Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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Call for Papers: The Environmental History of the Pacific World

Conference – Sun Yat Sen University, Guangzhou, China

24 May – 26 May 2018

Location: Sun Yat Sen University, Guangzhou, China

Sponsors: The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich; Department of History and The Center for Oceania Studies, Sun Yat Sen University, Guangzhou; The Center for Ecological History, Renmin University of China, Beijing.

pacific world

The Pacific Ocean is the ancient outcome of plate tectonic movement, creating one of the largest eco-regions on earth. Although navigators explored those waters early on, and peoples spread to all the ocean’s shores and penetrated as far into the center as the Hawaiian archipelago, it was not until the 16th century that the great body of water was discovered as a whole and mapped at a global scale. Since then, the Pacific has become a place of increasing human-nature interaction—through international trade, warfare, cultural interchange, and extraction of resources. Our conference aims to bring this ocean more fully into the discourse of environmental historians.

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Making Tracks: Axel Goodbody

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.

“From Romantic Poetry to Contemporary Fiction and Climate Discourse” 

by Axel Goodbody

My task at the Rachel Carson Center has been to investigate what is generally referred to as climate denial or skepticism—in its most extreme form, this constitutes disputing the existence of global warming or its anthropogenic origins; more commonly it is the querying of its consequences. Most common of all is an in-principle acceptance of all of these points, but rejection of their implications for individuals’ life choices, and opposition to the restriction of individual freedom associated with most climate policy. More specifically, I have been concerned with how skepticism in Germany relates to that in other countries, the arguments of German skeptics, and their understandings of self and others, science, and nature. Research into climate skepticism has so far concentrated on the political structures and economic interests behind it (especially in the United States), and tended to assume that skeptics are either devious or deluded. Applying methods of textual analysis and literary ecocriticism to selected texts from the German media, popular science, and political discourse, it was my aim to examine the formations that have shaped climate skeptics’ perceptions of nature and how we should interact with it—contributing thereby to a better understanding of their motivation, and hopefully to a less confrontational and more fruitful engagement with their positions.


Immersed in research. Photograph: Tim Mitchell.

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CfA: RCC Fellowships 2016–17

The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society invites applications for its 2016–17 cohort of postdoctoral and senior fellows. The fellowship program is designed to bring together excellent scholars who are working in environmental history and related disciplines.

The center will award fellowships to scholars from a variety of countries and disciplines. Applicants’ research and writing should pertain to the central theme of the RCC: transformations in environment and society. Research at the RCC is concerned with questions of the interrelationship between environmental and social changes, and in particular the reasons—social, political, cultural, and environmental factors—for these transformations.

The RCC awards five types of fellowships:

  • Carson Writing Fellowships
  • Interdisciplinary Writing Fellowships
  • Outreach Fellowships
  • Short-term Fellowships
  • Alumni Fellowships

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Material Matters: A Report on the 8th Biennial ASLE-UKI Conference

By Nicole Seymour

Thanks to the Rachel Carson Center, I was able to attend the ASLE-UKI (Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, UK and Ireland chapter) conference last month at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England. As a regular attendee of the main ASLE conference—which brings hordes of fleece-and-sandal-wearing professors to US and Canadian locations every other year—it was a special treat to explore literature and environment issues in a more intimate context. I was particularly excited to encounter innovative ideas and approaches such as Tonia Raquejo’s concept of “sound-landscapes” and Isabelle Hoving’s ecocritical readings of Japanese animation. Poetry and poetics were particularly well-represented at the conference, as was the crucial new concept of the “Anthropocene,” and an interest in water—perhaps a sign that the so-called “blue cultural studies” (Steven Mentz) is well underway.

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“Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw”: Jiang Rong’s “Wolf Totem”

Post by Brenda Black

Jiang Rong’s autobiographical novel Wolf Totem was one of the group reads for the Global Environment Summer Academy held at the Rachel Carson Center last August. It recounts the experiences of a Chinese college student, Chen Zhen (the author’s alter ego), sent to live among the nomadic herders of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. The young man is fascinated by the grasslands and the customs and culture of the people he is living among. The sheepherders live in constant conflict with the wolves as they try to protect their herds from attacks by the hungry animals, but also honor and revere them, returning their dead to the heavens (“sky burial”) through the agency of the wolves. This world is in danger, however, from the Chinese government, which is sending immigrants to settle and plow the grasslands in order to help feed China’s growing population.

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