Due to the Covid situation, the ESEH 2021 conference was postponed. Instead, a series of online seminars “Environmental History Today” is being held between March and July 2021. All the events are open to public and designed for keeping a lively dialogue about environmental history in these difficult times. Here you will find all the information about the series.

  • Program & Abstracts

30 March 2021 / Seminar 1: From the American Steppes to Białowieża Primeval Forest. Book launches David Moon & Tomasz Samojlik / Anastasia Fedotova.


When? 30 March 2021, 11 AM to 12 AM CET

Who?  David Moon (University of York; University College London); Anastasia Fedotova and Tomasz Samojlik

David Moon, The American Steppes: The Unexpected Russian Roots of Great Plains Agriculture Cambridge University Press, 2020.


This transnational environmental history of two grassland regions – the Russian/Eurasian steppes and the North American Great Plains – explores a series of transfers between two regions with similar environments and environmental histories. People, plants, agricultural sciences and techniques all made their way from the steppes to the Great Plains. Thus, contrary to what some may consider a standard pattern of transfers of science and technology from West to East, in this case, Americans learned from prior experience in the Russian and Soviet states. Hence the “unexpected Russian roots of Great Plains agriculture”.

David Moon is Professor at the University of York, UK and Honorary Professor at the School of Slavonic and E. European Studies, University College London. His interests include Russian, Eurasian and transnational environmental history.

Tomasz Samojlik, Anastasia Fedotova, Piotr DaszkiewiczIan and D. Rotherham, Białowieża Primeval Forest: Nature and Culture in the Nineteenth Century, Springer  Environmental History book series, 2020https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-33479-6

Understanding the current state and dynamics of any forest is impossible without recognizing its history. Białowieża Primeval Forest (BPF), located on the border between Poland and Belarus, is one of the best preserved European lowland forests and a subject of myriads of works focusing on countless aspects of its biology, ecology, and management. After few centuries (14th-18th) of protection as a royal forest and game reserve of Polish kings and Lithuanian grand dukes, the forest fell under the rule of Russian state and later (since 1888) – under personal ownership of Russian tsars. During the long 19th century many of “older” ways of multi-functional utilisation of the forest (haymaking, bee-keeping, cattle pasturing, etc.) underwent changes in accordance with the requirements of the new administration and principles of “rational” forestry. They were put under tighter control, or even fell under the ban. However, attempts at introducing the “rational” forestry in the last refugium of European bison were hindered by numerous obstacles. The entire long 19th century (in this case 1795-1915) in the history of BPF is a story of struggle between “traditional” use, new administrative trends in forest and game management and the rising perception of the primeval or pristine forest.

The book shows the historical background and the outcome of this struggle: BPF’s history in the long 19th century focusing on tracking all cultural imprints, both material (cultural landscapes, introduced alien species, human-induced processes) and immaterial(traditional knowledge of forest and use of forest resources, the political and cultural significance of the forest, scientific research) that shaped the state and picture of one of the last truly wild forests of Europe.

08 April 2021 / Seminar 2: Portuguese Environmental History – Flying sands, weather, rivers and plants in a comparative perspective

When? THURSDAY 08/04 5 PM – 7 PM CET

Who? Ana Isabel Lopes (CITCEM-Faculty of Arts, University of Porto); José Rafael Soares (University of Minho); Luís Pedro Silva (University of Porto) and Manuel Miranda Fernandes (CEGOT – University of Porto).

Ana Isabel Lopes: Drift sands and vulnerability of coastal communities in northwest Portugal in Early Modern Age

Since the Middle Ages, some European coastal communities, as a result of its specific geographical conditions, have been affected by drift sands. On the northwest coast of Portugal, this phenomenon occurred, especially, between 1600’s and 1900’s, confirmed, particularly by geomorphological studies. Based on geographical and historical descriptions of northwest coast of Portugal, produced during Early Modern Age, which contain information about local geomorphology, climate and anthropic activity that corroborates natural science, it aims to identify the intensity of drift sands and its impacts in these communities (economic, social or other). Considering this historical data, it is intended to compare similarities between the reality of portuguese northwest coast communities with other european communities, along Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, demonstrating that drift sands had no borders and coastal communities endured a common challenge with similar impacts on its daily life.

Ana Isabel Lopes (CITCEM-Faculty of Arts, University of Porto) is a PhD investigator in History at the Faculty of Arts, University of Porto. She has a bachelor degree in History and a master degree in History and Heritage (specialization in Local and Regional Studies) at the same institution. Their studies have been dedicated to drift sands and its impacts and the responses taken by the communities and their powers, in northwest coast of Portugal, during Early Modern Age. + info: email: lopes.anaisabel1003@gmail.com; https://www.cienciavitae.pt/portal/B318-910C-A7E5

José Rafael Soares: The waters of transgressors: study of the history of pollution in a tributary of the river Ave (1892-1974)

Our study aims to understand the phenomenon of industrial pollution in the river Ave hydrographic basin, from 1892 to 1974. An industrialization process whose energy availability was based mainly on water characterizes this hydrographic region of the Northwest of Portugal. Bringing a new dynamism to contemporary Portuguese society and promising progress and material well-being, industrial activity boosted new relationships with the surrounding landscape. Because of the recognition of the consequences arising from these manufacturing facilities, the Portuguese authorities legislated to mitigate their effects without jeopardizing economic development. We propose to analyze the evolution of legislation, since the publication of Decree No. 211 of 7 September 1855, which deals with the “uncomfortable, unhealthy and dangerous places” of Portuguese industry, including the publication of Decree No. 276 of 5 December 1892, which explains the structure of hydraulic services. In fact, through the records of the Northern Hydrographic Region Administration it is possible to verify various transgressions in river Ave, such as fishing with poison or illegal discharging of ash. These files make it possible to map the areas of activity that could contaminate the numerous watercourses in that region. The transgression processes contain precious information about the authorities’ procedures and about the dynamics of Man in the territory.

Throughout three different political regimes, legislators cataloged industrial establishments according to classifications that met the production of pollution in the surrounding communities, seeking, at an early stage, to police the externalities. Among the most affected communities, we find in riverside towns a permanent place of conflict and dispute, anchored in very old uses over the territory and subject to new pressures on natural resources. The river is thus a privileged vehicle for interpreting the history of hydrological planning and a testimony to the fight against pollution.

Born in 1991. Graduated in History (2014), José Rafael Soares specialized in Public Policies in the post-graduation course in Sociology (2015) and completed his Master’s in History Teaching (2017), always at the University of Minho. He awoke to the themes of Environmental History during the course of Tropical Medicine, taught by Casa Oswaldo Cruz (2016), in partnership with the Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is co-author of a study on the activity of the National Union in Braga, on the eve of the 1961 elections (“Focos que nos desunem”, 2017). He is currently a PhD student in History at the University of Minho, with the project financed by the Foundation for Science and Technology, which is called “The waters of transgressors: study of the history of pollution in a tributary of the Rio Ave (1892-1974)”. + info: email: graphazoni@gmail.com; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0061-9594


Luís Pedro Silva: Climate, weather, agriculture, and food in the Northwest of Portugal between 1798 and 1830

In this study, I intend to explore the relationship between weather and climate within socio-historical forces, rethinking the human place in nature, as an approach to understand how humans can deal with climate change and the role that climate and weather played in Portuguese past. In this context, I try to assess the impacts of meteorological phenomena on agricultural production in Northwest Portugal, between 1798 and 1830. This study analyses and discusses two recently (re)discovered weather diaries, written in the agricultural region of Entre-Douro-e-Minho, in the Northwest of Portugal (Western Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, in the Southwest of Europe). The exploitation of these sources is the opportunity to discuss methodological concerns, in particular how to transform qualitative in quantitative indexes. Those sources, produced by Benedictine monastic communities, owners of big farms in this region, provide systematic data concerning weather conditions, and are supplemented by a number of phenological and agricultural production records. My main goals in this study are: to define opportunities and problems concerning the use of documentary evidences in Historical Climatology in Portugal; to reconstruct climatic variations and extreme weather events in the NW of Portugal, during the period 1798-1830; and to assess the impacts of meteorological phenomena on agricultural activity in the geographical area comparing with European data.

Luís Pedro Silva has a PhD in History from the University of Porto (Portugal) in June 2019, with a thesis entitled “The climate of Northwest Portugal (1600-1855): from discourses to impacts”. He is currently a researcher at the Transdisciplinary Research Centre «Culture, Space and Memory» (CITCEM) based at the same University. His research interests focus in Environmental History, with a special focus on Climate History. He is a founding member of the Portuguese Network on Environmental History (REPORTHA) and an associate member of the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH). + info: https://www.cienciavitae.pt/pt/041A-C935-A89D; E-mail: pedrosilva1099@hotmail.com.

Manuel Miranda Fernandes: ACACIAS ON A MERRY-GO-ROUND A ride through the phytogeographic transfer and circulation of acacias in the Mediterranean region

Several signs clearly show how anxious we have been to chase away acacias of Australian origin that proliferate in rural Mediterranean landscapes. We have gone so far as to blame them for the various malfunctions that these landscapes suffer, and to propose, as a final solution, the eradication of these “invasive” plants. It seems that we forgot how well they were received during the nineteenth century, being disseminated by human agency for scientific and ornamental purposes and, as a source of raw materials. We also forgot that, long before these Australian plants reached the Mediterranean Region, other acacias were known here, some of Egyptian origin, circulating since the Classical Antiquity, others coming from Mesoamerica, since the sixteenth century. If we are not available to acknowledge a more comprehensive reading of the conceptual and geographical framework in which these plants are involved, our efforts to deal with them will be similar to a merry-go-round ride in which, after endless turns, the arrival point is the same as the departure point.

Manuel Miranda Fernandes is specialist in exotic plant invasions, political ecology and acacia geography. Member of CEGOT – Centre of Studies in Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Porto, Portugal, prepare a PhD in Geography; + info: email mmfernand@gmail.com,   https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0170-2018 https://www.cienciavitae.pt/portal/en/5113-55E2-958E

20 April 2021 / (ASEH Environmental History Week). Seminar 3: A more-than-human history of the (de)peasantisation of the páramos around Bogotá, Colombia.


When? TUESDAY 20/04 5 PM – 6 PM CET

Who? Hanne Cottyn (University of York), Santiago Martínez (Instituto Humboldt), Ana María Garrido (Instituto Humboldt)

Throughout the twentieth century, the peasant families that settled in the rural areas around the Colombian capital of Bogotá have developed an intimate relationship with these mountain landscapes known as “páramos”. However, in a constantly shifting context defined by struggles over land, urban expansion, Green Revolution, armed conflict and emerging conservation policies, their presence in the páramos has been overlooked, fomented, denied and contested. In this presentation, we unpack the (de)peasantisation of the páramos in terms of a multispecies negotiation. First, we interrogate how páramo landscapes continue to figure as a passive and homogeneous backdrop in the study of these dynamic peasant trajectories. At the same time, we question the way in which páramos have emerged as an object of research and governance to which the presence of peasants constitutes an anomaly. With the aim of overcoming the mutual blind spots between the study of peasants and páramos, we analyse the practices through which peasants have made and defended the páramo as a habitable space, and the negotiations this involves with diverse human and other-than-human actors. Combining historical and ethnographic methods, we examine specific cases in the páramos of Sumapaz, Chingaza and Guerrero.


Hanne Cottyn, Santiago Martínez and Ana María Garrido collaborate on the interdisciplinary  research project “Integrating ecological and cultural histories to inform sustainable and equitable futures for the Colombian páramos” (NERC, AHRC, GCRF) coordinated by the University of York and developed in collaboration with UK and Colombian institutions, including Instituto Humboldt.

Hanne Cottyn is a historian specializing in rural and environmental history of the Andes and is currently based as postdoctoral associate at the Department of History of the University of York. Santiago Martinez and Ana María Garrido are anthropologists based at the Instituto de Investigaciones Biológicas Alexander von Humboldt in Bogotá, Colombia, where they work in the “Social Sciences and Knowledges of Biodiversity” Programme. Santiago is a medical doctor by training and holds a PhD in Anthropology from the Universidad de los Andes (Colombia). Ana María is a biologist by training and holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Anthropology of the University of Kent.

29 April 2021 / Seminar 4: Environmental History meets Political Ecology & STS.


When? THURSDAY 29/04 5 PM – 6 PM CET

Who? Sam Grinsell (Leverhulme – UAntwerp) and Matthew Plishka (University of Pittsburgh).


Sam Grinsell: The Many Niles of Colonial Modernity

The Nile is a collective of many water courses, some of which have Nile in their name while others do not. It looms large in the colonial imagination as a single river, the longest in the world; the search for its headwaters has obsessed colonial explorers and twenty-first century scientists alike. But to understand its history we must escape this image, to re-engage with the real materiality of the different regions of the Nile Basin on their own terms. As colonialists tried to construct systems of domination to exploit this region, the empire was shaped by the environment that it was seeking to control. This is to say that the agriculture, infrastructure, architecture and urbanism of the British Empire in North-East Africa were made by environmental relationships as well as by the colonial will to domination.

Engaging with the work of Dilip Da Cunha, Jennifer Derr and Astrida Neimanis, this paper sets out an approach to river history that can accept the multiple nature of rivers. By approaching the Nile through a range of sites, it can be taken seriously both as a historical actant and as an inherently fragmented and even contradictory phenomenon. This paper will bring this variegated history into focus by discussing a series of key sites and their place in the British colonial imaginary: the wetlands known as the Sudd, that engineers sought to bypass; the first Aswan Dam, a place where, on the contrary, they sought to delay the Nile’s flow; the Cairo nilometer and colonial practices of measurement; and the Nile Delta as landscape produced by river movement. Working across these different sites will reveal something of the contradictory practice of Nile Valley colonialism in the British Empire, and provoke discussions about the nature of rivers as historical actors.

This paper emerges from my PhD research, currently being adapted for a monograph.

Dr Samuel Grinsell is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. He works on water and the making of the built environment, currently on the North Sea estuary ports of Antwerp, London and Rotterdam, previously having completed a PhD on the British Empire in the Nile Valley (The University of Edinburgh, 2020). He is a member of the activist group Historians for Future.


Matthew Plishka: “Battling Banana Blight: Panama Disease, Smallholders, and Jamaica’s Agroecosystem, 1870-1962”

My dissertation explores the Jamaican experience battling Panama Disease, a fungus that infected and killed any banana plant it came into contact with, in the early to mid twentieth century. It uses the framework of multispecies political ecology to explore the history of how Jamaican smallholders, planters, and colonial officials grappled with the discovery and spread of the disease and interacted with microbes and plants to preserve the island’s agricultural output and make a living. Smallholders were at the forefront of this crisis, as they cultivated many of the bananas exported and relied on the trade for much of their income. Jamaica’s small-scale agricultural workers grappled with the disease for decades, trying different strategies and engaging with local and circum-Caribbean politics to maintain their livelihoods. The Jamaican experience with Panama Disease reveals a society grappling with the crumbling infrastructure of a neglected colony, debates over local versus “modern” knowledge and environmental management systems, and with how a plant disease can reshape a society and environment.

In my project, I argue that mobility, migration, labor regimes, and infrastructures, both engineered and natural, played key roles in the spread of and failure to contain Panama Disease in Jamaica. Additionally, I argue that to properly understand the Panama Disease era in Jamaica, smallholder and plantation-based agrarian structures must be analyzed in conjunction. Scholars have generally treated smallholdings and plantations as opposite alternatives—each one at times championed as the ecologically more sustainable model. However, it was points of intersection between both structures that most shaped Jamaica’s agroecosystem. The efforts of smallholders to chart their own course in response to the pandemic and the attempts of the planter class to control and/or co-opt those efforts largely defined this period of Jamaica’s history.


Matthew Plishka is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently writing his dissertation on the Jamaican banana industry in the early to mid-twentieth century. In particular, he is using the framework of multispecies political ecology to examine the spread of Panama Disease on the island and the ways that smallholders, planters, and colonial officials responded to the disease and interacted with one another as a result of it. More broadly, he is interested in exploring the ways that plant pandemics such as Panama Disease can be brought into conversation with human pandemics. He received his Master of Arts from the University of Chicago and his Bachelor of Arts from Lafayette College.

11 May 2021 / Seminar 5: Blue Infrastructures: Natural History, Political Ecology and Urban Development in Kolkata. Book launch Jenia Mukherjee.


When? TUESDAY 11/05 11 AM – 12 AM CET

Who? Jenia Mukherjee (Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur)


Book launch Jenia Mukherjee, Blue Infrastructures. Natural History, Political Ecology and Urban Development in Kolkata (Springer, 2020),Blue Infrastructures – Natural History, Political Ecology and Urban Development in Kolkata | Jenia Mukherjee | Springer

Blue Infrastructures: Natural History, Political Ecology and Urban Development in Kolkata has come out in June 2020. This book focuses on Kolkata, formerly the British colonial capital of and currently a major megacity in India, in terms of its extensive blue infrastructures, i.e., its rivers, canals and wetlands as an integrated composite whole. It unfolds ways in which this reclaimed urban space could determine, and in turn, could get determined by political fate, economic calculations and social livelihoods across changing political-economic imperatives and with large-scale implications on urban sustainability. Employing historical urban political ecology (HUPE) as the methodological framework by combining urban environmental history and urban political ecology, the book studies the changing urban environmental equations through several centuries, and its impact on the city and its people. Weaving the past, present and posterity of deltaic Kolkata, the book demonstrates that it is in these ‘blue infrastructures’ that the anecdote of origin, the account of functioning and the apprehension of survival of the city is rooted. By emphasizing the ecology ‘of’ cities instead of ecology ‘in’ cities approach, the book exposes the limitations of contemporary ecological restructuring efforts regarding Indian cities. Further, it offers a blueprint for future innovative and empirical research focusing on other major cities. Accordingly, this topical and original book will be of interest to students and researchers of environmental humanities, political ecology and urban studies

Jenia Mukherjee is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. Her research interests include urban sustainability, environmental history, political ecology and development studies. In 2013, she was awarded the World Social Science Fellowship on ‘Sustainable Urbanization’ by the International Social Science Council. She has published papers and chapters in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes, and has engaged in international projects on urban environmental issues. Her most recent book (edited) is Sustainable Urbanization in India: Issues and Challenges (Springer, 2018). She was awarded the prestigious Carson Writing Fellowship (2018-19) by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich, Germany for completing this book project: Blue Infrastructures: Natural History, Political Ecology and Urban Development in Kolkata.

20 May 2021 / Seminar 6: Cultural perspectives on the Environmental History of the United States.


When? THURSDAY 20/05 5 PM – 6 PM CET

Who? Stéphanie Denève (Toulouse) and Erik Wallenberg (City University New York)

Stéphanie Denève: “The Natural Environment in Popular Songs of the Lower Mississippi Basin: Interactions, Perceptions, and Representations (1920-1970)”

This research falls into what Donald Worster has called the “third level” of Environmental History, which is concerned with how humans have envisioned nature through time. The research question that this PhD thesis is seeking to answer is “How did people living in the lower Mississippi River basin between the 1920s and the 1960s perceive and represent the natural environment and their interactions with it in their songs?” The aim of this work is to compare how different communities and individuals living in the fairly homogeneous natural environment of the lower Mississippi floodplains described this environment in their songs between the 1920s and the 1960s, to identify commonalities and differences in the approach to the natural environment expressed and to try to explain them. The communities studied are the African-American community of the Mississippi Delta, whose main means of expression was blues music, and the French-speaking Cajun and Creole communities of Louisiana. The choice of examining songs arose from the fact that these people had little access to publishing in that period. 700 songs were analysed quantitatively and qualitatively, synchronically and diachronically. The results show that all three genres contain references to the specific environment of the area but that blues mention the environment much more often and in a much more detailed and varied way than Cajun and Creole songs. Whereas, in blues songs, the environment is presented as an active force, with which humans interact and identify, it appears as a passive background element in most French songs. What this difference suggests is that intense exposure to a common environment is not the only determining factor in the amount of natural references used, but rather that the social and cultural meanings given to nature and to songs were quite different and that the interpretation of the conditions of and reasons for this intense exposure were decisive in the choice of talking about the natural environment. This work illuminates these communities’ relationship to nature and provides methodological reflections that could be useful in the study of other human groups.

Stéphanie Denève is a final-year doctoral student at Toulouse-Jean Jaurès University. Her PhD thesis is entitled: Nature in Cultures: the Natural Environment in Popular Songs of the Lower Mississippi Basin – Interactions, Perceptions, and Representations (1920-1970). In parallel, she teaches English to Ecology Master’s students at Toulouse-Paul Sabatier University.

Erik Wallenberg: Environmental and Social Crises: Nature and Race in the Plays of the  Federal Theatre Project in New Deal America

My dissertation examines how theatre was used as a means for communicating environmental concerns in the US during the twentieth century. Because a variety of theatre groups addressed issues of health and safety in urban housing, the devastation of farmland in the Dust Bowl, and pesticide poisoning of farmworkers, I pay particular attention to how race was addressed. Looking at a variety of theatres over the course of the century allows me to see how ideas and concerns changed and how theatre groups participated in promoting new thinking and action in relation to those concerns. There is a growing body of work in environmental history focused on how artistic practices, performance, and visual culture shaped environmental thought. The best of these studies illuminates human constructions of what is and is not nature, as well as how humans saw themselves in relation to the larger environment. I demonstrate the important role of theatre in our society over the course of the last century and consider the ways it shaped the formation of environmental consciousness and the place of race and racism in these ideas. I will present here on my opening chapter on the Federal Theatre Project, examining the Living Newspapers. These plays, ripped from the headlines of the era, include attempts to explain the origins of the Dust Bowl, propaganda to encourage people to get vaccinated and participate in public health practices, and a call for the nationalization of the energy system. Each of these plays engages questions about the relationship between humans and the natural world which are as relevant today as they were nearly 100 years ago. I look forward to the possibility of discussing these issues as a participant in the ESEH On-Line Seminar Series.

Erik Wallenberg is a PhD Candidate in History at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He has a master’s in history and a bachelor’s in environmental studies, both from the University of Vermont. He has taught course in environmental history, environmental studies, global history, and African American history at Brooklyn College and the University of Vermont. He is Acquisitions Editor at Science for the People and writes regularly for a public audience in Science for the People, Black Perspectives, The Gotham Center for New York City History, among other outlets. He presented on the environmental theater of El Teatro Campesino at the European Society for Environmental History conference in 2019.

1 June 2021 / Seminar 7: Green Internationalists: Nordic Environmental Cooperation, 1967-1988.


When? TUESDAY 01/06 11 AM- 12 AM CET

Who? Melina Antonia Buns (University of Oslo)

The Nordic countries are generally known and perceived as ‘pioneers’ setting the standards within international environmental policies, which often is explained by the long history of close cooperation. Yet the emergence of the environment as a central political concern for cooperation between these early ‘green nations’ and the precise role Nordic cooperation played in international environmental policies has not been object of comprehensive research. ‘Green Internationalists’ is the first study to explore institutionalised Nordic environmental cooperation, its dynamics and character, and its international entanglement, in the years 1967 to 1988. In contrast to national and comparative studies, it adopts a genuine transnational Nordic perspective by analysing Nordic environmental cooperation through the Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers. With transnational atmospheric pollution as its main environmental case, the thesis argues that the interests and ulterior motives to this international environmental commitment of the Nordics have not been as ‘green’ as generally claimed, as environmental cooperation initially emerged primarily for reasons of political economy. Despite their environmentalist rhetoric, in a number of cases the Nordics failed to translate their demands promoted at the international level into effective policy internally at the regional level. Thus, instead of the generally acclaimed environmental pioneers, the thesis proposes to describe the Nordic countries as green internationalists: countries that used their cooperation in order to protect their own national environmental interests – motivated more substantively by economic rather than by ecological concerns.

Melina Antonia Buns is PhD Candidate at the University of Oslo, Norway. Her recently submitted dissertation Green Internationalists: Nordic Environmental Cooperation 1967-1988 analyses the environmental policies of the Nordic Council and their international entanglements. She holds an MA in International and Global History from Aarhus University, Denmark, and a BA in History, Art History and Scandinavian Studies from the University of Vienna, Austria. Her research interests include Nordic cooperation, international environmental policies, and environmental movements on which she previously has published “Marching Activists: Transnational Lessons for Danish Nuclear Protest,” Arcadia 18 (Summer 2017).

10 June 2021 / Seminar 8: The Environmental History of the Alps. Book Launches Wilko Graf von Hardenberg / Žiga Zwitter & Leonid Rasran


When? THURSDAY 10/06 5 PM – 6 PM CET

Who? Wilko Graf von Hardenberg (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) / Žiga Zwitter (University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Arts, Department of History) & Leonid Rasran (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Institute of Botany).

A Monastery for the Ibex. Conservation, State, and the Conflict of the Gran Paradiso, 1919-1949 (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2021). Wilko Graf von Hardenberg

Gran Paradiso National Park is Italy’s oldest, and was instrumental in preventing the extinction of the Alpine ibex between World War I and just after World War II. Today, there are more than 30,000 ibex living in the Alps, all of which descended from that last colony protected in Gran Paradiso under Mussolini’s rule. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg merges the history of conservation with the area’s social history and Italy’s larger political history to produce a multifaceted narrative about the park as an institution, the conflicts it triggered, and practices adopted to manage the ibex despite hurdles placed by the fascist regime. The book’s central argument is that, in fascist Italy, preservation—propaganda notwithstanding—was a product of the regime’s continuities with the previous liberal system. Italy’s total fascist transformation, accomplished only more than a decade after Mussolini took power, virtually unmade the early successes of preservation set in place by the nascent “nature state” in the regime’s early years. Despite this conflict, conservationists succeeded in preserving the ibex. Hardenberg positions this success within the broader history of science, conservation, and tourism in fascist Italy and the Alpine region, creating a comprehensive historical background and comparative reference to ongoing debates about the role of nature conservation in general and in relation to the state and its agencies.

Wilko Graf von Hardenberg is a senior research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, where he coordinates the Art of Judgement research cluster. He co-edited The Nature State: Rethinking the History of Conservation (Routledge, 2017) and recently published A Monastery for the Ibex. Conservation, State, and the Conflict of the Gran Paradiso, 1919-1949 (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2021). Trained as a political historian and a geographer in Turin, Brussels, and Cambridge, his research activities focus on the intersection between the history of science and technology and environmental history, paying particular attention to issues relating to environmental change, socio-ecological conflicts, and nature conservation. Currently he is writing a conceptual and material history of sea level.

Species-Rich Grasslands in the Alps: Environmental History and Historical Ecology, Commission for Interdisciplinary Ecological Studies at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (forthcoming). Žiga Zwitter & Leonid Rasran

This interdisciplinary monograph by a historian and a botanist deals with grassland history in the Alps, focusing mainly on ca. 1500-1950 AD. It has the following structure: Introduction briefly presents the state of research and the types of sources analysed. It also explains the present-day relevance of grassland history. A brief phytosociological overview aimed at non-ecologists follows. The next book section deals with fluctuations in Alpine grassland area in the last millennium. Natural and nature-induced environmental changes in grasslands follow. The next chapter presents historical changes in livestock size and feed demand. Then, long-term history of selected historical practices of species-rich grassland management and their ecological consequences are dealt with (mowing, spring grazing in meadows (!), manuring, irrigation, drainage, care for long-term renewal of meadows, spring cleaning in meadows and other removal of undesired plants and plant remnants from grasslands). The next chapter’s topic is the introduction of plant species to grasslands in the context of economic history, political history, and the history of botany and ornamental plants. A section on gathering of grassland plants and lichens follows, including long-term, medium-term, and short-term changes in the perception of desired and undesired, useful and useless plant species. The last chapter presents the abandonment of Alpine grasslands based on a case study emphasising plant species composition’s role. Conclusions and outlook discuss the contents holistically and also address the question of learning from history. A 20-min presentation will focus mainly on an in-debt presentation of selected book sections.

Žiga Zwitter, born 1987, studied history and geography and was awarded the faculty award for his interdisciplinary environmental history diploma thesis researching the little ice age in Slovenian Alps in 2010. In 2015 he obtained his PhD in Late Mediaeval and Early Modern environmental history. In 2015 he was elected assistant and in 2016 assistant professor in early modern history. In 2016–2017 he was hosted by Prof. Verena Winiwarter at the Institute of Social Ecology, Vienna, six months long, as post-doctoral research fellow (call Joint Excellence in Science and Humanities by the Austrian Academy of Sciences). He works as researcher and teacher at the Department of History, Faculty of Arts (i.e. humanities), University of Ljubljana and includes also environmental history in the courses of history of SE Europe in the Early Modern Times which he teaches.

Leonid Rasran graduated in biology at the University of Kiel. In 2006 he made his PhD, dealing with the topic “plant species diversity in fen grasslands.ˮ He worked in various grassland restoration projects in Northern Germany. Since 2013 he has been postdoctoral researcher at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna. His main research interests are dispersal processes of plants, competition and restoration of seminatural, traditionally used plant communities.

22 June 2021 / Seminar 9: River Monsters at Metz: Hybridity and the Medieval Environmental Imagination


When? TUESDAY 22/06 5 PM – 6 PM CET

Who? Ellen Arnold (Ohio Wesleyan University).

Ellen Arnold: River Monsters at Metz: Hybridity and the Medieval Environmental Imagination

This seminar presentation will use medieval Metz as a case study to explore the ways that animal and watery hybridity was a part of the way that medieval people understood riverscapes. It will connect Gallo-Roman artifacts, hagiographical stories about St. Clement and the river monster the Graoully, and the 13th century Metz ceiling, full of hybrid river creatures. I will argue that across the span of centuries, there is a thread of wonder and hybridity that suggests the ways that rivers could be places both mundane and miraculous. Early and central medieval Metz’s artifacts and stories together show the ways in which riverscapes, while often materially changing over time, supported stories that lingered, were re-told, and re-imagined.

Ellen Arnold is Professor of History at Ohio Wesleyan University, and co-editor of the journal Water History. She is the author of Negotiating the Landscape: Environment and Identity in the Medieval Ardennes (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). Her current book project, Riverscapes Revisited: Environmental Meaning and Memory in Gaul, ca. 300-1100, explores the connections between rivers, storytelling, religion, and the processes of history- and memory-making.

1 July 2021 / Seminar 10: Ecologies of Colonialism

When?1 July 2021, 5 PM CET

Who? C.C. McKee (Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, USA); Napandulwe Shiweda (University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia); Phindi Mnyaka (University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa) & Kristina M. Douglass (The Pennsylvania State University, State College, USA), moderated by Vera-Simone Schulz (Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut); 

Colonial endeavors were intrinsically linked to the environment: from the extraction of natural resources to the shaping of landscapes; from narrative tropes of climatic adaptation to the role of the built environment; from scientific expeditions to herbaria, natural history museums, and the role of academic disciplines such as botany and zoology; from the exploitation of Indigenous knowledge for medical and other purposes to the silencing of these very voices within scientific discourses; from the establishment of natural parks to the many media that were supposed to bring knowledge about far-away places to the metropoles, be it via travel literature, drawings, and paintings, photographs or films. This panel seeks to shed new light on ecologies of colonialism from various points of view, bringing the environmental humanities and social sciences, history, art history, archaeology and anthropology stronger into conversation with one another. Its aim is thereby not least to discuss the ways in which people resisted, creatively reinterpreted, and responded to the physical and epistemic violence they suffered from in the colonies. It seeks to discuss the ways in which such stories can be told today and displayed within museums and other spaces. And it seeks to address the challenges and aftermaths of colonial ecologies in the post-colonies, both discussing the present and imagining other futures.

Dr. Vera-Simone Schulz vera-simone.schulz@khi.fi.it Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, Florence, Italy

Prof. Dr. C.C. McKee cmckee1@brynmawr.edu Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, USA

Dr. Napandulwe Shiweda nshiweda@unam.na University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia

Dr. Phindi Mnyaka pmnyaka@uwc.ac.za University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa

Prof. Dr. Kristina M. Douglass kdouglass@psu.edu The Pennsylvania State University, State College, USA