“Same planet, different worlds: environmental histories imagining anew.”
Hosting Institution: University of Bristol
The University of Bristol is a leading centre for the study of environmental history and the environmental humanities. We are extremely proud to be able to host the biennial conference of the European Society for Environmental History in the United Kingdom for the first time since the society’s inaugural conference in St Andrews in 2001.
We want to host a conference for a world transformed in the wake of plague. Right now, our old ways of living have been interrupted, disrupted and ruptured by the COVID-19 outbreak. This devastating global pandemic carries an undeniable message of our entanglement across continents, species, societies, and bodies. Yet the virus hits us differently. We are all on the same planet but we are experiencing radically and divergently altered worlds. We thus draw inspiration for our conference theme from Arundhati Roy’s observation: ‘But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next’. The conference will provoke questions and conversations that can help us through the gateway. After all, our conferences have always been meaningful reactions to global conditions. Twenty years ago, at St Andrews we held the first ESEH Conference on ‘Environmental History: Problems and Potential’. Two decades later, we are now long past ‘potential’ – we need urgent intervention from historians in the crises of our times.
We embrace history that matters and our discipline’s ability to create ‘useable pasts’ for unusual times. This conference moves from the premise of an entangled world: first and foremost enmeshed in a global pandemic, a shared ecological crisis and climate catastrophe, as well as cultural connections from past colonial and postcolonial histories. Understanding entanglements and challenging boundaries has been important in bringing us together over the years. In Prague, we considered the boundaries of ‘diversity’. In Zagreb, we tackled boundaries as ‘contact zones’. In Tallin, we explored the boundaries ‘in/of environmental history’. In Bristol, we cross the boundaries into a new world.
Thus this conference resists a ‘return to normality’. These are extraordinary times and this will be an extraordinary conference. At this critical moment, as historians we need to look without and within. Certainly, we need to engage with the wider world: environmental historians are vital in today’s biggest planetary emergencies. Yet at the same time, we need to engage within our own discipline to rethink our academic practices in terms of environmental realities. This means thinking about writing ethical history, sustainable history and history that matters.
We want to use this opportunity to imagine anew: both how we have conversations (the conference format) and what the conversations are about (the possibilities of our discipline). This conference thus will be engaging in experimental new ways of sharing and generating knowledge, including a blended and collaborative co-learning environment.
Possible topics to be discussed under the umbrella concept of ‘Same planet, different world’, include, but are not limited to the following:
- Pandemics: Politics, panics and panaceas
- Environmental histories of public health and public policy
- Industrial and agricultural impact on disease
- Resisting the return to normality: the activist historian and strategies for sustainable research
- Environmental histories of ‘wicked problems’
- Edge effects: the uneven fallout of climate change
- Other knowledges: vernacular histories and indigenous knowledge systems
- Burning issue: fire histories
- Justice and the past: writing history in the time of Black Lives Matter
- Technology and envirotechnical systems in natural resource protection and conservation
- Environmental justice: the legacies of colonialism and post-colonialism
- Writing more-than-human histories
- Creativity and the historical discipline
- The possibilities and pitfalls of interdisciplinary research
- Imagining other futures
- Digital Dimensions
We acknowledge the uncertainty of our times and the sustainability issues relating to international conferences. The ESEH believes in the value of a physical conference. Post-COVID, being in place together will hold new significance. But we also recognise that it may not prove possible – or desirable for some – to meet face-to-face. Our conference will therefore offer some online possibilities for those delegates who cannot make it in person, including keynote and plenary livestreams, poster sessions, and opportunities to connect with each other online. Planning a large international conference in these COVID-19 times is a difficult business.
An Inclusive and Diverse Conference
Commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion is at the heart of ESEH. We recognise the unique contributions of every member of our society and seek ways of ensuring that people of all identities and in all circumstances can contribute to our biennial conference and to the wider life of our society. We strive to promote equality and diversity at our conference, in relation to conference participation, and the composition of topics comprising the conference program. We also endeavour to create a platform to encourage active and sustained debate on issues of marginalisation and accessibility amongst our members.
We want to create a set of inclusive conference practices and ‘resist the normality’ of hierarchies and silos. In this different world, new conference practices are available to us. We will consider all historical periods, all geographical areas and all disciplines. To bolster diversity at the event and promote new forms of networking, we are hoping for panels/interventions where the presenters come from different regions, generations, genders, different institutions or different disciplines. We also encourage demographic balance and the use of emergent scholars as facilitators/session chairs. Graduate students will be offered a special reduced fee.
For more information about the conference and the venue, visit https://eseh2022.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/
The Local Arrangements Committee is comprised of scholars closely connected to the Bristol environmental history community. They are:
- Dr Marianna Dudley (co-chair)
- Dr Andy Flack (co-chair)
- Dr John Morgan
- Dr Daniel Haines
- Dr Ashley Dodsworth
- Dr Adrian Howkins
- Professor Karen Jones
- Dr Kirk Sides
- Dr Joan Passey
- Dr Chris Pearson
- Dr Michael Sugarman
- Dr James Watts
Chair of the Programme Committee: Professor Sandra Swart
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