CfP // The Aesthetics of Geopower: Imagining Planetary Histories and Hegemonies

Call for Papers

The Aesthetics of Geopower: Imagining Planetary Histories and Hegemonies

4 & 5 April 2024, University of Amsterdam | Deadline for proposals: 15 October 2023.

Keynote Speaker:

Macarena Gómez-Barris (Brown University, author of The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives, Duke University Press, 2017)


For this two-day, single-stream, and in-person conference, sponsored by the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis and Dutch Research Council, scholars are invited to explore how the human and nonhuman forces shaping and emerging from the earth are articulated in art and cultural practice.


If the earth was once passed off as a neutral backdrop to human life, in the present age of ecological derangement it has reemerged as fraught with relations of power and politics. In this context, cultural theorists have put forward the rubric of geopower to conceptualize the ways that power is exerted over and through but also by the earth (Clare 2013; Neyrat 2019; Yusoff 2018). Having long been entangled with extractive, racial capitalism (Bain 2023, 1-2), geopower is becoming especially visible amid climate change and discourses of the Anthropocene. From proposals for solar geoengineering to legislation extending legal personhood to ecological entities such as the Ganga River, contemporary manifestations of geopower indicate how politics and planetarity are colliding in complex ways that are increasingly defining the present and will shape the future.

Extrapolated from Michel Foucault’s thinking of biopower, geopower—or “geontopower” in Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s alternative formulation (2016)—has been theorized along several overlapping trajectories (Tola 2022; Luisetti 2019). For some, it primarily signifies the “government of the earth” (Diran & Traisnel 2019, 44) and implicates the technologies and tactics through which dominant subjects frame and exploit not just terrestrial environments but those “defined into nature” under patriarchal and colonial orders (Caputi 2020, 183). For another strand of theory, which draws on posthuman philosophies of life and matter (esp. Grosz 2008), geopower names the nonhuman forces of the earth, which permeate, condition, but also often disrupt or imperil humanly regulated environments (Clark 2011; Grosz, Yusoff, & Clark 2017).

Building on these developments, this conference explores how geopower intersects with aesthetics, taken expansively as referring to art, film, literature, and other forms of cultural practice, as well as sensed materiality and embodied perception. Our premise is that the aesthetic, far from being secondary or supplemental to the forces shaping the earth, is centrally entailed and embedded in dynamics of geopower. This can be seen in the visual construction of “the Earth system” as an object of calculation, conservation, and control, or in scholarly, literary, and filmic narratives of the Anthropocene, which cast different human subjects as planetary culprits or custodians (Bonneuil & Fressoz 2016). The earth’s inhuman forces, meanwhile, have a transgressive vitality that often registers aesthetically and might be articulated in artistic practice (Sheikh 2017). Such forces suffuse cultural practice even when not explicitly thematized, whether because some artistic scenes are economically aligned with particular regimes of resource extraction (Acosta 2020) or because cultural works are necessarily composed of planetary materialities, which precede and exceed discursive or authorial framings of the aesthetic (Parikka 2015).

To probe the connections among power, planetarity, and the aesthetic, we call on scholars, critics, and practitioners across disciplines to reflect on how diverse formations of geopower are enabled and mediated, but also challenged in cultural practice. How do conceptual, visual, poetic, or narratological framings of the earth calibrate social approaches to environments? Which marginalized perspectives can be brought forward to develop alternative representations or counter-histories of geopower? How is it imbricated with racializing, (neo)colonial, and cisheteropatriarchal orders? And how might theories of geopower be rethought by attending to its material manifestations or reimagined in literary and artistic experiment?

In addressing these and other questions pertaining to the aesthetics of geopower, contributors are invited to explore narratives, images, and practices relating to any genre or medium, or events, discourses, and materialities in any historical and geographical context. Possible topics might include (but are not limited to):

—cross-cultural perspectives on/representations of the earth as an aesthetic object;

—the significance of land and planetary forces in decolonial thought and practice;

—the aesthetics of geoengineering, from speculation to design;

—climate fiction and narrative constructions of geopower;

—articulations of the earth’s materialities in the arts and cultural practice;

—the role of mapping, remote sensing, and technological mediation in planetary governance;

—the politics and aesthetics of “deep time” imaginaries;

—Embodied and multi-sensory apprehensions of planetary power;

—representations of resource extraction and new commodity frontiers;

—the aestheticization of planetary forces that exceed and transcend the human;

—creative interventions that make visible the inequities and injustices of geopower.



Please submit abstracts (max. 300 words for 20 minute presentations) and a short biographical note (max. 250 words) to by 15 October 2023.

Kindly send submissions as a single pdf document of max. two pages. To deepen mutual engagement, papers will be circulated a week before the conference; each participant will be assigned a respondent and asked to act as primary respondent to an assigned paper in return. Selected papers will be invited for inclusion in an edited volume. No conference fees will be charged.

Organized by Dr Simon Ferdinand ( and Dr Colin Sterling ( of the University of Amsterdam.



Acosta, Santiago, We Are Like Oil: An Ecology of the Venezuelan Culture Boom, 1973-1983 (PhD. dissertation, New York: Columbia University, 2020).

Bain, Kimberly, “Black Soil,” Social Text 41.1 (2023): 1-19.

Bonneuil, Christrophe, and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene (London: Verso, 2016).

Caputi, Jane, Call Your “Mutha”: A Deliberately Dirty-Minded Manifesto for the Earth Mother in the Anthropocene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).

Clare, Stephanie, “Geopower: The Politics of Life and Land in Frantz Fanon’s Writing,” Diacritics 41.4 (2013): 60-80.

Clark, Nigel, Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet (London: Sage, 2010).

Diran, Ingrid, and Antoine Traisnel, “The Birth of Geopower,” Diacritics 47.3 (2019): 32-51.

Grosz, Elizabeth, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

Grosz, Elizabeth, Kathryn Yusoff, and Nigel Clark, “An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical,” Theory, Culture, & Society 34. 2-3 (2017): 129-46.

Luisetti, Federico, “Geopower: On the States of Nature of Late Capitalism,” European Journal of Social Theory 22.3 (2018): 342-63.

Neyrat, Frédéric, The Unconstructable Earth: An Ecology of Separation (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018).

Parikka, Jussi, “Earth Forces: Contemporary Land Arts, Technology, and New Materialist Aesthetics,” Cultural Studies Review 21.2 (2015): 47-75.

Povinelli, Elizabth A., Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

Sheikh, Shela,“Translating Geontologies” inAnd Now: Architecture Against a Developer Presidency: Essays on the Occasion of Trump’s Inauguration, edited James Graham (New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2017), pp. 165-184

Tola, Miriam, “Geopower: Genealogies, Territories, and Politics,” in Handbook of Critical Environmental Politics, edited by Luigi Pellizzoni, Emanuele Leonardi, and Viviana Asara (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2022), pp. 564-76.

Yusoff, Kathryn, “The Anthropocene and Geographies of Geopower,” in Handbook on the Geographies of Power, edited by Mat Coleman and John Agnew (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2018), pp. 203-16.

Making amidst extinction: a call for creative practices

Centre for Environmental Humanities, University of Bristol & online, November 2, 2023

How to engage in world making across species? How to work toward world making that enhances the lives of others? And how to do all this in the time of extinctions, knowing, as we must, that we are living amidst the ruination of others?

—Deborah Bird Rose, Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (2011)

Growing awareness of massive biotic diminishment and the accompanying large-scale loss of biological and cultural diversity has led to a surge in academic interest into what has become known as the sixth mass extinction. Centred around the emergent field of critical extinction studies, this concern seeks to establish ‘an interdisciplinary, biocultural approach that can attend to the plural phenomena and entangled significance of extinction’.[i] Broadly speaking, this field comprises humanities and social sciences (including but certainly not limited to the academic fields of ecocriticism, human geography, environmental history and philosophy, cultural studies, and multispecies anthropology) and researches the ways in which the sixth extinction is perceived, experienced, and narrated among different communities and individuals. Defining an expressive mode for this work, Deborah Bird Rose and Thom van Dooren write that storytelling ‘is one of the great arts of witness, and in these difficult times telling lively stories is a deeply committed project, one of engaging with the multitudes of others in their noisy, fleshy living and dying’.[ii] Stories, in their most generous interpretation, Rose writes, ‘have the potential to promote understandings of embodied, relational, contingent ethics’ and can ‘pull readers into ethical proximity’.[iii] This raises the following questions: who is able to join this deeply committed project of telling stories, and what kind of stories are told? Dealing with unprecedented loss, the stories currently told are often driven by a strong elegiac impulse.[iv] As the Australian poet John Kinsella writes in response to the extinction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle: ‘What family / will post your obituary — trapped / in descriptors and comparatives, analogies / and desperate metaphors?’[v] But there are many ways to tell stories, and these are certainly not limited to the spoken and written word.

Auk eggs installation at the Kelp Store, Papa Westray. Photograph is copyright Milo Newman, 2022
Auk eggs installation, Kelp Store, Papa Westray. Photograph © Milo Newman, 2022

In this light, this call for creative practices aims to gather together myriad other modes of expression concerned with extinction and the ways in which biocultural loss affects more-than-human communities. In doing so it seeks to explore alternate modes of telling these extinction stories beyond the elegiac, and beyond the confines of the academic journal or book. Our interest in creative practices here is a broad one, encompassing a range of different mediums, approaches, and forms of creativity. It is about art-making as a process, not just as an outcome; a way for practitioners, researchers, or academics to explore different ways of knowing. Our concern is therefore with the doings of art. We want to explore what ‘“work” art does in the world’ in context of extinction, what it can set in motion.[vi] We think that art does far more here than simply help promote understanding, foster engagement or raise awareness. Instead, we want to explore how (or if!) a plurality of individual creative responses expressing personal emotional, ethical, poetic, critical, and many other reactions to biocultural loss are quietly (or even loudly) involved in the production of new worlds, knowledges, and subjectivities.[vii] To help us explore these ideas we invite contributions from artists, writers, activists, and academics (both individuals and collectives) that seek to make connections between creative practices and biotic diminishment, biodiversity loss, or extinction. While the symposium itself focuses on creative practice, other reflections on extinction are also welcome. We hope to publish some of the work resulting from this event at a later stage. Proposals may include:

  • Written texts, both fiction and nonfiction (4500–5000 words)
  • Poetry (up to five poems)
  • Artworks
  • Film
  • Performance
  • Artistic interventions/reflections/provocations (3500-4000 words)

The symposium will be hybrid. Registration is free; lunch (vegan only) will be provided. Please let us know if you have any allergies.

Please submit abstracts and/or short proposals (300 words, with accompanying images—max. 3—as necessary) to and by 31 August, 2023. While work is welcome in any language, we ask that the presentations and abstracts are in English. Please include a short bio for each contributor. Selected contributors will be notified by September 15, 2023.

This event is generously supported by the Bristol Centre for Environmental Humanities.

[i] Matthew Chrulew and Rick De Vos, ‘Extinction: Stories of Unravelling and Reworlding’, Cultural Studies Review 25.1 (2019): 23–28, 24.

[ii] Thom van Dooren and Deborah Bird Rose, ‘Lively Ethography: Storying Animist Worlds’, Environmental Humanities 8.1 (2016): 77–94, 91.

[iii] Deborah Bird Rose, ‘Slowly ~ Writing into the Anthropocene’, TEXT 20 (2013): 1–14.

[iv] Ursula K. Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

[v] John Kinsella, ‘Not the Postage Stamp of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle!’, Red Room Poetry (2020).

[vi] Harriet Hawkins, For Creative Geographies: Geography, Visual Arts and the Making of Worlds (Milton Park & New York, NY: Routledge, 2012), 6.

[vii] Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought beyond Representation (London: Palgrave, 2009).

Environmental Humanities in Antarctica

In this blog post, Dr Adrian Howkins, programme director of the new MA Environmental Humanities, discusses how his research on Antarctica brings crucial humanities perspectives to Antarctic research, and how this approach is embedded in the new MA programme.

Field camp at Lake Fryxell in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Field camp at Lake Fryxell in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica by Eli Duke CC-SA 2.0

Since the late-1950s the McMurdo Dry Valleys have become a major centre for Antarctic science. As an environmental historian, I have been able to contribute novel forms of ‘data’ to the scientific understanding of the region, such as using Captain Scott’s diaries to understand environmental change over the past 120 years.  As a historian, I am also well-placed to ask questions related to themes such as political power, social relations, ideas about conservation, and connections to global themes.

I am currently working with a geographer and a glaciologist to write a co-authored book on the history of the McMurdo Dry Valleys.  Some of our major findings support the fact that a human and historical dimension to conservation is vital.  These include:

  • The science taking place in the McMurdo Dry Valleys is used by national programmes to support their political interests in Antarctica. The US flag, for example, flies proudly from the Lake Hoare scientific field camp, offering a powerful refutation of New Zealand sovereignty claims to the region.  This means that successful conservation needs to take into account the geopolitical implications of environmental management.
  • The past 30-years have seen an increase in gender equality among scientists working in the McMurdo Dry Valley. Female scientists who may previously have been put off research in the region by its highly masculine culture, now make major contributions to the scientific work. The number of scientific publications on the region has increased significantly during the recent period, suggesting that greater gender equality may help to promote a productive scientific culture.
  • Traditional approaches to environmental management don’t always take humanities-focused values into account. For example, the value of ‘wilderness’ is often taken for granted, while our work shows that some countries working in the region (e.g. Japan) do not always share these values.  By raising questions about the goals of conservation and the cultural values behind them, our work calls for more focus on the human dimensions of Antarctic conservation.
  • Our work in the McMurdo Dry Valleys exemplify many of the themes and trends associated with the proposed new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene. Work in the region is made possible by carbon intensive technologies such as helicopters and ATVs, while at the same time, scientific work in the region highlights the consequences of anthropogenic climate heating.  Lake levels in the region, for example, have risen by over 16m since the time of Captain Scott as a consequence of more meltwater flowing from the alpine glaciers during the relatively warm summer months.
  • Through our historical research in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, we not only hope to make a contribution to the scientific understanding, but also to make the region a model for interdisciplinary research involving the environmental humanities in other parts of the world.

Our work suggests that many of the challenges facing the McMurdo Dry Valleys – and the Antarctic continent more generally, and even the rest of the world – cannot be successfully addressed without taking into account perspectives traditionally studied by humanities scholarship.  Such work requires a willingness to take a collaborative approach and be open to different approaches and practical skills.  As authors, we hope to model this ‘radical interdisciplinarity’ not only in our book on the history of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, but also in our teaching.  The new MA in environmental humanities at the University of Bristol, for example, has a strong element of collaborative and interdisciplinary training and is underpinned by activities in Bristol’s Centre for Environmental Humanities.

Find out more about MA Environmental Humanities at Bristol

Dr Adrian Howkins is Reader in Environmental History at the University of Bristol.

Workshop CFP // Exploring an Urban Blue Humanities

Bristol Marina - Celuici, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Bristol Marina – Celuici, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

12-13 October 2023

In-person and online

Although they take up only about three percent of the earth’s surface, cities are now home to the majority of humanity. Many of these cities sit on coasts; 24 of the 37 megacities, for example, are coastal. While many of them have storied ports and some in the post-industrial west have undergone redevelopment of old docks and waterfronts into new residential, business and entertainment districts, there is much less appreciation of their nearshore and subtidal environments as necessarily and intimately part of their histories and cultures.

Urban communities imagine and use their nearshore environments in many ways. They see a dumping site for sewage and wastes, a reservoir for their household and industrial effluents. They enjoy beaches, rock pools, scenic cliffs, vistas, and dunes. They enjoy the presence and benefits of seagrass meadows, mangroves, wetlands, and other swampy areas. They delight in non-human animals, birds, seals, dolphins, and others. They contend with dynamic mudflats and tidal flats. They ‘reclaim’ land, moving earth and rock for new homes and infrastructure. They engineer the coast to prevent disaster and damage. They build massive ports and dredge the seabed to channel the movement of commodities and enlarge their economies.

This workshop aims to bring together scholars, artists, and practitioners working on ‘the urban’ and marine/coastal themes within environmental humanities and blue humanities frameworks. We hope to generate an interdisciplinary discussion about the relationships and imaginaries that urban residents and communities develop with their nearshore marine environments. The city is a key site of environmental impacts and climate risks, but can it also be a site for solutions and sustainable futures? How does the marine environment fit into what are often terra-centric visions of city futures and the urban condition? Are ‘smart’ cities and ‘big data’ attentive to the marine world?

We invite papers which address the broad theme of ‘urban blue humanities’ from any place, time, and disciplinary or methodological vantage point within the environmental humanities.


Dr Alessandro Antonello, Flinders University

Dr Paul Merchant, University of Bristol


To propose a paper, please send an abstract of 200-300 words and a brief biography to Alessandro Antonello ( by 9th July 2023. We expect most papers will be 20-minute presentations, but we are also eager to encourage and encounter presentations in other modes and forms.

Organisation details

The workshop will take place both in-person at the University of Bristol and through Zoom.


This symposium is made possible by a British Academy Visiting Fellowship and support from the University of Bristol and Flinders University. We hope to be able to provide a financial contribution towards travel and accommodation for up to 15 participants from outside Bristol.


Dr Alessandro Antonello

Conference // Resisting Toxic Climates: Gender, Colonialism, and Environment

We are circulating details of this conference on behalf of Dr Edwin Coomasaru.

Wed 26 – Thu 27 Jul 2023, 09:00 – 17:30, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh

Full details via the British Academy, here.

Whether it’s the spectacular event of an oil spill or the scarcely perceptible pollution of micro-plastics, toxicity is central to the environmental concerns of today. To exist in the world means being vulnerable to multiple forms of toxicity. Yet, conditions of vulnerability are unequal, shaped by enduring global histories of colonialism and capitalism.

This event will highlight the toxic valences of coloniality, asking how toxicity manifests and mutates with particular regard to gender across variously situated bodies, lands and waterscapes. While we are concerned with the interrelated forms of material toxicity that threaten the wellbeing of human and more-than-human communities, we also seek to facilitate dialogue around pertinent social, political and cultural discourses of toxification. Operating at the intersections of the medical and environmental humanities, and centering feminist, queer, decolonial and Indigenous paradigms, this interdisciplinary event brings together scholars and practitioners working across disciplines and employing creative and/or critical modes of enquiry to explore these topics.

Resisting Toxic Climates will feature a series of original artworks by Natasha Thembiso Ruwona and Caitlin Stobie, produced in response to the themes and setting of the event.

The programme will feature a tour of the exibition Shipping Roots by Keg De Sousa, led by the exhibition curator Emma Nicolson.

Conference convenors

  • Dr Rebecca Macklin, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Alexandra Campbell, University of Glasgow
  • Professor Michelle Keown, University of Edinburgh


  • Professor Cecilia Åsberg, Linkoping University & KTH
  • Professor Mishuana Goeman, University of Buffalo
  • Professor Savage Bear, McMaster University
  • Dr Metzli Yoalli Rodriguez, Forest Lake University
  • Dr Hannah Boast, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Astrida Niemanis, University of British Columbia Okanagan
  • Dr Christine Okoth, Kings College London
  • Dr Treasa De Loughery, University College Dublin
  • Dr Dipali Mathur, Ulster University
  • Dr Jason Allen-Paisant, University of Manchester
  • Dr Thandi Loewenson, Royal College of Art
  • Dr Craig Santos Perez, University of Hawaii
  • Dr Alycia Pirmohamed, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Patricia Widener, Florida Atlantic University
  • Dr J.T. Roane, Rutgers University
  • Dr Caitlin Stobie, University of Leeds
  • Natasha Thembiso Ruwona

If you have any questions about this event please refer to our events FAQs or email

British Academy/Wellcome Trust Conferences bring together scholars and specialists from around the world to explore themes related to health and wellbeing.

Studying the Environmental Humanities: Animal Planet

This is a post in our series highlighting the units that comprise the MA Environmental Humanities, taught by members of the Centre. This post introduces Animal Planet, taught by Dr Michael Malay.

‘How did different societies think about animals?’, ‘What is it like to be bat?’, ‘And how might we live more skilfully alongside our animal neighbours?’ These are some of the questions we have been thinking about this year, as part of the English department’s Animal Planet module. Established in 2016, the unit is taught by lecturers from across the department, and our specialisms cover a range of interests and periods – from medieval bestiaries and allegorical texts, to Romantic and Victorian representations of animal life. The unit thus considers a broad sweep of human history, a perspective that allows us to explore major developments regarding human relations with animals. At the same time, it also explores how animals have moved and inspired – and sometimes terrified and bewildered – writers from particular periods, by offering close readings of their work and the work of their contemporaries.

Our current relations with animals, it probably goes without saying, are often deeply exploitive and highly instrumentalised. Part of the aim of this course, then, is to develop a critical perspective of human-animal relations, by way of giving students a better understanding of the assumptions and underlying ideas that have marked animals off as ‘other’ or ‘lesser’. In one of our seminars, for example, we read J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, a novella which powerfully challenges the historical exclusion of animals from circles of care and compassion; and, in another seminar, we read essays by Mary Midgley and Cora Diamond, in order to think about the particular cultural and philosophical ideas that have induced us to see animals in a particular way. During the year, we also read other classic texts in the field of ‘animal studies’, including Hermann Melville’s Moby-Dick, and try to answer some fundamental questions such as: ‘what would a truly ethical relationship with animals look like?’ and ‘is it possible to represent them in a way that doesn’t distort the singularity of their lives?’

Animal Planet is now part of the MA Environmental Humanities, and we are looking forward to welcoming new students to the course.

A painting of a bison from the Altamira cave

A bison from the Altamira cave / janeb13 on Pixabay

We spoke to the unit convenor, Dr Michael Malay about what he is looking forward to when teaching Animal Planet next year:

What excites you most about this unit?

The breadth of this course is a little dizzying – students start with medieval bestiaries and end with recent work in British nature writing. And yet what stops this course from being a general (and perhaps even bland) survey, is the fact that our tutors are specialists in their field, which means that students go into real depth with each seminar. In one seminar, for example, students are asked to imaginatively enter the lives of other animals – and are guided in this task by the writer Dr Mimi Thebo, whose fascinating novel, Dreaming the Bear, is one of our set texts. Or, in another seminar on ‘Victorian representations of animals’, students are taught by someone who is writing a book about the appearance of bees in Victorian novels and poems. So, in addition to breadth, the unit does a good job of engaging with particularity – and I think it’s this combination of historical comprehensiveness and aesthetic depth that makes this course so distinctive.

Dr Michael Malay

How does this unit speak to your research?

I’ve recently completed a book called Late Light, which is about the lives of ‘unloved’ animals that are also endangered. In the course of writing this book, I was also regularly teaching on Animal Planet, and there were moments when, after a seminar with students, I would have a new idea about the book – or a different sense of how I might approach the writing. For instance, there’s a fascinating passage from The Lives of Animals, in which J. M Coetzee’s protagonist says that poets return the ‘living, electric being’ to language, and that’s always fascinated me, as well as spurred me on in terms of my research. How can scholars who write about animals make their language come alive – so that their ‘subjects’ are released rather than trapped in language – and how might this consideration enhance or enrich the kind of scholarship that we produce?

If you were recommending one thing to read, watch, listen to or do ahead of studying this course, what would it be?

J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals. Hands down one of the best things I’ve read about literature, philosophy and animal life.

Animal Planet is an optional course on our new MA in Environmental Humanities. You can find out more about the programme here.

Ancient writings on trees and their relevance today – Jim Pratt

New on The Pen and the Plough, Dr Pippa Marland’s (English, University of Bristol) blog, Jim Pratt considers ancient writings on trees and their contemporary relevance.

East Coker elm, 2
Elm tree, Ulmus minor subspecies at East Coker, UK, 2008. Ptelea @ Wikimedia Commons

Imagine yourself a squaddie in the Roman Army of occupation of Scotland around 170 AD, stationed at Trimontium, adjacent to the River Tweed. You have been ordered out of the fort to collect firewood: a crucial resource in a Border’s winter for the five hundred or so auxiliaries from central or eastern Europe or Asia Minor. Your horse-drawn two-wheeled cart (carrus) with a safe working load of half a tonne is very overloaded. As you turn into the gate, the cart jumps out of the groove worn in the stones at the entrance, there is a very loud crack and one of the wheels buckles. The cart collapses, spreading the logs onto the frozen ground. The load is more valuable than the cart, so the broken wheels are removed and (because the carpenter is away) are thrown into a pit, covered with soil to hide them, and forgotten. That is, until about 1910 when they were  excavated, still in an extraordinary state of preservation, by an Edinburgh solicitor still in an extraordinary state of preservation. [1]

Read the full post on the Pen and the Plough.

A Journey Through The Ancient Commons of the Bristol Ring Road

PhD researcher Andy Thatcher (Film, University of Bristol) has been journeying through the ancient commons of the Bristol Ring Road over at Unofficial Britain.

Hinton Green (c) Andy Thatcher

Eastern Bristol is speckled with commons. Go way, way back and this whole area was part of the Kingswood Forest, a royal Anglo Saxon hunting forest. This means that all the little verges, scrappy bits of wasteland and neat greens that I am about to find around the Bristol Ring Road are relics of hard-won ancient rights and custom.

The day is getting on and I leave the car in the first car park I come to, promising the all-seeing gods of the Gallagher Retail Park that, when I return, I’ll placate them with something from the M&S food hall. This pilgrimage has been months in the making. Across the arterial road, a public footpath flows innocuously through the loud hulks of DFS and Buildbase. Its old walled hedgerows are still intact, and the blackthorn is exploding in slow motion with blossom, its dainty sparks the brightest objects on this drab afternoon. A few hundred yards on, the track opens out abruptly onto a clearing which is mostly fenced off with fat iron palings. They bristle with spikes ready to rip clothes and flesh.

Read the full post at Unofficial Britain.

Call for papers // Women and the Natural World: historical perspectives on nature, climate and environmental change

The theme for the 30th annual West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network is ‘Women and the Natural World: historical perspectives on nature, climate and environmental change’.

This conference will offer a broad perspective on women and the environment over time. Themes could include women’s historical involvement in:

  • Environmental and natural sciences
  • Conservation and eco-activism by individuals and in campaigning organisations seeking to protect nature and biodiversity.
  • Weather forecasting and climate change
  • Rescue and recovery work following environmental events such as floods, earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes
  • Land management practices e.g. enclosures
  • Gardens and allotments,
  • Parks and garden cities
  • Farming, gardening and agricultural work
  • Botanical and zoological films, photography and illustration

Papers should be of not more than 20 minutes in length. Suggestions for presentations in film or other non-standard formats will be considered.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted via email by Friday May 26th 2023.

The conference will be held on 30th September in Exeter Central Library.

The keynote speaker is Professor Nicola Whyte , Co-Director of the Centre for Environmental Arts and Humanities. University of Exeter.

For more details see:

Download the CFP here.

Studying the Environmental Humanities: Historians and the Boundaries of the Body

This is a post in our series highlighting the units that comprise the MA Environmental Humanities, taught by members of the Centre.

Historians and the Boundaries of the Body is an optional course on our MA Environmental Humanities and provides environmental humanities students with an opportunity to think critically about bodies that have been historically situated as apart from and a part of different natures.

‘Normal people’ with their ‘normal bodies’ seem to be everywhere. But notions of what is ‘normal’ and what is not have always been in flux. In truth, ‘normal’ is a category, an idea, a fantasy about human identity that has a complex history that runs parallel to the idea of abnormality. Indeed shifting categories and classifications of the body have sat at the core of many of the major historiographical developments of the past half century or so. Not least, medical and feminist historians have devoted significant attention to issues around gender and sexuality. Meanwhile, environmental historians have had to engage with this scholarship to better understand the relations between bodies and environments that have emerged across time and place.

The Body in History, Culture and the Arts is one of the texts we study on this unit

In this unit, we explore these developments across a range of key contexts in which identities have been created, imposed, tested, and resisted, and where lives have often been at stake. We consider categories of natural and unnatural, human, nonhuman, and not-quite-human, as well as abled, disabled, freak and monster. We engage with racialised categories and classifications, and interrogate the unstable and contested lines between male and female bodies, as well as the politically loaded, culturally contingent distinctions that have been drawn between supposedly normal and abnormal sexualities. The unit ranges widely across these bodily contexts, exploring how historians have worked with and challenged the boundaries of the body.

The unit aims to help students identify and analyse recent historiographical debates and longer-term developments in historians’ treatment of the human body, and judge the extent to which this field has been influenced by shifting sociopolitical contexts, other disciplines, and other historical specialisms. Through seminars discussing key texts we assess how new methodologies, sources, and concepts have transformed the writing of histories of the human body and its relations with the wider world

We spoke to the unit convenor, Dr Andy Flack about what he is looking forward to when teaching Historians and the Boundaries of the Body:

Dr Andy Flack teaches on Historians and the Boundaries of the Body

What excites you most about this unit?

This unit is not your typical environmental humanities unit. Taking a wide perspective it encourages students to consider the complex relationships between diverse bodies, environments and historical and geographical contexts. At its heart, the premise is that historians need to understand the histories of bodies themselves if they are to make sense of the past. The way the unit ranges so broadly across contexts  – from witchcraft to enslavement and from disease to disability – offers students an exciting means of deepening their appreciation of the human construct at the heart of the environmental humanities.

How does this unit speak to your research?

The unit stems directly from several strands of my research. Not least, my scholarship to-date has in large part engaged with changing ways of imagining what it means and has meant to be ‘human’, especially in relation to nonhuman animals. My work on the histories of human-animal relations was has often been concerned with the muddy and confusing borderlands separating ‘human’ from ‘animal’. In addition, my recent research is interested in non-normative bodies, the construction of monstrosity, and the history of an idea of normalcy across human and more-than-human contexts. My teaching on the unit reflects this in its focus on notions of ability, histories of evolutionary thinking and the rise and consequences of eugenicist ideologies.

If you were recommending one thing to read, watch, listen to or do ahead of studying this course, what would it be?

Discourses about what a body is supposed to be and do are everywhere we look. Most of what you pick up to read, or choose to watch, will reflect those cultural constructs. Instead of reading or watching anything, I encourage you to go for a walk. Anywhere will do. Reflect on the ways in which your body fits – or doesn’t – with the world and think about what that tells you about the material realities of the relationships between body and wider world, and the ways in which culture impacts on how we understand our own – and others’ – bodies and experiences.

Historians and the Boundaries of the Body is a core course on our new MA in Environmental Humanities. You can find out more about the programme here.