Uses of Environmental Humanities: Salma Monani

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.

“Four Ways of Seeing the Uses of Ecomedia Studies”[1]

By Salma Monani, Gettysburg College

Digital media permeates everyday life worldwide. All across the globe, from New York City to Nome,  from Nanjing to Mankosi, people can pull out a smart phone, tap on its screen, and access not only written words and photographs but also films, video games, and a host of other interactive and mixed media. As someone who remembers a time before such everyday access, who is uncomfortably a “digital immigrant,”[2] and spent my childhood without a computer (let alone a cell phone), I’m tempted to think about such media the way so many environmentalists have engaged technology for what seems like an eternity—with alarm at “the end of nature” and hand-wringing about “nature deficit order.” There is, of course, a tired hypocrisy to such declarations. Like so many others, I use digital media more than I don’t—not only for work but for play, sociality, and retreat. And, since I’m not alone in my use but rather one of over 2.1 billion people who owns a smart phone, there’s got to be some use in thinking about digital media in more than terms of gloomy (and doomy) binaries of technology versus Nature. This is the project of ecomedia studies. The field explores both digital and analog media through ecocritical lenses, and encourages interrogation of the entanglements of nature and culture that mark our everyday use of media.[3] Below I reflect on various uses of the field, bringing my own personal interest in the value of Indigenous media and its insights to the fore.

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(Um)Weltschmerz: An Exercise in Humility and Melancholia

Conference Report (7–20 October 2018, Munich)

Nearly three years to the day after the Marie Curie ENHANCE ITN’s official kick-off  in Munich, a final conference titled (Um)Weltschmerz: An Exercise in Humility and Melancholia marked the official end of the program. After three years of intensive collaboration, the wide variety of academic disciplines and topics of the twelve doctoral researchers of ENHANCE came together in a four-day conference. The title (Um)Weltschmerz, a conjunction of Umwelt (environment) and Weltschmerz (the suffering of being in the world)—and a play on the recent term solastalgia—connotes the emotions felt for changing environments that were explored in this conference from a variety of perspectives.

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City Environments around the Globe: Past Challenges, Future Visions

Conference Report (10–12 February 2019, New York University, Abu Dhabi)

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. The second installment took place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

By Elena Torres Ruiz

We kicked off the workshop with an early-morning exploration of Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangroves. Our guide John Burt (Biology, NYUAD) elaborated on the relevance of such coastal ecosystems: Over half the human population lives within 100 km of a coast, and coastlines contain more than two-thirds of the world’s largest cities. As a result, humans have substantially modified the world’s natural coastal environments to suit their needs. Kayaking through the mangroves, we observed a stunning diversity of birds, the shallow waters alive with crustaceans and fry, mangrove roots lining the edges of sandbanks, and finally, construction equipment signaling the impending transformation of these habitats. John elaborated on the extraordinariness of these fragile, yet adaptive, systems that have suffered from human intervention as well as benefitted from it by way of increased access to nutrients and freshwater. Read More

Snapshot: Valeria Berros Wins Berta Càceres Award

At the 2nd Conference for the Defense of the Environment and Good Living, alumna Valeria Berros was among the recipients of the Berta Cáceres Award, conferred by the Network of Women Defenders of the Environment and Good Living (RedDABV), together with authorities of the Argentinian senate. Named for the Honduran environmental activist and feminist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in 2016, the award recognizes women’s achievements in defending human and environmental rights. Read More

The Uses of Environmental Humanities

By Samantha Rothbart

*Featured image: “Leaving the opera in the year 2000,” a futuristic depiction of Paris. Hand-colored lithograph by Albert Robida (late 19th century).
La Paresse (“Laziness”) by Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton, via Wikimedia Commons.

Years ago, when I began the daunting task of deciding what to study university, it seemed that everyone around me was warning against the frivolity of a humanities degree. If I wanted to go down that route, I’d become a penniless writer, an actor down on her luck, or join the ranks of unemployable historians, anthropologists, or sociologists milling idly about. What exactly did such people do? How did they live? Without a business degree, I was told, my future looked grim. Those same people would likely have scoffed upon even hearing the term “Environmental Humanities,” never mind discovering that it is an actual field of study in which one can obtain a degree. Big environmental problems needed scientists and engineers to solve them. What could the Environmental Humanities possibly be good for? As it turns out, rather a lot. Read More

“Fridays for Future” and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Daniel Dumas and Maryam Tatari

*Featured image: The rain did not keep people from assembling for the Fridays for Future march in Munich. Photo: Geoffrey Craig.

On 15 March this year, 1.5 million people—young students in particular—took to the streets around the world to protest for climate justice, as part of the Fridays for Future (FFF) movement. Since last summer, when 16-year-old Swedish high-school student Greta Thunberg started “skipping” class each Friday to protest her government’s inadequate action to address climate change, FFF has grown into a global movement. FFF brings together young students (and many others) who are worried about their future and are fed up with global leaders’ relative lack of action to curtail pollution and environmental destruction. Read More

Ecologizing Urban Ontologies in the Anthropocene

MCTS-Forum Workshop Report (17 November, 2018, Munich)

By Nika Pitkänen

In November 2018, the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS) of the TUM, the Rachel Carson Center (RCC) of the LMU, and Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (HFF) hosted an interdisciplinary Workshop titled Ecologizing Urban Ontologies in the Anthropocene. On the evening of 16 November 2018, Karin Jurschick (HFF) hosted a screening of the film Natura Urbana, directed by urban geographer Matthew Gandy (Cambridge University). The following transdisciplinary discussion with students and fellows of all participating institutions formed the base for the Workshop the following day.


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Picking Hops in Nineteenth-Century Wisconsin

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

*Feature image: Group of men, women, and children gathered in a hop field, possibly that of Paul Saavles. Image ID 26259, 1874, by Andreas Larsen Dahl. Newark, Rock County, Wisconsin. Used with the kind permission of Wisconsin Historical Society,

By Jennifer Jordan

From 1873 to 1879, in Dellona, Wisconsin, Ella Seymour kept a sporadic record of her life. Her careful handwriting curled across the blue and red lines of the little ledger she used as a diary. She recounted the weather, illness, chores, and visits like so many of her fellow diarists of the nineteenth century. She reports: “We arranged beds, cleaned windows, and Ida mopped some. Ma and I took care of Arthur [presumably a little brother] by turns in the night.” On 31 August, she washed, ironed, and churned. On 1 September, she ironed and baked. And on 3 September, she picked 1 ½ boxes of hops.

Photo by author. Ella Seymour’s diary, Seymour Family files, Wisconsin Historical Society Archive, M93-113, Box 1.

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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