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).

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.

Two postdocs available studying peatland restoration controversies

Two postdoctoral positions are available on a new project co-led by Dr James Palmer (University of Bristol) and Dr Kärg Kama (University of Birmingham) exploring peatland restoration controversies.

An active peat mine in Valga County, Estonia. Photograph: Dr Kärg Kama.

The Carbon Futures in the Mire project draws on field research at four peat restoration sites — two in the UK and two in Estonia — to undertake the first social science investigation of the knowledge controversies entailed in ongoing efforts to remake European peatlands as carbon storage resources. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Using a range of qualitative methods — including walking interviews, photovoice and deliberative workshops — the project team will engage closely with local communities and stakeholders to address three key research challenges:

  1. What are the implications of carbon-based imperatives of peat restoration for pre-existing uses and experiences of peatlands — including as a fuel source, fertile soil for agriculture, local commons, clean water reservoir, biodiversity haven and palaeoecological archive?
  2. How does expert scientific knowledge about peat restoration and carbon accounting circulate across diverse socio-ecological contexts, and how does this science inform novel strategies for extracting economic value from peat-scapes?
  3. How might scientists and restoration practitioners collaborate with local communities and stakeholders to co-produce place-specific visions of what healthy peat-scapes of the future should look like and how they should be managed?

The posts are based at Birmingham and Bristol, working on Estonian and UK case-studies respectively.

Both posts are 36-months and can be found on

Informal inquiries should be directed to Dr James Palmer.

You can follow the project on twitter @peatscapes.

Parts of the text above were adapted from the Leverhulme Trust February 2023 newsletter.

North Sea Stories: Navigating the Blue Humanities in Norway

This post is re-blogged from Rebecca Tyson’s blog Norman Frontiers.


Course details.

I have just returned from a week-long intensive PhD-level course on the Blue Humanities in Stavanger, Norway and I want to write about the experience, and the ways it made me think about human interactions with water across time and space, while it is still fresh in my mind.

Rather than provide a repeat explanation of what the Blue Humanities is, above is a description of the course and of the Blue Humanities. I also won’t provide a day-by-day account of the course, and instead this blog post will explore some of the thoughts stimulated by my time in Stavanger, and the ways that the course has inspired me to chart new voyages into wider, and more contemporary, Blue Humanities literature. However, Professor Steve Mentz (St. John’s University, New York), who was one of the instructors for the first two days, has written about his own experience here, which will provide some insight into the activities (boardgames which required 2-hours of reading the rules just to set the game up, enthusiastic engagement with Norwegian sauna culture which included swims in the fjord, and of course stimulating scholarly discussions). It was a great week, personally and professionally. These are a few of my thoughts.

I arrived in Stavanger the day before the course started, and I was immediately drawn to the water’s edge where I spent the extra time exploring the eastern side of Hafrsfjord. In (possibly) the year 872 a naval battle took place in Hafrsfjord, which was first recorded by the thirteenth-century Icelandic poet, politician, and historian Snorri Sturluson in the Kings’ saga, Heimskringla. Snorri wrote:

Then the whole army met up to the north of Jaðarr and then make in to Hafrsfjǫrðr. King
Haraldr was already lying there with his army. Then a great battle begins there immediately,
it was both hard and long. But in the end it came about that King Haraldr gained the victory, and there fell King Eiríkr and King Súlki and his brother Jarl Sóti. Þórir haklangr had laid
his ship against King Haraldr’s ship. And Þórir was a great berserk. There was there a
very fierce onslaught before Þórir haklangr fell. Then the whole of his ship was cleared of men.

– Snorri Sturluson, HeimskringlaVolume 1: The Beginnings to Óláfr Tryggvason,
Trans. by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes
(London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2011), p. 66.

This battle has been credited as the moment of the unification of Norway, when its victor, Harald Fairhair, proclaimed himself the first king of the Norwegians, unifying the numerous smaller kingdoms that had been in the region up to that point.

Sculpture of three 10m-high Viking Age swords commemorating the Battle of Hafrsfjord, on the eastern bank of Hafrsfjord. Installed in 1983.

2022 marks the 1150th anniversary of the Battle of Hafrsfjord, and in June this year several events took place over two weeks commemorating the battle ( In May while I was on my Visiting PhD Research Fellowship at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark (see my blog post, the crew of Helge Ask, the reconstruction of Skuldelev 5, were preparing to take the ship to this anniversary event.

A maritime view of the North Sea World.

I am interested in maritime connectivity and movement in the period around the year 1000 AD, and, along with taking a seaward perspective on medieval sources, reorienting the satellite image on GoogleEarth moves the maritime geography of the North Sea world to the centre, shifting the perspective away from the land and highlighting the ways that the connections between regions and peoples may have been conceptualised in the medieval period.

The fjords of south-western Norway.

By focussing in on different regions within this maritime space, the significance of waterways becomes even more obvious, and the commemoration of the Battle of Hafrsfjord shows that the place of medieval maritime activity is embedded in the foundation narrative of the modern country of Norway. Arne Kruse has drawn attention to the importance of these Viking Age maritime routeways through the placenames found along the western seaboard of Norway (‘On Harbours and Havens: Maritime Strategies in Norway during the Viking Age’ in Viking Encounters: Proceedings of the Eighteenth Viking Congress, Denmark, August 6-12, 2017, ed. by Anne Pedersen and Søren Sindbæk (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2020), pp. 170-85), and highlights the similarities with the way islands were used and named in both western Norway and the western isles of Scotland. The Norwegian fjords clearly provided a means of connectivity with settlements along the fjords and into the interior, which may otherwise have been isolated by the difficulties in traversing the mountainous interior, especially in bad weather.

Helge Ask, the reconstruction of Skuldelev 5, being rowed in Hafrsfjord during the Rikssamlingsjubileet in June 2022.
Photo from Rikssamlingsjubileet Hafrsfjord-Nordvegen 2022 Facebook page.

This is demonstrated in another of Snorri’s accounts, when in the autumn of 1026, following another naval battle, the Battle of Helgeå, King Cnut the Great trapped King Olaf II Haraldsson of Norway and his fleet in the Baltic Sea by blocking the sound between present-day Sweden and the island of Zealand, Denmark. This action forced most of the Norwegians to travel home in the winter on foot which took a long time compared to the journey by sea, which one man in the Norwegian army accomplished as he had made an agreement with King Cnut and was permitted to sail through the blockade (Snorri Sturluson, HeimskringlaVolume 2: Óláfr Haraldsson (The Saint), Trans. by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes (London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2014), pp. 194-96).

St. Svithun’s Cathedral, Stavanger. Currently a major restoration project is underway to get the building ready for the 900th anniversary of its foundation in 2025.

Another important North Sea story in Stavanger’s history is the foundation of the cathedral in 1125. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Swithun, a ninth-century former bishop of Winchester in southern England. In the late tenth century Swithun became the patron saint of Winchester Cathedral and his fame and importance grew from around the year 1000. In the year 1100 a man named Reinald, who most likely came to Stavanger from Winchester, started building the original cathedral and became its first bishop, dedicating his new church to Saint Swithun (and he probably brought the saint’s arm relic with him too). This saint from southern England is also remembered in a road name in central Stavanger. Michael Lapidge (The Cult of Saint Swithun (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) pp. 56-57) has explored the cult of Saint Swithun and the connections between Winchester and Stavanger, highlighting the links between the two religious communities, and other religious foundations in Norway, in the twelfth century which were facilitated through transmarine religious networks. Coincidentally, two days after I was wandering around Stavanger contemplating Saint Swithun and these medieval maritime connections between England and Norway, a new podcast from Gone Medieval was published on Saint Swithun and his cult ( A rather fortunate stroke of serendipity.

Sign for St. Svithuns gate, a street in central Stavanger.

As a medievalist and maritime historian (though, one of the many things I took away from the week spent with the inspirational Professor Ellen Arnold was that I think I relate more to the term ‘water historian’) I visit places, at home and abroad, looking for the water and how medieval people used, thought about, and interacted with the local coast/river/harbour etc and the places these connected them to. Like many medieval historians, I’m looking for the lived experience of these watery environments. One of the most tangible connections to these lived experiences is through the objects used by people in the past and then left behind. The Blue Humanities course took us out of the classroom on Wednesday to visit some of the museums in Stavanger, starting with the Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum occupies a beautiful building on the harbour front (actually 6 buildings spread over 3 late medieval merchants’ premises and linked together in a labyrinthine series of corridors and staircases), which is the museum’s most precious asset. The water would have come right up to the buildings originally, allowing merchant vessels to unload directly into the storehouses. On the top floor a sail loft overlooks the harbour, and the floors below contained different exhibits and reconstructed rooms reflecting the harbour’s commercial activities over the last couple of centuries.

Ceiling supports in the Maritime Museum which reminded me of ship’s knees (used in boatbuilding), probably indicating that boatbuilders also worked on these late medieval buildings on Stavanger’s harbour front.

My one recurring criticism of this fascinating category of museum is that they invariably fail to show, or even do more than provide cursory acknowledgement of, any maritime history prior to the activities of the Hanseatic League in the fifteenth century or often even the Age of Sail from the seventeenth century onwards. Stavanger’s maritime museum was no different, despite a tantalising, but brief, reference to nearby Avaldsnes, which has been described by the eminent Norwegian archaeologist Dagfinn Skre as ‘a sea-kings’ manor’ (Avaldsnes- a Sea-Kings’ Manor in First-Millennium Western Scandinavia, ed. by Dagfinn Skre (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018)). To avoid this post becoming an in-depth historiographical study of the scholarship on maritime activity in south-western Norway in the Viking Age let us just leave it at I think the Stavanger Maritime Museum missed an opportunity to highlight the region’s maritime significance further back into the first millennium AD (and beyond).
However, due to the excellent links between the University of Stavanger and the Maritime Museum, the PhD group were tasked to choose exhibits within the Maritime Museum and to rewrite their object texts from our Blue Humanities perspectives which we would then present to the curator later in the week. My contribution is below, and I attempted to address several things in a single paragraph: firstly, pottery is only boring if you talk about it in a boring way; secondly, the pottery didn’t move itself across the North Sea; thirdly, the ‘medieval period’ (arguably) covers 1,000 years from 500AD-1500AD and I think museums should be specific in their dating of medieval objects.

The objects from the Maritime Museum that I chose to rewrite the text for in one of the course exercises.

In the feedback session with the curator I was very interested when she said that the Maritime Museum’s remit was to cover the maritime history of Stavanger from the Reformation onwards, and that the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger would cover the earlier history. I had visited the Museum of Archaeology already and I knew that there wasn’t any display of this earlier maritime history, so I asked if there had ever been any meetings between the two museums regarding how each would represent the history of the town. The answer was no, there hadn’t. This exercise has given me a greater insight into some of the questions museums have to contend with about how and what stories to tell.

The Viking Voyagers Exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology.

I visited the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger, though it wasn’t one of the suggested museums to visit, which in itself was interesting and one of several instances during the week where I felt that the Blue Humanities field is, at present, largely the contemporary Blue Humanities, and at a push the Modern Blue Humanities in a historical sense. The Museum of Archaeology currently has an exhibition called Viking Voyagers, which explores the provenance of a selection of objects and postulates how they may have found their way into Viking Age burials in Norway. The exhibition was consciously outward looking, from Norway across the North Sea to maritime neighbours in Ireland (book/horse mounts refashioned into brooches in Norway), Scotland (penannular brooches), England (jet beads), and the Netherlands (fabric used for clothing). I was particularly interested to see a gilded silver brooch from tenth-century Carolingian Francia.

Objects in a burial from Litle Eige, Eigersund, south of Stavanger on the coast of south-western Norway. Object 1 is the tenth-century Carolingian silver brooch.

Normandy in northern France was a duchy within Carolingian Francia (for simplicity’s sake I refer to all the tenth and eleventh-century Norman rulers as dukes, though see Robert Helmerichs, ‘Princeps, Comes, Dux Normannorum: Early Rollonid Designators and their Significance’, in Haskins Society Journal, 9 (1997) 57-77 for a scholarly examination of the titles used by the early Norman rulers). In the early tenth century a Scandinavian leader called Rollo was granted land between the River Epte and the sea, probably as a way to stop other viking groups repeatedly plundering the Frankish interior using the river network (see Christian Cooijmans, Monarchs and Hydrarchs: The Conceptual Development of Viking Activity across the Frankish Realm (c. 750-940) (London: Routledge, 2021) for an examination of the scale of these attacks).

Writing c. 1015 Dudo of Saint-Quentin wrote the first (and official) history of the Normans which recounted Rollo’s pagan past and his exploits around the North Sea Zone, including time spent in Denmark, England, and the Low Countries (see Benjamin Pohl, Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s Historia Normannorum: Tradition, Innovation and Memory (Woodbridge: York Medieval Press, 2015)). Dudo’s text was developed by William of Jumièges, writing c. 1050-70, who adapted the text and made additions of his own, including the first recorded story of (Ragnar) Lothbrok and Björn Ironside (see Elisabeth van Houts, ‘Scandinavian influence in Norman literature of the eleventh century’, Anglo-Norman Studies, 6 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1983), 107-21 (pp. 113-17)).

William of Jumièges also provided an account of the exploits of Olaf, king of Norway (1015-28) and later Saint Olaf, during his youth spent raiding in Francia, where William of Jumiéges is the only non-Scandinavian source for this period in Olaf’s life. A contemporary Scandinavian source for this same account comes from Sigvatr Þorðarson, an oral poet or ‘skald’ from Iceland who composed Old Norse praise poetry at Olaf’s court from c. 1015. Both Olaf and Sigvatr have been credited with a direct connection to Rouen, the principal city in early eleventh-century Normandy, as Sigvatr says that he had been to Rouen himself in the 1020s (see Sigvatr Þorðarson, ‘Víkingararvísur’, ed. by Judith Jesch, in Diana Whaley (ed) Poetry from The Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c.1035 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012), p. 532-33), and William of Jumièges states that Olaf came to Normandy at the request of Duke Richard II to provide military assistance to the duke in 1013-14 and that he was baptised in Rouen by the duke’s brother, Archbishop Robert; a significant distinction for Rouen when Olaf was canonised in Norway only one year after his death in 1030 (see Elisabeth van Houts (ed). The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumièges, Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Torigni, Oxford Medieval Texts, Vol. II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 24-27).

A model Viking longship and a relic of St. Olaf, patron saint of Norway, in Rouen Cathedral. Donated by the bishop of Oslo in 2014 to commemorate 1,000 years since St. Olaf’s baptism in Rouen Cathedral. Photo taken during my cycling trip around Normandy in February this year (see

I had all these North Sea stories in my mind while I was standing in front of the case with the silver brooch from Carolingian Francia, thinking about the literary, artistic, cultural, economic, and political connections these objects reflected, yet they are placed here without this fascinating context. All we learn from the text in the case is that it is ‘a round, gilded silver brooch with plant decoration’, and all the stories from the world in which it was made are erased. It is just an object, as if objects don’t hold meaning for either us or their original owners. I felt surprisingly sad that other visitors to this exhibition wouldn’t know these stories. I never thought of myself as a storyteller, but the course last week had a heavy literary focus and now I am looking at these North Sea narratives and I feel that they need to be woven throughout my own thesis. I need to be an historian and a storyteller, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.

Norse kings of Dublin and the Battle of Hafrsfjord display in the Viking Voyagers exhibition.

Returning to local waters again, another interesting display in the Viking Voyagers exhibition was on the possible involvement of Norse kings of Dublin in the Battle of Hafrsfjord. This is all very conjectural, and is based on the close association with the Norse kings of Dublin to the Scandinavian world and the names ‘Laithlind’ and ‘Lochlann’ in Irish sources, which the panel suggests may be names for this part of Norway. I found it fascinating that the exhibition curator dedicated a considerable amount of space to this complex subject, which was explored in only three paragraphs of text. There is probably a PhD thesis for someone in exploring these questions so it was a bold move, and I certainly left the exhibition feeling that they had done a good job in highlighting Norway’s maritime connections to the west. Sadly, those same connections with the east and the south were, however, entirely missing. Museums are not just the custodians of objects, they also have the power to decide which stories are told.

Cover of the 60th anniversary edition of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.

I have focussed on the objects, seascapes, and sources in this exploration of my thoughts on the Blue Humanities PhD course, which reflects my training and background (and, lets be honest, also preferences) as an archaeologist and medievalist. However, on the course, only Ellen, myself, and another PhD were medievalists, with sixteen other PhDs and speakers coming from contemporary studies, or significantly more modern periods of study, which meant that during the week, I actually spent the vast majority of the time thinking about the Blue Humanities from those points of view. Yet, I felt that I gained a great deal by expanding my horizons into the literature and theoretical considerations of post-colonial, feminist, and more-than-human approaches. A discussion with a fellow PhD working on modern-day sardinella fishers in Senegal has introduced me to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and his ideas of national conscious, which I look forward to reading to broaden my perspective on the works of Dudo of Saint-Quentin and William of Jumièges. One of the set readings for the course was Barbara Watson Andaya’s ‘Seas, Oceans, and Cosmologies in Southeast Asia’ which, along with the in-class discussion with Professor Aike Rots (University of Oslo), has given me so much to think about regarding the place of spirituality along the coast of eleventh-century Normandy. I am not by any means suggesting that eleventh-century Normandy and modern Vietnam are the same, but by looking at these places, which are so far apart in time and space, in different ways to the traditional makes me ask different questions and see new answers. That is really exciting.

Abstract from Andaya’s 2017 article.

I found the Blue Humanities PhD course at the University of Stavanger to be a welcoming, stimulating, and fun experience. The other PhDs were all lovely, inspirational people who are doing such important work, I am excited to see what they do in the coming months and years. All the speakers were generous with their time and thoughts, and Ellen made us all very welcome in Stavanger and came up with a really great programme.

Thank you very much to the Centre for Environmental Humanities at the University of Bristol and to the NoRs-EH/The Greenhouse at the University of Stavanger for funding towards my attendance on this course. It is very gratefully appreciated.

Yellow boat naust, Hafrsfjord, Stavanger.

Rebecca Tyson is a PhD student in History at the University of Bristol. Rebecca’s blog Norman Frontiers can be found here.

PhD opportunity on rewilding and farming in the UK

PhD funding is available for a new research project on rewilding and farming in the UK, based in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol.

The project is funded through the University of Bristol Strategic Fund, and comprises an interdisciplinary component with two PhD scholarships available. One is in Ecology based in the School of Biological Sciences, the other (outlined below) in Human Geography based in the School of Geographical Sciences. Dr Lauren Blake will be the lead supervisor for the latter, along with a wider supervision team within Human Geography and Ecology.

Further information is available on the UoB Human Geography PhD opportunities page here and full details are available at this link. There is also a shorter version on FindaPhD to circulate, and key details below. The deadline to apply is 17th March.

Project brief: Studentship Two (human geography) will focus on the socio-cultural, political, and economic challenges and opportunities of rewilding in the UK. Working under the primary supervision of Dr Lauren Blake, this project will explore the tensions and synergies between rewilding and food production/agriculture, including considering its viability, acceptability, and trade-offs. Policy analysis may also be relevant, as well as current trends towards regenerative and agroecological farming. The research will require primarily qualitative approaches (possibly including participatory/creative methods), but some quantitative methods will also be expected (e.g. survey data). As well as empirical, the PhD project should have strong theoretical grounding. The research will require integrating results from studentship 1 (ecology) to give a holistic understanding of rewilding’s environmental and social potential and feasibility in the UK. The project will require the postgraduate researcher to cultivate their autonomy over the project’s focus and trajectory. The successful student’s particular interests, background, experience, and expertise will heavily shape both the project focus and methodology accordingly. Applicants’ experience and ideas for moulding the potential of the research should be outlined in the application proposal.

Studentship 2 requirements: The successful applicant will have a strong interest in food, farming, conservation and biodiversity, a background in human geography or cognate discipline, experience with mixed research methods including qualitative methods and analysis, and a motivation for self-learning. Applicants must hold/achieve by the start date of the project a minimum of a master’s degree (or international equivalent) in geography or related subject (e.g. sociology, anthropology), and a minimum of a 2:1 at undergraduate level (preferentially a 1st or equivalent). We especially welcome and encourage student applications from under-represented groups: we value a diverse research environment.

Application: Applicants must submit the following as part of their application: any relevant academic transcripts; an up-to-date CV; and arrange for two letters of reference (at least one must be an academic reference). A personal statement is also required, of up to 1,000 words, outlining your motivation for applying to the project, the School, your suitability for postgraduate research, and any relevant experience, skills and personal attributes you want to highlight. In addition, all applicants to Studentship Two should submit a research statement of no more than 1,300 words (excluding bibliography) outlining how you would apply your particular interest, knowledge and skills to the project on rewilding and farming in the UK. The statement should include reflection on key debates on the topic, potential theoretical and methodological approaches, specific geographies of expertise or interest, possible relevant policy, and both specific training and future ambition with respect to the project.

Scholarship details: Studentship stipend of minimum £17,668 per annum subject to eligibility and confirmation of award, plus tuition fees and £2,000 per annum per studentship towards project costs. Duration: 4 years for each studentship. Eligibility: Home/UK and international students.

Application Deadline: 17th March 2023

To discuss the position, please contact Dr Lauren Blake (lead supervisor):

New book: Ecocriticism and the Island by Pippa Marland

Announcing the publication of:

Ecocriticism and the Island: Readings from the British-Irish Archipelago – Pippa Marland (Rowman and Littlefield, December 2022).

Ecocriticism and the Island explores a wide selection of island-themed creative non-fiction, offering new insights into the ways in which authors negotiate existing cultural tropes of the island while offering their own distinctive articulations of “islandness.” This book represents an important intervention into both island literary studies and ecocriticism.


Ecocriticism and the Island is a fascinating study of the diversity and importance of literature and life across the north Atlantic archipelago. Written with clarity and insight, it is a guide to the histories of communities around Ireland and Britain and an augur of our collective future through engagement with art, language, and climate science, all brought together in a compelling critical and creative narrative. It is an important addition to the archipelagic and blue humanities and marks a good step forward in island thinking.”

Nicholas Allen, director, Wilson Center for Humanities and Arts, University of Georgia

“Drawing upon an impressive breadth of theoretical reference as well as interviews with key writers, Pippa Marland offers sensitive and illuminating close readings of a diverse range of creative non-fictional texts. The result is a brilliantly original and engagingly lucid work of ‘archipelagraphy’ that demonstrates how ecocriticism might contribute to island studies and how island-themed texts might advance ecocritical practice. Ecocriticism and the Island is essential reading for all researchers and students interested in the intersections of literature, place, and contemporary environmental thought.”

David Cooper, founding co-director of the Centre for Place Writing, Manchester Metropolitan University

“Read this book if you are drawn to the ever-more-crowded bookstore shelves of creative nonfiction about place and about living in, traversing, or mapping distinctive geographies and their communities. Ecocriticism and the Island is a meticulously researched study of island-themed books by some of the most important writers on these shelves. It is a gift to researchers seeking new approaches to island literary studies, offering thorough and utterly persuasive close readings that confirm the ultimate inseparability of actual and imagined islands. It is also a gift to researchers seeking a route between the concepts and methods of island studies and of ecocriticism, two approaches that, as Marland amply demonstrates, need each other.”

Lisa Fletcher, Head of Humanities, University of Tasmania

Pippa Marland is a Lecturer in Humanities at the University of Bristol

Life within the viral cloud

This post is reblogged from Milo Newman‘s blog, Mourning Auks: exploring creative articulations of ecological loss. Milo is a third-year PhD student in the School of Geographical Sciences.

The post details a period of artwork production and fieldwork on the island of Papay in Orkney, forming part of a PhD project exploring bird extinction through creative practice.

(C) Milo Newman

Time passes, washing over the island in a cycle of near continuous day. The Earth spins, and the sun is drawn down into a brief dusk, pulling light into the sea and lower sky. My plaster eggs, held in their pinhole cameras, collect all this illuminance onto their surfaces. Occasionally the haar drifts in, a sea fog borne by the wind. Moisture condensed over the coldness of the North Sea clags over the island. Distance collapses to a world of immediacy, to sequences of greys and eerie silhouettes. The experience of this light also gathers onto the eggshells.

On mornings when the haar is absent and the Holm is visible I often walk down to the beach and scan its distant shore with my binoculars, counting the pinhole cameras, and checking if they still look secure. Over the course of these repeated inspections I realise that the eggs are perhaps not recording a period of former care as I had imagined. Rather, they are collecting a durational space—one of reflection, or meditation perhaps, on the collapse of avian becoming (Rose, 2012; Rose et al., 2017; van Dooren, 2014) that is quite visibly occurring here.

As the most perceptible sign of this dull slide towards extinction (again see van Dooren, 2014), it’s been impossible not to keep thinking about the H5N1 influenza virus. Though just one of many pressures impacting the seabirds here and driving their decline, it is by far the most noticeable. The morbidity is devastating. Even though I am here researching such exterminating processes there are days when I find it too overwhelming—when I can’t bear to see any more sick, dead, and dying birds. Avian lives are precarious at the best of times, but the far-reaching ripples of anthropogenic activity, (including H5N1, which emerged in the virus laboratory that is industrial-scale poultry farming) mean that recovery from such mass mortality becomes harder and harder.

The forty-four day photographic exposure I’m recording to mimic the incubation of the extinct auks has been marked by this experience of death. On my walks I see the corpses of birds everywhere. Gannets protrude from the sand, half buried. Sometimes just the tops of their heads protrude, the feathers moving slightly as the wind scrapes the ground, rippling the beach away into streams of matter. Still other birds lie discarded amongst the seaweed on the tideline; guillemots, fulmars. Tattered feathers are strewn throughout. On another day I am invited to come and collect the dead bonxies (great skuas) that litter North Hill. There is a concern that this might spread disease by transferring the virus around on boots and clothes, and also a deeper anxiety that contact (albeit brief) risks giving the virus the opportunity to mutate and jump species. However, these apprehensions are countered by the fact that doing nothing also risks allowing the virus to spread. By leaving deceased birds to decay they are often scavenged, and can contaminate bodies of water. We use litter pickers to collect the carcases, lifting them around their necks and dumping them into binbags. It is depressing work. Many look to have died in anguish; their wings contorted and their heads pushed hard into the soft ground. Over the course of the afternoon we gather the bodies of a third of Papay’s breeding population.

I find myself thinking through the space of the island, and how it has been changed by all this death. Or rather, not how it has changed, but what falsities have been revealed in how space is predominantly conceptualised. I remember whilst gathering the dead bonxies looking up and catching sight of the trig point beneath the clouds on the summit of North Hill. Providing a fixed position from which triangulation can occur, these pillars allow land to be abstracted into grids, and accurately mapped. But to be amidst this unravelling ecosystem is to feel unmoored from the certainties such spatial imaginings promise. The island is not a space of fixity, but one of flux. Its moods change with the weather fronts that pass so rapidly overhead. Further, its small size does not equate to simplicity—it is a locus of complexity, where drifts of matter and lives snag and are held for various lengths of time. Deeply entangled ecologies bloom over evolutionary time. Their being, again, is not fixed, but fluctuates and transforms. Worlds are co-shaped; ways of being are re-negotiated in every moment between organisms themselves, and with a world that changes around them. The character of space gathers, coheres, and transforms through relations.

The idea of the island as a place with fixed boundaries also begins to break down. On a simple level, its erosion is an ongoing process. The coastlines change shape almost daily; the sandy eastern shore especially so. But the island also reveals a deeper porosity. This is perhaps made most visible through the H5N1 virus itself. Celia Lowe (2010) writes how viruses, rather than existing as well-bounded organisms are quasi-species that form and enact their identities with others. The virus blurs the boundaries between bodies, between species. As she puts it, multiple ways of being are:

 ‘transformed amid encounters among viruses[:] the immune systems of animal hosts, and the human institutions that struggle to reckon with the specter of a terrifying pandemic. One can think, then, of [the space of the virus as] “multispecies clouds,” collections of species transforming together in both ordinary and surprising ways.’ (Ibid., 626)

I find I have begun to draw imaginative connections between these viral clouds, and the haar that at times glides in and envelops the island. The viral cloud is transformational. It affects and alters my being, even if infection is avoided. Indeed, it is impossible not to be pulled apart emotionally whilst witnessing the individual suffering of so many birds.

The melancholy fact is that we exist in a world of change, and live long enough to notice long-term declines. We might remember the abundance of the past and compare that memory to how things are now, and wish to return. I often fear this is an impossibility. We might also find solace in the promise of deep, evolutionary futures; with the prospect that at some point life’s richness will repair itself. But, this argument disavows the beauty that still surrounds us amidst these unravelling worlds, and leads towards the easy options of acceptance and inaction. Just as the haar collapses distances, the viral cloud holds us in the present, and in proximity with intense vulnerability.

(C) Milo Newman

Some days it feels like enough research just to walk out amidst the blurred, rain-filled light onto the hill and watch the remaining skuas wheeling over the darkened ground of their territories, white flashing from their wings. As I sit in the midst of such relation, I feel that we should not quietly accept the injustices that ripple into this shared realm.


LOWE, C. 2010. VIRAL CLOUDS: Becoming H5N1 in Indonesia. Cultural Anthropology, 25, 625-649.

ROSE, D. B. 2012. Multispecies Knots of Ethical Time. Environmental Philosophy, 9, 127-140.

ROSE, D. B., VAN DOOREN, T. & CHRULEW, M. 2017. Introduction: Telling Extinction Stories. In: DEBORAH BIRD ROSE, T. V. D. A. M. C. (ed.) Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations. New York: Columbia University Press.

VAN DOOREN, T. 2014. Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction, New York, Columbia University Press.


Read the original post on Milo’s website.

Food Sovereignty and Agroecology in Nicaragua – in conversation with Marlen Sanchez

The Bristol researchers Food Justice Network and the Cabot Institute Food Security Theme invite you to:

Food Sovereignty and Agroecology in Nicaragua – in conversation with Marlen Sanchez

Marlen Sanchez, director of the Latin American Institute for Agroecology (IALA), and coordinator/interpreter Erika Takeo, both from the Nicaragua Rural Workers Association (ATC), are in the UK on a speaking tour and coming to the University of Bristol for this special event. Both Marlen and Erika also work in the international relations secretariat of CLOC, the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations, which is part of the global movement La Via Campesina. These organisations work on land rights, worker rights, food sovereignty, agroecology, climate justice and social transformation around food systems.

La Via Campesina (LVC), set up in 2003, is a global movement of 200 million peasant farmers, indigenous peoples and rural workers in 81 countries, including the Landworkers Alliance in the UK and the ATC in Nicaragua, which is a founder member of LVC. It denounces the human and environmental destruction of the international food system dominated by global corporations.

The event will be taking place in the Peel Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Sciences, on Tuesday 1 November from 1-2pm (in person only). The discussion and Q&A will be chaired by Dr Jaskiran Kaur Chohan, Lecturer in Political Ecology, who researches agroecology in Colombia.

Please note, if you would like to attend, you must register here.

PGR Multispecies reading group

The CEH has an active and welcoming PGR reading group, that begins its 2022-23 programme this week on Wednesday 13 October.

The group will be discussing some texts that introduce multispecies ways of thinking. It is convened by Eline Tabak, a PhD researcher and CEH member.

Full details, including how to contact Eline, can be found on our PGR reading group page.