It’s Day 3 of the University Press Week blog tour (#UPWeek), and it’s our turn at bat. With today’s theme being a subject are spotlight, we’re giving the mic to our Environmental Humanities series editor, Dr. Cheryl Lousley.
A quarter century ago, Canadian environmental philosopher Neil Evernden wrote that the environmental crisis was a crisis of the imagination. A way of thinking about the world as if passive, dead matter—there for us to manipulate for our own ends—justified and legitimized the poisoning of air, water and land and the accelerating extinction of species.
If environmental problems are embedded in culture and thought, then they will not be solved through technological intervention alone. Ecology is not only about the sciences, but also an urgent question for the humanities. Without the critical and imaginative interventions of the humanities, the possibilities for social change will remain narrowly circumscribed.
Too often, for example, environmental problems are taken to be about animals or landscapes when human health, cultures, and experiences are also stake. The generational-scale violence of ecological destruction—what literary critic Rob Nixon calls the “long dyings” of individuals, communities, and species—tends to not even register as violence at all, but instead as unfortunate accidents or unintended side-effects of well-intentioned business. With his concept of “slow violence,” the title of his 2011 book, Nixon identifies a significant role for the humanities in environmental debate: “how to devise arresting stories, images, and symbols adequate to the pervasive but elusive violence of delayed effects” (2-3).
The last few decades have seen significant engagements with environmental questions within humanities disciplines: literature, film, radio and television, Web-based media, visual art, dance and theater arts, fashion, religious expression, museums and tourist displays, built and natural landscapes—all have become crucial sites for exploring how ecological relationships and identities are lived and imagined.
In his 2013 book Ecologies of the Moving Image, environmental film and cultural theorist Adrian Ivakhiv considers cinema as a form of “world-production” and proposes a film criticism that works in the différance of cinematic to material worlds. Film, he argues, is an ecologically intensive medium that creates spectacular environments that audiences inhabit on an affective level, even as their material relation to that physical world can seem suspended. Ornithologies of Desire, on the other hand, a 2013 book by literary scholar Travis Mason, places desire at the centre of the relation between poetry and bird-watching—at least as playfully and provocatively developed in the works of Canadian poet Don McKay.
As should be clear, environmental humanities is not just a matter of adding “nature” or “ecology” to an already simmering humanities pot. Critical environmental thinking challenges many tenets of humanities scholarship, querying the boundaries that separate human from animal, social from material, and objects and bodies from techno-ecological networks. Humanistic accounts of political representation and ethical recognition are re-examined in consideration of other species and the ecological embodiment of human lives. Social identities and affects are studied in relation the material distribution and contestation of environmental hazards and pleasures, historically and in the present.
This interdisciplinary engagement with the intertwining of cultural and biophysical worlds is what makes environmental humanities research critical to current environmental debate and puts it at the forefront of humanities scholarship today.
Wilfrid Laurier University Press became involved in the environmental humanities in 2007 when scholars in the field proposed a book series. The Environmental Humanities book series is one of few existing gathering points for environmental humanities scholarship in Canada and internationally. From the outset, the series has emphasized the value of bringing together scholars and research from across the environmental humanities to pursue a threefold mandate: (a) to articulate the value and contribution of humanities research and modes of thought and practice to environmental debate; (b) to contribute to the development of humanities research questions, methods, and theories from environmental perspectives; and (c) to bring together research from across the environmental humanities in one place to facilitate exchange and cross-disciplinary discussion on common theoretical and critical issues.
The series aims to create a public space in which to foster Canadian and international dialogue across disciplines, disseminate research results, and support pedagogy within the environmental humanities. (In meeting this goal, the Press continually engages both within and beyond the bounds of the printed book, as the ways in which scholars communicate with each other and the public evolves. For the Environmental Humanities Series this means exploring possibilities for rapid response scholarship through the development of a digital shorts publishing, online access the newsletter of the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada / Association pour la littérature, l’environnement et la culture au Canada (ALECC), and partnership in new ventures leveraging the tools of the digital humanities.)
Don’t forget to check out the other presses blogging today: