Writing for Change: Can Storytelling Save the Planet?

by Theresa Leisgang (@besal)

Greta has not spent a single Friday in school since the beginning of the year. Little was the Swedish girl to know that one day over a million children in 1,700 places around the world were going to join her, demanding a radical change in climate politics. How did this happen? The story of a 16-year-old on strike went viral.

Greta’s call for new approaches to tackle global warming comes at a time when the United States is withdrawing from the global climate agreement, and when even in Germany, the home of the Energiewende, indifference marks the political climate in the face of rising sea levels. A schoolgirl has succeeded in bringing back discussions about “tipping points” to front pages around the world. Greta has not only inspired other young people to take part in the #FridaysForFuture movement, but her success has also motivated more than 23,000 scientists to support them.

What can the story of Greta Thunberg teach us about dynamics in environmental journalism? Can journalism change the way we look at the environment? Should journalism inform or educate the general public? Should it become a constructive agent for change in society? What role have journalists played in the adoption of environmental policies like the Basel Convention on toxic waste? How can environmental historians, media scholars, and journalists enrich each other’s perspectives? Questions like these were at the core of lively discussions at the Center for Advanced Studies at LMU Munich on 28 and 29 January 2019. Read More

Making Tracks: Politicizing Water Inequalities

By Marcela López

Since I was a child, I have had the opportunity to travel around Colombia with my family and friends, and to explore a wide variety of ecosystems ranging from tropical rainforests to deserts, savannas, and páramos. By traveling through these remote landscapes, I became fascinated not only by nature’s “pristine” character, but also by the large-scale infrastructure projects that were crossing, dissecting and (dis)connecting these landscapes. Dams, highways, water reservoirs, canals, and power lines captured my attention both for their scale, and for the capacity of humans to control and dominate nature. Read More

Book Review: Quest for the Unity of Knowledge, by David Lowenthal

by Eugenio Luciano

“Two modes of understanding dominate the history of ideas. One posits the overarching unity of knowledge, the other cherishes its multifarious diversity. Unity is the goal of those who seek a single all-encompassing explanation of everything. Diversity is lauded by those who commend difference and variety as life-enhancing” (p. 1).

This is the underlying idea through which David Lowenthal explores major themes of pressing social and environmental relevance in Western thinking in his Quest for the Unity of the Knowledge, his last work published before his death in 2018. Is unifying knowledge achievable? Is it desirable? Answering these questions had been the central theme in the divide between the “Two Cultures,” namely the natural sciences and humanities. The natural sciences model the world through the language of mathematics, of “objectiveness” and logical coherence, seeking an ultimate answer or “theory of everything” that could explain worldly phenomena. The humanities, in contrast, emphasize the role of subjective experience, promoting multi-layered explanations of reality, and criticizing what many see as a disenchantment and soullessness that science has brought upon the natural world. Read More

City Environments around the Globe: Past Challenges, Future Visions

Workshop Report (15–16 December 2018, New York University, NY)

The new collaboration between Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU Munich) and New York University (NYU) focuses on understanding urban environments over time, and aims to explore urban issues and challenges via a comparative, transnational, and global framework.

ParticipantsChristof Mausch and Talitta Reitz, Rachel Carson Center/Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich; Sophia Kolantzakos, NYU-Abu Dhabi; and Mary Killilea and Anne Rademacher, NYU-New York.


By Mary Killilea

The day started with an introduction by Anne Rademacher (see her PowerPoint presentation below) on the Killilea–Rademacher collaboration, the NYU Urban Greening Lab. After the presentation, we discussed the potential outcomes of the City Environments around the Globe collaboration.

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Impressions from Kvarken and Vaasa

Nestled between Vaasa in Finland and Umeå in Sweden is a mysterious moving landscape. The geology of the Kvarken Archipelago National Park makes it a dynamic and transient place, yet the recognizable Scandinavian climate and ecology lends it a timeless quality. In 2006 it became Finland’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site due to these unique environments, its slowly transforming landscapes, and the local traditions of its inhabitants.

From 16–21 September 2018, it also hosted a unique group of international scholars during the first ever training event of the Marie Sklodowska Curie (MSCA) Innovative Training Network program, RECOMS: Resourceful and Resilient Communities. The program’s 15 fellows and their mentors, as well as partners from the network, met to discuss future activities of the program, specific topics such as photography, resilience and resourcefulness, identity, and intersectionality, and key skills like leadership, management, and team building.

Among the participants were two RCC early-stage researchers and the institute’s director Christof Mauch. Here, in an excerpt from his diary from the field trip, Christof shares with us some interesting facts and unique impressions of Vaasa and the Kvarken National Park.

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Snapshot: Ecocritics Welcome Here!

On 15 February, the RCC played host to a poster exhibition on ecocriticism. Master’s-level students working with Dr Felicitas Meifert-Menhard from LMU Munich’s English department had spent a semester learning about the wide reach and application of reading literary texts ecologically—not just contemporary texts concerned with anthropogenic climate change, but also much older texts that can help us complicate our ideas about what nature is, or comprehend the complexity of the human relationship with the natural world. Read More

Placing Gender: Gender and Environmental History

Workshop report (10–12 December 2018, La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia). Sponsored by the Rachel Carson Center, Munich; La Trobe University’s Centre for the Study of the Inland; and Monash University.
(*Feature image: MPavilion by Rob Deutscher, 2018, CC BY 2.0, via flickr. MPavilion in Queen Victoria Gardens, Melbourne, is an ongoing series of architecture commissions initiated in 2014.)

By Katie Holmes (La Trobe University, Australia) and Ruth Morgan (Monash University, Australia)

Despite Carolyn Merchant’s provocative 1990 article on gender and environment in the Journal of American History, this multifaceted discipline remains an under-developed area of inquiry. For example, the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) conference in July 2017 hosted just one panel on gender and environmental history, while presentations in the area at the 2017 American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) were similarly sparse. More recently, discussions on social media confirmed that few environmental historians have considered the implications of a gendered analysis for understanding environmental change.

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Anthropocene and Citizen Science

Workshop Report: Anthropocene and Citizen Science: Evidence Gained through the “Opening-up” of Academic Knowledge Production? (19–20 July 2018, Munich)

By Fabienne Will

*Photos courtesy of author

In July 2018, the Deutsches Museum hosted a workshop organized by the two projects Evidence Practices at the Interstice of Sciences, Humanities and the Public: The Anthropocene Debate and Evidence in Citizen Science: Between Non-Certified Expertise, Professional Supervision, and Mechanization, which together form a tandem called Entanglement—Science Communities. Both projects are part of the DFG Research Group 2448, Evidence Practices in Science, Medicine, Technology, and Society. The theme of the workshop was Anthropocene and Citizen Science: Evidence Gained through the “Opening-Up” of Academic Knowledge Production? About 40 scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds—ranging from history to philosophy, politics, sociology, ethics, and art to name only a few—participated in the workshop. Journalist and filmmaker Steve Bradshaw, as well as a poet Daniel Falb were among the participants. Read More

The RCC Goes Bavarian!

With its wealth of alpine environments and cultural traditions, Bavaria calls to diverse audiences that are as rich as its own natural heritage. Through a host of new projects rooted in sharing and comparing Munich, Bavaria, and the Alpine region, the RCC is celebrating the home of its German headquarters as well as strengthening its bonds with a consortium of partners from all over the world.  Read More

Environmental Histories of the Brazilian Cerrado

By Claiton Marcio da Silva

*All images courtesy of the author, taken 2013 (unless otherwise specified). Featured image: Road to the Espírito Santo belvedere, Jalapão State Park, Tocantins

The Brazilian Cerrado made me an environmental historian.

My interest in the agricultural transformations in Brazilian savannas—a biome located in the central part of Brazil that extends over an area of approximately 2.000.000 km²—started when I left the southern and subtropical regions of the country to seek employment in the mythical Brazilian backwoods. For seven years, I lived on the border between the Cerrado and the Amazon, north of Tocantins State, and witnessed the intense environmental transformations the region suffered, mostly as a result of increasing soybean crops. Just as the land has been transformed, so has my relationship with it. The intense shapes, colors, textures, flavors, and smells that characterize this mysterious landscape have shaped my own experiences of this place. Many fond years spent here, and my lively memories, have made Cerrados a fascinating research object for me. Read More