Counter Nature(s): Revising Nature in an Era of Environmental Crisis

The Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (NIES) in partnership with the Department of English and the Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS) at Uppsala University are pleased to sponsor a major interdisciplinary research symposium in Uppsala featuring 30 researchers from 10 countries collectively representing more than a dozen academic disciplines.

This international symposium has been made possible in large measure through the generous support of The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond), as well as through the local support of Kungl. Humanistiska Vetenskaps-Samfundet i Uppsala, the Forum for Advanced Studies in Arts, Languages and Theology (SALT), the CEMUS Research Forum (CEFO) and the American Literature Research Section of the Department of English at Uppsala University.


Project Green Oslo

The Oslo Committee of the Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (NIES) in partnership with the City of Oslo are pleased to announce an interdisciplinary research symposium in Oslo.

This international symposium has been made possible by the financial support of The Norwegian Research Council and the City of Oslo, as well as through the local support of the departments in which members of the Oslo committee have their positions. The Oslo Committee of NIES consists of Karen Lykke Syse, Kine Thoren, Mark Brown, Mark Luccarelli and Per Gunnar Røe.

The project is organised in two stages. First, there will be a symposium in June 2010 in Oslo. This symposium will, among other things provide the material necessary for the production of a book which is scheduled for publishing in June 2011.

For more information on this symposium, please visit Green Oslo.

Nature-writing 'mini-conference' - 2006

NIES arranged a one-day 'mini-conference' - “Writing and Thinking about Nature and American Culture in a Comparative Perspective” on 30th September 2006. The papers that were presented at this conference were edited by Mark Luccarelli and appeared in the Fall of 2007 in a special edition of the Journal of American Studies in Scandinavia.

European Association of American Studies (EAAS) workshop - 2008

The EAAS conference was held in Oslo from 9 - 12 May 2008. The NIES-inspired workshop was entitled "Nature Representation and the Geo-Environmental Development of the USA." It was chaired by Mark Luccarelli and Steve Hartman. A brief summary of the workshop follows.

The workshop combined literary and historical/social-science approaches to related questions concerning: 1) the implications of a conception of landscape consistent with Van Wyck Brooks’s observation that America is “half-built”—a landscape alternating between unmediated poles of dynamism and destruction, “life and death”; and 2) the potential of pastoral projects, in a variety of forms, to help reconceptualize America and its native landscape(s). The responses might be classified broadly into two categories. Three papers took on the theme of decay and destruction of the landscape, arriving at startlingly similar conclusions, while the remaining contributions debated the impacts and to some degree even the legitimacy of American pastoral projects.

Eric Sandeen presented work by photographers Robert Adams and Camilo Vergara, the former mapping the expansion of Denver suburbs in the 1970s and the latter chronicling the decay of neighborhoods in a near-Detroit suburb over several years in the 1980s; striking hybrid environments emerge in both cases, as Adams’ work presents a technologized, capitalistic culture that imprints its value on the land at the fringe of metropolis, while Vergara’s work seems to confirm nature’s reemergence closer to the heart of metropolis, with the establishment of a “stabilized ruin” as only one of many possible consequences. With reference to a geographical spread of historical precedents, such as the Love Canal tragedy in the 1970s, as well as illustrations drawn from environmental apocalyptic literature such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, David Nye introduced his notion of the “anti-landscape” as denoting landscapes rendered incapable of supporting human communities. Likewise Erik Kielland-Lund explored the apocalyptic landscape of Don DeLillo’s Underworld in which the hyper-real supersedes reality.

Fredik Brøgger and Ekaterina Stetsenko chose to focus on problematic contradictions and limitations of American literary ecocentrism. Brøgger argues that key culturalizations of the concept of nature’s wildness—as synonymous, for instance, with freedom—have served in effect to prevent the evolution of an effective environmental politics, especially insofar as they have been powerfully validated in the American nature writing tradition by such central figures as Henry David Thoreau and Gary Snyder; Stetsenko, on the other hand, criticizes “the movement from civilization to nature” purportedly evident in the contemporary American novel’s “synthetic ecological consciousness,” as a somewhat shallow attempt at a zero-sum negation of a destructive historic trend from nature to civilization. Ron Bosco’s paper presented Ralph Waldo Emerson as a land-owner and planner who at one time had contemplated building a house at Walden Pond with a commanding view of the landscape—a metaphor for Emerson’s transcendental irreverence for ecology. By contrast, in his discussion of writer Wallace Stegner’s lifelong critique of American rootlessness, Steven Hartman focused on his subject’s emergence as a public intellectual of the American West who, in his own words, had been “born on wheels” and shaped in relief as it were by the migratory life’s deprivation of community and its disintegrating effect on the family structure; viewing his own early life in cautionary terms as typical of the modern American experience, Stegner argued for the necessity of developing a multi-generational ethic of land stewardship in which landscape could not be imagined independent of human communities, just as communities could not be formed and sustained without disillusioned reference to the physical limitations of land and climate. Finally, Torben Huus Larsen examined the case of Norris, Tennessee, planned and built in the 1930s under the TVA; against the backdrop of the town’s celebrated reputation as an example of unprecedented democratic town planning, Larsen focused on urban planners’ contradictory practices of neglecting racial diversity by quietly sacrificing all ambitions of social equity for African Americans.

Nordic Association for American Studies (NAAS) workshop - 2009

The NAAS conference was held in Copenhagen from 28 - 31 May 2009. The NIES-inspired workshop was entitled "Anti-Landscapes: Unlivable Transnational Environments." It was chaired by David Nye. A brief summary of the workshop follows.

In the last century Americans have increasingly become aware of the transnational nature of environmental problems, whether dealing with acid rain, nuclear fallout, pollution, or many other forms of landscape degradation. In the worst cases, sites that once sustained human life have become unlivable, anti-landscapes, such as Hanford Washington or Love Canal. The realization that such environmental devastation was taking place led to many protests, government investigations, and legislation, all of which would be suitable subjects for this workshop. Anti-landscapes also have beeen the subject of photography, fiction and film, and papers are invited on these aspects of the topic, as well as studies of groups - often minorities - who found themselves living next door to polluted sites, or Pacific Islanders or Western farmers living downwind of chemical or nuclear testing.

Published Aug. 20, 2010 2:41 PM - Last modified June 2, 2015 12:32 PM