Changing Landscapes of Indigeneity: CHE Place-Based Workshop

Workshop Report (13–16 May 2019, Madison–Wisconsin, USA)
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Center for Culture, History, and Environment

By Daniel Dumas 

In May 2019, a group of staff, doctoral candidates, and Environmental Studies Certificate Program students from the Rachel Carson Center traveled to Wisconsin in order to take part in a place-based workshop organized by the Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE) of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The RCC’s participation in CHE’s place-based workshop has become an annual tradition, strengthening ties between the two environmental humanities centers. This year, Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies, Larry Nesper, organized the workshop, which sought to explore the changing landscapes of Indigeneity within present-day Wisconsin. Over the course of four days, the workshop’s 40 participants learned from and met with three Indigenous Nations: the Ho-Chunk, Menominee, and Oneida Nations.

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2020 Visions for Environmental History: The Trouble with Conferences (Part 1)

This is the first post in a series on “2020 Visions for Environmental History” being published jointly by NiCHE’s blog The Otter ~ La loutre and Rachel Carson Center’s blog Seeing the Woods, with posts by Lisa MighettoAlan MacEachernArielle Helmick, and Claudia Leal. The series is intended to promote discussion at a session of the same name at the World Congress for Environmental History in late July.

The Trouble with Conferences: Part 1

By Lisa Mighetto, Rachel Carson Fellow 2019

If you are an environmental history scholar, chances are you have attended academic conferences to advance your career. If you are a student or new professional it is likely that you have been strongly encouraged to participate. At some point, you may be asked to organize a scholarly meeting. So important are conferences in the United States that the American Council of Learned Societies requires its member organizations to hold these events annually. Conferences foster the networks and intellectual cross-pollination that result in publications, projects, workshops, and other scholarly activities. A conference that occurs annually demonstrates a field’s credibility (critical mass), continuity (the idea that it will build on previous work and gain momentum for the future), and maturity (it will stand the test of time). The conference is a manifestation of the scholarly community—an indication that there is a cohesive group that goes beyond individual institutions and, in many cases, national borders. Read More

The Schaus Swallowtail

*Previously published in Wild Life: The Institution of Nature, by Irus Braverman. © 2015 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Published by Stanford University Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
**The featured image (courtesy of Thomas C. Emmel), taken from the book, shows Schaus swallowtail butterfly number 158, held by Thomas Emmel in 2013. Upon emergence from their sac, every captive adult is marked with a number on the underside of the wing. Schaus swallowtail 158 was marked on the day of her or his first capture, released, and then re-captured several days later.

Today, in this second excerpt from Irus Braverman’s book, the challenges of saving an endangered species are brought into focus. The author would like to dedicate this post to the memory of Thomas Emmel, who passed away in 2018. His passionate work continues to inspire and guide Lepidoptera conservationists the world over.

By Irus Braverman

Thomas Emmel, now a retired University of Florida professor, directed the captive breeding project for more than twenty years. Establishing the program cost $50,000 (“these butterflies are damn expensive,” says Kierán Suckling5), obtained largely from federal sources. Despite the fact that the USFWS recognized the importance of captive propagation, the agency’s preference toward in situ conservation was clearly emphasized throughout. Accordingly, the 1999 federal recovery plan stated: “All future efforts to captively breed Schaus swallowtail butterflies should be conducted in situ in as natural conditions as possible. Preferably, butterflies should be raised in enclosures in suitable habitat within the historic range. Captive propagation efforts closer to release sites are preferable for many species. This would limit transport time and possible difficulties in achieving a successful release.”6 Read More

Insect Profile: The Schaus Swallowtail

By Irus Braverman.

*The follwong text is taken from the book Wild Life: The Institution of Nature, by Irus Braverman. © 2015 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Published by Stanford University Press. Used here with the permission of the publisher.

The Schaus swallowtail (Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus) is a large brown and yellow butterfly endemic to southern Florida. Additional subspecies occur in the Bahamas, Hispaniola, and Cuba. The butterfly is restricted to intact tropical hardwood hammocks and their associated margins.

In 1973, the Schaus swallowtail was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and in 1984, the butterfly’s status was upgraded to endangered,1 making it the only one of more than 573 swallowtail butterfly species to be listed as endangered.2 So widespread in the early 1900s that they were described as bobbing along South Florida’s breezes by the hundreds, the Schaus swallowtails succumbed to habitat destruction and anti-mosquito insecticides sprayed in the region.3 In a serendipitous occurrence, just two months before Hurricane Andrew swept through in 1992, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) granted the University of Florida permission to remove one hundred Schaus swallowtail eggs to serve as the starter nucleus of a large-scale captive propagation program. Following the destruction wrought by the hurricane, the USFWS committed major funding to continue the field surveys and the captive propagation program, as well as to implement experimental reintroductions of the species within protected habitat areas.4

This was not the end of the story for the Schaus Swallowtail. In tomorrow’s installment, author Irus Bravermen will provide an excerpt from her book, Wild Life: The Institution of Nature (Stanford University Press, 2015), in which she recounts her conversation with Thomas Emmel who directed the breeding and reintroduction program. Their in-depth discussions reveal the bureaucratic and other challenges of trying to save an endangered species.


Histories of Women and Energy

Workshop Report (23–25 April 2019, Rachel Carson Center, Munich)

By Ruth Sandwell and Abigail Harrison Moore

Why Women and Energy?

As people around the world slowly take in the connections between the energy-related practices of their daily lives and the planetary threat posed by fossil-fuel-induced climate change, historians are becoming increasingly aware of energy as a discrete force in shaping and changing societies over time. In a parallel move, scholars within energy studies are increasingly acknowledging the importance of the social and historical contexts, as well as the technological and economic, within which energy transitions occur. But the social history of energy transitions remains under-developed, and particularly with regard to gender. We now have a rich and growing analysis of men’s inventions, men’s labor, and men’s planning and development of systems for financing, organizing, selling, running, repairing, and maintaining the new networks of power, particularly electricity, oil, and gas, as well as some very good analyses of the political and economic implications of energy transitions. Though undeniably important topics, and ones that have intersected with women’s lives directly and indirectly, current studies have not left much room for either describing or theorizing the relationships that women have had with their environments, their families, and society more generally through the energy that they produced, processed, and consumed to support themselves and (typically) their families, nor how these changed through a variety of energy transitions. Read More


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.

Anglophone Environmental Writing in Nigeria

By Sule Emmanuel Egya

Before I begin, let me point out that Environmental Humanities is yet to take an institutional shape in Nigeria, as I do not know of any department, institute, or center dedicated to it. Only a few of us are engaged in it, although there is a growing interest in it. We had a great impetus last year in the form of a national conference that I convened on 27–30 June 2018. Sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Bonn, it had the theme “Ecology and the Convergence of the Sciences and the Humanities.” It was the first of its kind in Nigeria, attended by enthusiastic scholars, most of them eager to know more and work within the area of Environmental Humanities. In my contribution to this series, I will give an overview of environmental writing in Nigeria in English, and sketch out how it can be read in a context of environmentalist concern.

When did environmental writing start in Nigeria? There are those who believe that recognition of the connection between environment and writing has a historical marker. This preconception underscores the emergence of ecocriticism as a relatively recent field of study. But it is problematic, in my view, to even think of environmental writing, in Nigeria, in Africa, as a recent phenomenon or as a function of the field of ecocriticism. Environmental writing has existed in Nigeria since the inception of modern Nigerian literature, and has its inspirational roots in the oralities (oral literatures) of Nigeria’s indigenous communities. Read More

Photographs of Turgoyak: Exploring Spiritual Awareness and Eco-resistance

Guest author Francesc Bellaubi is a senior researcher at South Urals State University and is currently collaborating with the chair of environmental ethics from the University of Alcalá de Henares, Spain. He has a background in environmental geology and engineering and experience in providing technical assistance to development agencies, NGOs, research institutes, and civil organizations, with special support towards fair management and governance of environments and natural resources. In this post, he diverges from the technical side of nurturing positive interactions with nature, and introduces us to a sacred place threatened by destructive human activity that has inspired his more recent philosophical work on spiritual human-nature relations. He reflects on how the photographic image could bring us to engage critically with a spiritual dimension, and how the act of taking and viewing photographs within this context can foster attitudes of respect to fellow humans and nature that could inspire spiritual eco-resistance.

*The above featured image shows a view of Lake Turgoyak from Miass city in the Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia. The lake is 60 million years old. Photo: A. Baygusheva, used here with kind permission.


Sacred Turgoyak: Where humans and Nature—past, present, and future—reside

Turgoyak is a small lake at the foot of the Southern Urals: a sacred, megalithic, ancient place and a site of pilgrimage for the Old Orthodox Believers, descendants of the Eastern Russian Orthodox Church. The smaller brother of Lake Baikal, Turgoyak is fed by the River Miass. It is the home of Russian mining colonies, witness to a Soviet missile factory, a forgotten lake for local hunters, and a tourist destination for Muscovites—a fantasy Tarkovsky-film location in which the past and present talk and people are just actors amongst the scenery. The lake cries slowly and quietly and the city close by is, every summer, engulfed by the surrounding forest. The elders walk around and the kids play in abandoned gardens. Read More


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.

“Earth Bodies: Ana Mendieta, Performance Art, and the Environmental Humanities”

By Lisa FitzGerald

imagen de yagul

Imágen de Yágul (Image from Yagul), 1973. Lifetime color photograph, 19 x 12 ½ inches (48 x 32 cm). ©The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC, courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

My art is grounded on the belief in one universal energy which runs through everything; from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy.

My works are the irrigation veins of this universal fluid (Ana Mendieta).

The emergence of the environmental humanities discourse in recent years has instigated a review of conventional methodologies for cultural analysis. Re-reading a text or image can, in many ways, reveal (or at least reconfigure) an insight that speaks as much to contemporary environmental discourse as it does to its historical context. If we apply this point to the images and narratives of the past, we can see, through our (hopefully) more nuanced and objective stance, the undercurrents that made certain artists so relevant. The body art that emerged as a part of the growing feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s broke with convention to forge new ways of representing women’s bodies and is widely recognized for the political and social upheavals it instigated. However, looking at the movement and the artworks within it from the perspective of the environmental humanities also unveils more nuanced relationships to the nonhuman world such as the matter (blood, earth, and fire, for example) that forms the bedrock of the work of Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta. Read More

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