What a Strange Fellow! Monstrous Mushrooms in the Greenhouse

by Sam Le Butt, PhD student in the Department of English


Meeting the locals – mushrooms around Stavanger

As a researcher in ecocriticism, I have sometimes felt out of place in the monolithic world of my ‘single honours’ English Literature PhD programme. My research looks at the role of monsters and monstrosity in contemporary environmental fiction, asking how and why authors use representations of monstrosity when talking about environmental pollution and toxicity. However, it can often provoke larger questions about the viability, or propriety, of literary study in service to something, those old disagreements about the ‘instrumentalisation’ of art. On the one hand, that literature and art more generally have the power (and therefore a certain duty?) to synthesise and emote an issue, giving it a tangible and relatable form that allows readers or viewers to feel empathy for others or sympathy for a cause. On the other hand, the idea that any didacticism robs a work of that ineffable artistry that moves us so, indeed qualifies something as art. Perhaps the very contemporary nature of my texts also occasionally provokes scepticism: these are texts that have yet to stand the tests of time, to prove their inventive potential within a culture (according to Derek Attridge’s qualification of literature). There are many fault lines of opinion to be navigated here, but these may be a few reasons why I have always felt more at home in the field of environmental humanities. 

At Bristol, the Centre for Environmental Humanities has proved to be a vital research community for me during my PhD, because although our materials and lines of inquiry are vastly different, those working in the environmental humanities all agree on one thing: that our current moment is undergoing such vast and unprecedented environmental (read also social, political, and cultural) changes, that their intersections with the arts and humanities demands attention. Though I obviously work within the paradigms of literary criticism, my research on monstrosity in fiction is always prismed through an environmental lens: what makes the monster such a popular, effective, or seductive storyteller of environmental disturbance? What draws in so many writers to its narratorial and representative powers? In the monster’s concerns with the self and other, the body, and material being, how does it speak to key environmental concepts such as relationality, entanglement, and epistemological rupture?  

It was questions such as these that I was given the opportunity to explore on my recent University of Stavanger Greenhouse Fellowship on environmental storytelling in November 2023. More specifically, I used the time to start my research on ‘monstrous mycelium’, hoping to unpack some of the fissures and continuities across the recent explosion of fungal representations in contemporary culture. Many with even a passing interest in that third strange taxonomical kingdom will be aware of the stunning visual representations in recent years, perhaps most notably HBO’s The Last of Us, but a quick Google search throws up endless blog posts and media articles about the recent trend of ‘mushroom horror’ and its historical forebears; lists of contemporary fiction that feature fungal representations in horrific or disturbing ways; and a growing number of academic book chapters and scholarly articles appearing on the subject. For me, fungi encapsulate that precise intersection between the ecological and the monstrous, as beings that are hard to categorise and contain, with unfamiliar ways of being and knowing, that can be interpreted both as a threat and a radical alternative to Anthropocentric subjectivity, control, and dominance. Beyond that, I was curious see if any of these contemporary fungal narratives were exploring themes of environmental damage or ecodegradation specifically, alongside the more familiar tale of psycho-corporeal invasion.  

Several of the Greenhouse colleagues I met in Stavanger said it was a shame my visit hadn’t coincided with Norway’s mushroom picking season; there had been trips only a few weeks prior out to the forests and hilltops of the surrounding Jæren region (known in the tourist literature as the Edge of Norway). Instead, I would have to make do with the Fungi board game kept in the Greenhouse library, quipped Finn Arne Jørgensen, Professor of Environmental History at Stavanger and co-director of the Greenhouse centre with Professor Dolly Jørgensen, the brilliant environmental historian and extinction scholar. Both Dolly and Finn Arne were incredibly hospitable during my stay, and I did, in fact, get the opportunity to sample their vast board game collection, notably the fantastically complicated ecologically themed card game called Forest Shuffle, at which I was roundly beaten by everyone involved. 

This is just one example of the warm and welcoming community I encountered in the Greenhouse. When I first arrived at the department (the environmental humanities department, a whole department), Dolly led me around and introduced me to the whole team, the professors and the well-paid post docs, the interns and the PhDs. When asked about my research here, my answer prompted further questions, but ones directed by understanding and familiarity with the topic: “Will you be incorporating much Anna Tsing into your talk?” “Have you read Gaia Giuliani’s Anthropocene monster book?” “If you’re thinking of Mexican Gothic, we have Rocio Gomez’s book on silver mining in Mexico in the Greenhouse library.” Even if their interest in monsters was minimal, there was an implicit understanding of why monstrosity might be important for ecocriticism and were keen to listen to my thoughts on the topic either way. This is not to suggest that good research comes from surrounding yourself with sympathetic listeners or affirming assumptions (although finding the evaluative and critical arguments to support these is also important), but more that to feel that you are in an environment of sympathetic support, that those around you might share an understanding of the broader implications of thinking through narratives and metaphors and what they may betray about how we relate to the world around us, is enormously stimulating. It’s the same feeling I get at the Bristol CEH, but with the added bonus of that community having a physical space in which to come together, share ideas, and pursue ongoing conversations.  


A cross-section of the Greenhouse library

The nucleus of that space is the small (but mighty!) library, which collects together an impressive number of resources the centre has built up over the past few years. Although I was familiar with lots of the books already, this was the result of painstaking bibliography-building over the past two years – and here they all were! In one place! More importantly, the library offers free coffee, providing essential caffeine and water-cooler vibes, at times a welcome reprieve from the solitude (but also, oh so peaceful and distraction-free environment) of my very own office – a considerable luxury for a PhD student. Having my own space to think and write meant I got more done in just under four weeks than I would in thrice the time at home, but the regular roster of events also gave me plenty of opportunities to get to know my colleagues: an online book talk every Monday, a research seminar on Wednesday afternoons, the ‘official’ department lunch every Thursday. There was also a loose arrangement that whoever was hungry at 12pm (rarely me, considering the three-course hotel breakfast I forced down each morning – who could resist such a resplendent feast, at no additional cost, in a country where a loaf of bread could set you back £3.50??) would find an assortment of other envirohums colleagues in the department canteen, happily munching their sandwiches.  

All of this culminated in a real atmosphere of collegiality. This is no doubt down to the talents and dedication of Dolly and Finn Arne, who must spend hours tracking down  authors for their book talks, hosting and recording them, organising research talks, fellowships, projects, syllabi; but it is also due to a sense of commitment in the wider team, to make time, to show up, to share progresses, opportunities, frustrations. The result is an ability to have ongoing dialogue about the broader concern that unites them all together: the mediations and conceptualisations of the environment – natural, built, societal, bodily – in the humanities. It allows for organic connections, mutual investment, and genuine intellectual and emotional connection. This is especially important for still-emerging disciplines, but it’s a feeling all academics know from conferences and symposia, where you can skip the explanations and get down to the nitty gritty of your research area. All in all, it gives you a much better sense of ‘what is known’ in the community, what questions are being asked, what conversations are being had.  

This is not, for a moment, to suggest that my colleagues at Bristol – nor those at other British universities – are less dedicated. Far from it. However, I suspect it is a question of resources: fiscal, which inevitably correlates with temporal and emotional. I know the postgraduates are paid a much better wage – and this may certainly translate into higher event attendance. For what it has to work with, the Bristol CEH does very well, and it is keen to learn from more established communities like those in Stavanger. Last term, the CEH began offering a version of the Greenhouse Thursday Lunch – a Wednesday coffee social held in the arts complex staff common room, 11am-12pm, where colleagues can come together for a regular catch up, to try and strengthen that sense community that I – and certainly many other ‘strange fellows’ of the interdisciplinary type – have already benefitted from at the Bristol CEH. I would encourage those who have time to come along and help us build a strong communal atmosphere that will see the research centre continue to flourish.  

When it came time to give my research talk on ‘Monstrous Mycelium’ at the end of the month, I was buoyed to be speaking to a crowd (I say crowd: we’re talking departmental research seminar, it was hardly Wembley) of friendly and familiar faces. Faces I’d eaten lunch with many times over the 28-day period. Faces who I’d join in drinking £10 pints with later that week, to celebrate what, I think, was a successful talk. New faces, including that of the renowned monster scholar Ingvil Hellstrand, who made the time to come and listen to my monstrous ramblings – what a humbling treat. For the talk itself, far from the extensive critique of a contemporary mycelial genre I’d pictured, I ended up doing a kind of open-ended comparison of mushroom imagery in Silvia Moreno Garcia’s Mexican Gothic and Anna Tsing’s ‘Testimony of a Spore’, asking how fungal characteristics are made to do different theoretical and affective work in each. Although I ended up probing Tsing’s, and other envirohums scholars’, valorisation of the fungus as a theoretical and sociopolitical tool for the ongoing deAnthropocentering project, I can certainly understand its allure. When environments of collaboration and spaces of ongoing networking are supported, stunning Greenhouses can grow.  

Wintry hike up Dalsnuten, across the fjord from Stavanger

Workshop: Environmental Humanities Working With Artists (23 Feb)

Friday 23 February 2024

10:15am – 4:30pm

Meet outside Spike Island Gallery, 133 Cumberland Road,BS5 6UX


Spend a day off-site at Spike Island Gallery, home to eightystudios, to engage with artists in their workspace and discuss artist projects in the public realm. Through a series of artist encounters and studio visits, we will look into variations of artist projects from public art to research collaborations. We will explore the possibilities when working on collaborative projects with artists as well as how artwork can engage with audiences.

The day will include studio visits with artists Jackson+Harris, Katy Connor and designer Jono Lewarne, visits to the exhibitions by Young In Hong and Olu Ogunnaike and workshops exploring approaches to collaborative projects and funding. The day will conclude with an introduction to artist film.

Notes and Handouts will be provided.

Working with Artists

One of our Centre for Environmental Humanities speakers last academic year was Eben Kirksey, an anthropologist at the University of Oxford. Among the themes he addressed in his talk was the value of integrating art and artists into environmental humanities research. Many of the members of our Centre already do this, and some members are artists themselves. For those of us who don’t already work with artists, it can be a little daunting to know where to start. Putting these two things together – the benefits of working with artists and the practical challenges of getting started – was the motivation behind inviting Georgia Hall to lead a day-long workshop on working with artists for the CEH in October 2023. Georgia is a curator from Bristol currently working in Switzerland who has extensive experience in supporting the facilitation of artist-academic collaborations.


The workshop aimed to share experiences of artist / academic projects & collaborations discuss learning and ways of working with artists and discover new ways of working with artists through sharing tips and considerations. The workshop began in the morning in the humanities research space at the University of Bristol. Georgia began by providing an overview of three different artistic collaborations she has been involved with, including Linda Brothwell’s Tools for Tea project in Knowle West, Earth Art Gallery, Earth Sciences Department at the University of Bristol and Art of the Anthropocene project at LSE. We then spent some time exploring the nature of these collaborations. There are broadly three types of collaboration between artists and academics.

  • The first is where an academic approaches an artist to commission a piece of work based on a scholarship that has already been done.
  • The second is where an artist seeks information from an academic about a particular topic to inform their practice.
  • The third is a genuine partnership between an artist and an academic on a common project where the output is uncertain at the start and where the potential exists for real collaborative creativity.

None of these types of collaboration is fundamentally ‘better’ than the others, but Georgia stressed that it is important to be honest about the nature of the relationship from the beginning of a project. We then did a short exercise based on academic collaboration to explore these different forms of collaboration.


As part of this exercise, we considered the importance of all parties having a clear set of expectations about what they want to achieve through the collaboration and aligning these as far as possible. This process of alignment can be challenging, as different ‘outputs’ or results can be valued differently in different professional contexts, but it’s important to take time to ensure that all parties feel a sense of ownership over the process and its results. These differences in approach can also be a productive source of new ideas and creative thinking. For instance, one potential collaboration in the morning exercise explored how theoretical academic discussions about the representation or ‘figuration’ of alternative ecological futures could be reshaped by engaging with artistic representations of these futures.


In the afternoon we walked to Spike Island art gallery where we were given a short introduction to the Ofelia Rodríguez Talking in Dreams exhibition displaying a selection of over 70 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures made over the past five decades. Displaying a combination of found objects and images rich in symbolism to construct humorous yet critical works that examine cultural identity and gender stereotypes, influenced by memories of Rodríguez’s native Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The group then discussed their impressions and reflections on the work.

We then continued the workshop in the associate’s research space. As Georgia suggested, it was a powerful experience to be taken out of our academic surroundings and spend the afternoon surrounded by working artists, demonstrating that collaborating with artists is not the same as collaborating with other academics.

We spent some time discussing some of the practical elements of these kinds of collaboration: It is important to pay artists for their time in the initial design phase of a joint project; an artist may not always be the best person to ‘tell the story’ of their artistic practice so hiring somebody to focus on outreach can be beneficial. Questions were raised about how academics might approach an artist and how they could verify the quality and impact of their work without prior knowledge of their work. This led to a conversation around being continually engaged in the arts as well as working with a trained curator or producer who would advise on contemporary art practice.

An important point that ran throughout the day is that the work of artists is itself research, and to get the most out of collaborations research must be given space to flourish.


Adrian Howkins, Milo Newman, Paul Merchant & Georgia Hall


Remembering Rockpools

Ursula Glendinning, MA student in English

What do rockpools mean to us? How do we remember them? How might the act of looking into tidal pools help us to engage mindfully with the non-human world? These are just a few of the questions raised by Suzannah V. Evans’s workshop on rockpool poetry held in early November. 

Byssus: Jen Hadfield: 9781447241102: Books


We are sat in a small room in the Folkhouse, just off Park Street in Bristol, surrounded by various volumes of poetry that focus on coastal environments and, in particular, rockpools. Next to each seat is a shell: razor clams, scallops, dog whelks, even an Iceland cyprine, are dotted along the perimeter of the table. 

I have come here to learn more about how to write the strange creatures of tidal pools – an interest recently discovered whilst reading for an introductory seminar earlier this year. The works of Isabel Galleymore, Mary Oliver, Jen Hadfield, and many others, have inspired a bit of an obsession and, encouraged by my lecturers, I have found and am now attending a rockpool poetry workshop.  

Each of us holds a shell in our hand and, closing our eyes, we see with our fingers – exploring the tactile pleasure of running our thumbs over smooth indentations and jagged edges. Suzannah asks us to construct our own rockpool, and in a large bowl intended to hold planted flowers, we ritualistically scatter sand, and place, within the nest of stone, the shells we have been cradling. Each of us pours in a bit of water, chanting the words we have chosen to describe the shells – smooth, winged, serrated, meditative. We laugh and regret the placement of a tinfoil sardine: the concoction admittedly looks a bit like a fish stew.  


Ostensibly, the rockpool is a site of extraction. Most of us have childhood memories of picking through the residents of these watery worlds. Which one is the biggest? The shiniest? The most colourful? But the workshop, and my subsequent studies, helped me to see the ethics of rockpooling beyond this perspective. Careful attention to rockpools changes our physical positionality as observers. Rather than looking up at a mountain, gearing for an excursion and eventual conquest, the participant must stoop until they are almost level with the water’s surface. The practice invites a meditative state, a quietness; we sit and observe, asking for nothing in return. 

However, rockpooling is an increasingly endangered pastime. Throughout the workshop, I, and the other attendees, were uncomfortably aware of the emerging threat to rockpools and coastal life in general. We spoke of rising sea levels, loss of species, and shorelines used, abused, and neglected until they become places of rot and pollution. The poems we produced contained an aroma of nostalgia as well as barely stifled anger for these increasingly depleted habitats.  

My current project involves a study of the liveliness of dead crabs in modern and contemporary poetry, looking at May Swenson, Mark Doty and more. I intend to explore how these poets represent the animacies of decay through the speakers’ exploration of intertidal regions. The poems I have chosen are achingly sensual and balance both profound sadness and wonder. Suzannah V. Evan’s workshop provided a vital foundation for this exploration, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity by Bristol’s Centre for Environmental Humanities to further my new obsession with rockpools alongside her and the other participants.  

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.