invisible. So, after a year of studying political science, I went on to study art history, philosophy, media studies, and media art. Guided by Foucault’s “ontology of the present,” I learned to systematically question the present in relation to history in the course of my media theory studies. What conditions led to the “digital society” that we know today? How has this altered our perceptions of what is real and what is virtual? How did media history change the perception of reality and, by extension, our perceptions of nature? Read More

The Birth and Quick Death of Canada’s First Commercial Brewery, 1671–1675

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


By Matthew Bellamy

Few nations are more blessed by nature than Canada when it comes to brewing beer. The vast northern territory has ideal climatic conditions to produce all of the natural ingredients—barley, hops, and fresh water—to manufacture a perfect pint. Yet Canada’s first commercial brewery was a colossal failure, closing just four years after it first opened in 1671.

The driving force behind the brewery was Jean Talon, the energetic and omnipotent Intendant (i.e., governor) of New France. Talon’s intendancy saw a whirlwind of activity in New France, as the king’s money seeded his pet projects. Talon usually had a direct interest in the crown’s enterprises, functioning as a combined Intendant-entrepreneur.

Having grown up near Artois, a region well known for its beer production, and having served as an administrator in French Flanders and Hainault, where beer drinking was more widespread than elsewhere in France, Talon was predisposed to the idea of large-scale beer production. But it was conditions on the ground that caused him to order the construction of a huge brewery at Ville de Québec. Read More

The Environmental History of the Pacific World

Conference report (24–26 May 2018, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China)

by Shen HOU

(all photos courtesy of the author)

The Pacific Ocean is the outcome of plate tectonic movement and one of the largest eco-regions on earth. It was explored by ancient navigators, and people dispersed to all of the ocean’s shores during early waves of migration, penetrating as far into the center as Hawaii. Since it was discovered as a whole and mapped at a global scale in the sixteenth century, it has become a place of increasing human-nature interaction—through international trade, warfare, cultural exchange, and resource extraction. The conference “The Environmental History of the Pacific World” (24–26 May 2018, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China) brought together more than 30 scholars from 10 different countries to Guangzhou, a city on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The conference aimed to integrate the Pacific Ocean more fully into the discourse of environmental historians and to stimulate further research on the environmental history of the Pacific World. It was organized and sponsored by Sun Yat-sen University, the Rachel Carson Center, LMU Munich, Germany, and the Center for Ecological History, Renmin University, Beijing, China. It was convened by FEI Sheng (Sun Yat-sen University), Shen HOU (Renmin University), Christof MAUCH (director of the Rachel Carson Center, LMU Munich), Donald Worster (University of Kansas, USA, and Renmin University), XIA Mingfang (director of the Center for Ecological History, Renmin University), and XIE Shi (Sun Yat-sen University).

Read More

Where Have All the Insects Gone?

For many of us, engaging with insects doesn’t extend much beyond swatting away flies and mosquitoes, or calling on bigger and braver friends to deposit unwanted “visitors” outside. And yet, as E.O. Wilson observed, it is we who are the visitors in “a primarily invertebrate world.” In fact, humankind “depends so completely on these little creatures that run the earth.” But recent evidence shows a startling decline in insect numbers, with some insects facing the threat of extinction. This paints a worrying picture given insects’ vital role in ecosystem services, such as decomposing matter, maintaining insect populations, or as a food source for other species.

Our new blog series, “Silent Spring Continued: A World without Insects?,” reflects on the importance of our winged and multi-legged companions, and the bleak prospect of an existence without them. Scholars and practitioners from diverse fields, as well as engaged members of the public, share stories about their connections with insects from a global perspective, rooted in local experiences. Read More

Making Tracks: Lynda Walsh

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.


By Lynda Walsh

I’m not 100 percent positive, but I believe I may be the first rhetorician who has been a fellow at the Rachel Carson Center. This impression was corroborated by the confused squints that frequently greeted me when I introduced myself in the corridors or at a Works-in-Progress meeting: “Rhetoric?” my new colleagues would echo, and their undulating eyebrows added: “What’s that? And what’s it got to do with the environment?”

Good questions. I myself didn’t have the answers to them for a long time, but now I do—in part thanks to my experience at the RCC.

Aristotle_Altemps_Inv8575
Bust of Aristotle. Source: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rhetoric—as taught and studied in the US and most of the British Commonwealth—is the art of forming communities with words, images, and other meaningful gestures. I didn’t know it existed as an academic discipline until I was most of the way through my MA in Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin. I had some questions related to my thesis—questions about the logical patterns of National Geographic texts—and my advisor said to me, “You should go talk to the rhetoricians next door.” When I did, I discovered that many of my questions about how scientific texts cohered and persuaded their readers had been answered nearly 2,500 years ago by Aristotle, Hermogenes, and other rhetoricians. And so I embarked on the study of the topoi or strategic “places” from which scientific writers discover what they want to say and signal to their audiences to follow them. Read More

Gaza’s Happy Hour? When Late Ottoman Palestine Met the Victorian Drinking Culture

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


By Dotan Halevy

If we could travel back in time to the town of Gaza in March 1886, we would probably be joining a large crowd gathered on the beach to catch a glimpse of the Troqueer, a grain-carrying steamship—a behemoth of thirteen hundred tons—lying on its side about a mile offshore. After the vessel accidentally entered shallow waters and hit the seabed, the gigantic wreck could be seen slowly sinking for several weeks in the open sea facing Gaza’s shore.

This unexpected event drew my attention to an overlooked aspect of Gaza’s history: beer. Nineteenth-century Gaza did not have a real port or even a natural harbor. As the Troqueer and other visiting steamers may have testified, Gaza was indeed a “port-less” port town. Nevertheless, throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century, this provincial Ottoman town served as one of several suppliers of foreign barley to the beer brewing industry in Britain. The history of the integration of the Middle East into the global economy in the nineteenth century often overlooks such meager towns, where local peasants and merchants grew, produced, and exchanged raw materials. Unlike the cosmopolitan experience of great Mediterranean hubs like Istanbul, Alexandria or Beirut, in small places like Gaza, the outcome of modernity in the age of steam was often economic collapse in the face of the insatiable global demand. Almost overnight, these places were sucked into the global economy and, once they had played their role, were ousted just as quickly. In Gaza’s case, globalization came knocking in the guise of beer and barley. Read More

Retreat to The Greenhouse

Last week, four doctoral students from the ENHANCE Innovative Training Network (Anna Antonova, Vikas Lakhani, Jeroen Oomen, and Eveline de Smalen), made their way to beautiful Stavanger for a writing retreat, where they met up with the ITN coordinator, Roger Norum, and the RCC’s doctoral program coordinator, Katie Ritson. Read More