CfP: The Nature of Health, the Health of Nature: Perspectives from History and the Humanities

Conference – Renmin University of China, Beijing, China, 30.05.2019–01.06.2018
Location: Renmin University of China, Beijing, China
Sponsors: Center for Ecological History, Renmin University of China, and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

Since Rachel Carson’s path-breaking book Silent Spring (1962), many experts and citizens have been trying to understand how the health of nature and of human beings are related in the past, present, and future. Old concepts of disease and illness have been challenged by more holistic approaches that link humans to their environmental conditions. Toxic residues in the air, water, and soil have moved to the forefront of medical analysis, while ecologists have tried to define what a “healthy ecosystem” or “a healthy Earth” might mean.

This workshop will bring scholars to address such questions as these:

  • How have definitions of health changed over time, and how have politics, science, religion, and other forces influenced those definitions?
  • What connections have different cultures and societies made between the human body and nature in the past?
  • How have discourses on human health and imaginaries of environmental degradation and planetary decay been linked? What effect have planetary trends such as climate change had on human and nonhuman health?

The conference will be open to all ranks of scholars, from graduate students to senior professors to independents. Participants will be selected competitively. Those interested in attending should send a one-page proposal (or about 300 words) and include a title and a one- or two-page CV. Please send your proposal (in English or Chinese) to this Rachel Carson Center address:

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Pushing Wine in a “Bierland”: The Case of East Germany

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

By John Gillespie

In some way or another, all modern states establish alcohol policies. One important question in any study of these systems is whether or not the type of drink makes any difference. Most histories on this subject have focused on extreme and well-known examples of state alcohol policy in the recent past, especially the implementation of national prohibition in 1920s America, or the anti-alcoholism battles of the young Soviet Union. There is, however, another uniquely interesting yet little-explored case study of conflict between government control of drinking habits and the weight of cultural and social tradition: the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

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CfA: Early Stage (Doctoral) Researcher


Early Stage Researcher (Doctoral Researcher) Position:
Transforming the Bavarian Forest: Socio-ecological Crises, Community Resilience, and Sustainability from a Historical Perspective

The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society is seeking a highly motivated Early Stage Researcher (ESR) to undertake doctoral studies and participate in a broad range of scientific and professional training as part of an H2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network in Resourceful and Resilient Community Environmental Practice (RECOMS).


RECOMS is comprised of a transdisciplinary consortium of scientists, practitioners and change agents from eleven public (universities and government research centres), private and non-profit organisations, located in six European Union countries: Austria, Belgium, England, Finland, Germany, and The Netherlands. It is funded by the European Commission (2018–2022). The purpose of RECOMS is to train 15 ESRs (doctoral candidates) in innovative, transdisciplinary, and transformative approaches to promoting and facilitating resourceful and resilient community environmental practice. By delivering an advanced programme of training in both scientific and professional skills, RECOMS will enable ESRs to pursue an academic career or high-level professional career in the public, private, or third sector (e.g. government, university, NGO, consultancy, business or charitable body).
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For a Dignified Life

Hazardous Hope Part 1

“Remediation Practices in Ecuador”

by Maximilian Feichtner

(*Featured image © Theresa Leisgang)

Like a tiny mushroom, hope is growing in the once-lush rain forest of the Amazon in northeastern Ecuador: bioremediation as a solution to the extensive environmental contamination. It is a hazardous hope, however. Hazardous because it relates to a dangerous place—over the course of more than 50 years of intense settler colonization and careless hydrocarbon exploitation, the region has turned into a vast agricultural landscape nourished by polluted soils and rivers. Just as the tropical landscape has been deteriorating since the advent of oil production in the 1960s, so too is the health of the local population. Settlers, indigenous people, and wild and domestic animals are suffering from the contamination caused by decades-old oil pits, ongoing gas flaring, and almost weekly oil spills. Many of the local population’s stories are tragic: lost family members, malformed babies, and no means to overcome the contamination that pervades daily life.

Another reason that this tiny hope can be framed as hazardous is that hope itself is under siege. The local population has been deceived repeatedly—with blatant lies denying the dangers of oil production, as well as with broken promises to halt pollution. Nonetheless, cautious hope remains that the environmental contamination might be remediated, making it possible for the inhabitants of the Ecuadorian Amazon to lead a dignified life once more. Read More

Job Opening: Director of Graduate Programs

The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (RCC) at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich (LMU Munich) is looking for a Director of Graduate Programs in Environment and Society. The RCC has two structured graduate programs: a Master’s level certificate program in Environmental Studies and a doctoral program in Environment and Society. Together these create a community of more than a hundred graduate students from a range of disciplines and backgrounds.
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Hazardous Hope—The Debate

“An Academic Play in One Act”

by Simone M. Müller, Ayushi Dhawan, Maximilian Feichtner, and Jonas Stuck

[Four scholars stare at their computers. They enter the virtual stage through Skype. It’s a global conversation crossing 3,5 continents, 4 countries, and 3 time zones: it’s the middle of the night in one place, early morning in another, midday somewhere else. All four are worn out by the heat of the day, overdue deadlines, and exhaustion from working in murky archives. They nod or wave at their screens. One is looking for a power cord. Eventually, they’re all set up.]

Simone: … so, next on our agenda is our blog series on “Hazardous Hope”… Hmm… The oil-ridden rainforests of Ecuador might be a good place to start our conversation. It truly appears to be a hazardous and rather dispirited place, Maxl…

Maxl: Yes, it already looks bad enough at first sight, but if you dig deeper, it’s a real social and environmental disaster. Decades of ruthless oil exploitation by private and public companies, together with large-scale settler colonization have created a desperate situation for the local population. The contamination has caused the highest cancer rate in the country, and massive deforestation and high unemployment rates present almost insuperable challenges to indigenous and settler communities. The locals are left in poverty in a degraded environment, while the profits are distributed elsewhere. Read More

Eden Park: The Birth of an Iconic Midwestern Municipal Park

*Featured image: Eden Park reservoir, Cincinnati, Ohio. Image courtesy of The New York Public Library.

Guest post by Kathleen Smythe

As you walk into Eden Park, one of the first things you encounter is the remains of a double basin reservoir—its walls more often than not being scaled by recreational climbers. The reservoir was removed in the 1960s and the land was used to develop Mirror Lake, beneath which another reservoir (still in use) stands. But the park has become home to much more than just the reservoirs. Mirror Lake forms the tranquil backdrop of the iconic Spring House Gazebo—one of the longest-standing structures in a Cincinnati park—which replaced the original spring house that once stood there. The park also contains a number of landmarks, including an art museum, a theater, and conservatory, and boasts beautiful views of the Ohio River and twin lakes, where an old limestone quarry used to be. Looking at this charming urban oasis, it is difficult to believe that the land was once nothing more than a bleak hilltop. It is even more curious to learn that its transformation was spurred by one man and an unlikely collaborator: the Catawba grape. Read More


Climate activists left their mark early yesterday morning on Marienplatz in protest against the clearing of the Hambach Forest, and the forced evictions that began last week. Police soon arrived and began to issue citations.

Since 2012, activists have occupied the forest, where German energy giant RWE plans to expand its open-pit lignite mine—one of the largest in Europe. RWE intends to clear half of the remaining forest from mid-October, threatening its rich biodiversity (including several protected plant and animal species). Some activist organizations have insisted that RWE halt the evictions until Germany’s coal exit commission has presented its final report in December this year, which is to include an end date for coal usage in Germany.


Unsettling Landscapes and Imaginations

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 Tony Weis

*All images courtesy of the author

I come from the settler-colonial nation of Canada, in a part of southwestern Ontario that sits upon the traditional territories of the Attawandaron, Anishnaabee, Haudenosaunee, and Leni-Lunaape Peoples. Today, nine First Nations reserves together control just over one percent of all land in southwestern Ontario. The landscape must have been beautiful, and still is in small patches, especially along river valleys and lake shores.

The one hundred kilometers between where I grew up, in Waterloo, and where I now live, in London, lies mostly in the Carolinian ecozone, which is severely threatened and home to a disproportionate share of Canada’s endangered species. Most of the large animal species were extirpated long ago with European conquest and farming, and the landscape is now dominated by suburban sprawl, highways, factories, strip-malls, and, most of all, large grain and oilseed monocultures and sheds full of intensively produced pigs, chickens, turkeys, and cows, which people rarely see alive—unless its in the backs of transport trucks, when these animals are on their way to slaughter. Growing up in middle-class suburbia, I thought little of the environment that surrounded me, the history of dispossession it was built on, or the social, ecological, and interspecies relations it concealed. Suburbia is an intensely alienating place in many ways. Read More

Fixing a Nation’s Plumbing II: What We Choose to Ignore

by Vikas Lakhani

This is the second post about India’s National River Linking Project. Read the first part here.

As has been clear in the previous post, I see several fundamental objections to the NRLP. First and foremost, environmentalists have rightly raised serious concerns about the ecological consequences of this grand scheme. They argue that the water storage structures constructed under the NRLP would dramatically alter the supply of nutrients and sediments that are vital for the survival of ecosystems downstream. In addition, the rivers would lose their ability to flush out the rising salinity in the Bay of Bengal. The pilot project of linking the Ken and Betwa Rivers in central India would mean felling millions of trees in the Panna Tiger Reserve. Recently, the Supreme Court granted permission for the pilot to go ahead. With this Supreme Court mandate to carry on the project in the “national interest,” the future of the big cats and the park’s delicate ecosystem remains in peril. Read More