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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Danube: Environments, Histories, and Cultures

A Place-Based Workshop

4–11 June 2017

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Route along the Danube. Photo modified from David McGregor, CC BY-SA 2.0

Winding through Central and Eastern Europe, the once longstanding frontier of the Roman empire, the Danube, has carved its way into the landscapes and cultures of the countries it traverses. But the marks of humans, imprints of the Anthropocene, are also clearly visible on the river itself—and on the ecologies and landscapes surrounding it. By uncovering and reading landmarks across time and place, the interactions between societies and rivers can be recounted from different perspectives as multifaceted environmental histories. Continue reading


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Transitions in Energy Landscapes and Everyday Life in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

27–29 April 2017, Munich, Germany

A report on the workshop sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), Rachel Carson Center, and the Deutsches Museum (Germany), convened by Heather Chappells (University of British Columbia), Vanessa Taylor (University of Greenwich), Frank Trentmann (Birkbeck College), Helmuth Trischler (Deutsches Museum), and Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center).
By Vanessa Taylor and Heather Chappells

 

The modernizing force of electricity, symbolized by pylons traversing the countryside to transform urban and rural space, is a recurrent theme in narratives of twentieth-century energy transition. This workshop aimed to consider wider interpretations of landscape across scales— from mega-structures to micro-grids, from the home to the hearth— to understand energy landscapes from an everyday perspective. With participants from a wide range of disciplines we explored the symbolic meaning, socio-political construction, and material manifestations of energy transitions across space and time. We wanted to conceptualize consumers and communities as entangled in and shaping energy landscapes, not as bystanders in evolving socio-technical networks. How, we asked, have people engaged with these landscapes over time in their roles as energy users and producers, consumers and citizens in the everyday contexts of home, work, and leisure?

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Snapshot: Human Evolution Workshop

By Christian Schnurr

The evolution of the genus Homo was influenced in part by the landscape in which early hominins lived. Important archaeological sites are often located in areas with very rough terrain and a rich supply of nutrients and trace elements. These two features could have led wandering animals on paths where early hominins could track them down and hunt them. Furthermore, the rough terrain made it easier for our ancestors to find shelter from predators.

The Lonetal area in the Swabian Alb is famous for its many artifacts from the Aurignacian culture (ca. 40,000–30,000 years ago). Among the discoveries are the oldest sculptures ever found, including a mammoth as well as a lion sculpture, both made out of mammoth ivory. Other findings include fragments of flutes that belong to the oldest humankind has made.

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The workshop group: (from left to right) Christian Schnurr, Simon Kübler, Frank Brown, Geoffrey King, Geoff Bailey, and Anke Friedrich.

These photos were taken during a workshop held by the Rachel Carson Center and LMU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences for students of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program. The field trip to the Swabian Alb included talks by Frank Brown (University of Utah), Geoffrey King (IPG Paris), Simon Kübler (LMU), Geoff Bailey (University of York), and Anke Friedrich (LMU).


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The Future of Wild Europe

Conference Report (The University of Leeds, UK, 12–14 September 2016)

By Roger Norum

A version of this report was first published  17 October 2016 on ENHANCE ITN.


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This three-day conference was the first of three large events for the ENHANCE ITN (The Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe Innovative Training Network), a three-year Marie Skłodowska-Curie doctoral research program convened by the University of Leeds, the Rachel Carson Center at LMU Munich, and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Because ENHANCE is an inherently interdisciplinary project, we decided to organize the conference around a theme that would not just appeal to both social scientists and humanities scholars, but that would also showcase current research by young and emerging scholars across disparate fields, while also questioning the configurations of the very categories and concepts we use to talk about the environment in the context of a changing Europe—and beyond. Continue reading


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Worldview: Antarctica

by Ingo Heidbrink

Antarctica is the only continent with a permanent population of zero, and it has a strong international regulation system governing human activities from research to tourism. One might question whether an environmental history of Antarctica, beyond natural history, could therefore even be possible. While I am no native or citizen of Antarctica—these categories do simply not exist—having traveled more than once to the frozen continent and performed historical research I think I can provide some idea of its environmental history. Continue reading


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Photo of the Week: Anna Rühl

Ger district on the outskirts of Ulaanbataar, the capital of Mongolia. Photography by Anna Rühl.

Ger district on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Photograph: Anna Rühl.

With over 250 days of sunshine a year, Mongolians call their country the Land of the Blue Sky. Except sometimes it’s not. On a winter’s day in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar—home to approximately half of the country’s population of three million—air pollution can be so bad that the weather forecast reads “smoke,” and it feels and smells as if you could cure meat just by leaving it outdoors.

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