Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Day 1. The Danube Excursion: Munich—Deggendorf

Written by David Stäblein


Munich —> Winzer —> Mühlham —> Deggendorf


The bus ride from Munich to Deggendorf along the Isar river

The landscape en route from Munich to Deggendorf is dominated by the flat valley of the river Isar. The river has carried a lot of material from the Alps to the lower part of the river near Deggendorf. This is the reason the soil here consists of an eight-meter-thick layer of river sediment. The Isar valley is surrounded by hills, in a landscape where erodible brown soil has been heavily deposited. The colluvium from this landscape, combined with the river sediments, makes the area the perfect place for agriculture (primarily sugar beet and corn). The Mühlbogental is an area near Deggendorf which has become the focus of concentrated industry; here lies a paper mill, as well as a BMW production site that was built on subsidies to discourage migration out of the region.

To the south of Deggendorf the Isar flows into the Danube (Donau in German), which was, in former days, only constrained in its meandering by the Bavarian Forest (a cool, infertile, and mountainous range dominated by gneiss) in the north east. Today, many dikes bound the naturally wandering landscape of the Danube, and the ancient current is limited by a row of hydropower plants spanning the whole of the Danube’s course through Bavaria. Together, the hydropower plants in Bavaria produce around 15 percent of Germany’s electricity supply. All the best spots for these plants have been occupied, which means that the expansion of hydropower is only possible if the plants become more efficient (to reach the goal of 17 percent). The flood defenses around Deggendorf were first installed in the 18th century and have since been expanded and modernized. Throughout the year (especially around June and August) numerous small flood events (below HQ 30) hit the area, but the dikes and polders usually prevent severe damage to surrounding communities. Continue reading


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Knowing Nature: The Changing Foundations of Environmental Knowledge

Conference Report (Beijing, China, 25–27 May 2017)

By Katrin Kleemann

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Photo: Katrin Kleemann.

Historians like traditions and they like to invent them. Helmuth Trischler, director of the Rachel Carson Center and head of research at the Deutsches Museum, made this remark as he looked back at the conference’s five-year history. In May 2017, international scholars came together in China for the fifth time since 2012 to discuss environmental history. Jointly organized by the Center for Ecological History (CEH), the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (RCC), the conference took place in Beijing at the Renmin University of China from 25 to 27 May. Its 24 participants came from North and South America, Africa, Europe, and of course Asia.

The opening ceremony included welcoming remarks by several prominent faculty members of Renmin University: Vice President Dayong Hong; Xingtao Huang, dean of the School of History; and Mingfang Xia, director of the CEH and a senior professor in the School of History. Shen Hou, deputy director of the CEH and associate professor of history at the university, provided translations both during the opening ceremony and throughout the conference. Continue reading


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Household Consumption and Environmental Change in the Twentieth Century

30–31 May 2017, Bologna, Italy

In May 2017, the University of Bologna’s Department of History and Culture hosted a workshop entitled “Household Consumption and Environmental Change in the Twentieth Century.” The workshop was co-convened by RCC alumnus Giacomo Parrinello (Sciences Po, Paris) and professor of contemporary history Paolo Capuzzo (University of Bologna). The event was co-sponsored by the RCC and the University of Bologna. Twelve scholars from the US, Germany, and Italy convened to discuss the links between consumer culture (and practices) in the household and ecological transformations on multiple spatial and temporal scales.

By Giacomo Parrinello

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The papers, all pre-circulated in advance, were grouped into three panels: food and the kitchen, household technologies, and energy and the home. The three panels were preceded by an introduction by the conveners, which presented the central concern of the workshop: the apparent contradiction between awareness of negative ecological impact of mass consumption and the affects and identities embedded in consumer practices. Continue reading


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Paradigm Shifts in Environmental Thinking: Autonomous Nature by Carolyn Merchant

by Yan Gao

Carolyn Merchant’s book Autonomous Nature traces paradigmatic shifts in environmental thinking from a long-term perspective. Derived from her ever-enduring interest in and perpetual investigations of chaos and complexity theories, Merchant probes into the roots and evolution of the terms natura naturans (“Nature naturing,” or nature creating, evolving, and changing) and natura naturata (“Nature natured,” or nature as experienced in the everyday world) from ancient times through the Scientific Revolution. In so doing, she argues that we should re-conceptualize the human-nature relationship not as one of order and predictability but as one of unruliness and unpredictability. This beautifully written book not only offers a new way to understand the interdependencies between the human and non-human world, but also provides insights into tangible issues such as climate change and environmental justice in the twenty-first century.

The book has two parts. Part I is entitled “Autonomous Nature,” in which Merchant examines natural disasters and the roots of a dualistic Nature—Nature as an unpredictable, disorderly, ever-changing force and Nature as predictable everyday events—in Greco-Roman philosophy, medieval Christian thought, and the Renaissance. Each of the three chapters in Part I starts with a catastrophe, including the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, a major earthquake in northern Italy in 1348, and the bubonic plague outbreaks of the fourteenth century, and then she proceeds to examine how key philosophers, artists, and writers have conceptualized Nature and how the contemporaries of the catastrophes she explores understood the dialectical relationship between natura naturans and natura naturata. Merchant notes that the economic, technological, and intellectual advances in the period from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance gave rise to human confidence in controlling Nature, which sets the stage for Part II.

The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum 1822, restored 2011 by John Martin 1789-1854

John Martin; The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Photographic Rights © Tate (1822, restored 2011), available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) licencehttp://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/martin-the-destruction-of-pompei-and-herculaneum-n00793.

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Student Research: Gardeners

By Veronika Degmayr (Environmental Studies Certificate Program)

Whether you’re an academic in the environmental field, an environmental activist, or just a person concerned about the state of our environment, you might at times wonder what good all that science, research, and activism is really doing. How far do published papers actually reach? Do we get to talk about our concerns with the right people; the ones who are not already convinced something “should be done about the environment”? Or are we—the concerned members of society—just trading information amongst each other without convincing anyone else, and without creating significant change to the “outside” world?

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“It’s great to go into your garden and eat a carrot. You are proud that something has grown there. Being able to harvest something is most important to me.”– Marianne. Photo: Veronika Degmayr.

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CfA: Environmental Studies Certificate Program

We are currently accepting applications for the Environmental Studies Certificate Program starting in the winter semester 2015/16. Applications received before 30 September 2015 will be considered.

The Environmental Studies Certificate Program provides LMU students from all disciplines with the opportunity to gain an additional interdisciplinary qualification in environmental studies. The certificate course runs in parallel to your degree studies. Its international and interdisciplinary format and the workshops and lectures delivered by environmental researchers from all over the globe make this program one of a kind in Germany.The program opens up new intellectual horizons, new career possibilities, and, in bringing students into dialogue with different disciplines, new perspectives on our academic environments. Regular contact with supervisors, excellent teaching, and a high level of internationality provide ideal conditions for learning. The past two semesters have also included a place-based retreat.

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Professor Markus Vogt presents to students on the Environmental Studies Certificate Program retreat. Photograph: Robert Emmett.

The certificate program is open to all Masters students, Diplom students and those studying Lehramt and towards their Staatsexamen at LMU Munich. The qualification, which is made up of 33 ECTS-credits spread across four semesters, is studied alongside the main degree subject. It allows students to look beyond the confines of their discipline during their degree course itself and gives them a broader disciplinary base that is appreciated by employers both inside and outside of academia.


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Making Tracks: Maurits Ertsen

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.

“When Not a Tree Hugger, Is One a Tree Hater?” (paraphrasing Doug Coupland)

by Maurits Ertsen

I am not an environmentalist. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that I don’t care about environmental issues, or that current agricultural or other production systems should continue irrespective of their environmental and social costs. What I mean is that my work does not consider the environment as a threatened category, or that my motivation for studying the dynamics of human-environment interactions in water systems originates from worries about deteriorating lakes, rivers, or seas. I just want to know how to understand those dynamics. Continue reading