Sawyer Seminar

During the 2014-2015 academic year, UCLA hosted the Sawyer Seminar on the Environmental Humanities, a series of nine monthly seminars funded by the Mellon Foundation and organized by faculty members Ursula K. Heise and Jon Christensen and postdoc Michelle Niemann.

The State of the Environmental Humanities, June 2, 2015

This seminar was co-sponsored by the UCLA Canadian Studies Program

Biographies of featured participants:

  • Hannes Bergthaller (Literary Studies, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan), “Fossil Freedoms: The Politics of Emancipation and the End of Oil”
  • Greg Garrard (Literary Studies, University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus), “Environmental Humanities: A Chiasmic Characterization”
  • Catriona Sandilands (Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto), “Some ‘F’ Words for the Environmental Humanities: Feralities, Feminisms, Futurities”

The Anthropocene, May 8, 2015

Biographies of featured participants: 

  • Dipesh Chakrabarty (History, University of Chicago), “Capital and the Narrative of Climate Change”
  • Dale Jamieson (Philosophy, New York University), “The Anthropocene: Love or Leave It”
  • Peter Kareiva (Chief Scientist, The Nature Conservancy), “The Anthropocene: It Is All about Values”
  • Anahid Nersessian (English, UCLA), “Utopia’s Afterlife in the Anthropocene”

Environmentalism of the Poor, April 15, 2015

Biographies of featured participants:

  • Akhil Gupta (Anthropology, UCLA), “The Ecological Basis of Farmer Suicides in India”
  • Barbara Rose Johnston (Anthropology, Center for Political Ecology), “Why Environmental Justice Challenges, and Occasionally Transforms, Local and Global Architectures of Power: Lessons Emerging from Guatemala”
  • Jorge Marcone (Comparative Literature, Rutgers), “The Stone Guests: Buen Vivir and Popular Environmentalisms in the Andes and Amazonia”
  • Jennifer Wenzel (English and Comparative Literature, Columbia), “Turning Over a New Leaf: Fanonian Humanism and the Environmental Humanities”
  • Maite Zubiaurre (Spanish and Comparative Literature, UCLA), “Trashtopia: Refuse, Poverty, and the Environment in the Works of Visual Artists Francisco de Pájaro and Daniel Canogar”

Environments and Technologies, March 17, 2015

Biographies of featured participants:

  • Allison Carruth (English, UCLA), “Heirloom foods, space-age farms: Horizons of American environmentalism”
  • Heather Houser (English, University of Texas at Austin), “Environmental Art and the New Natural History”
  • Dolly Jørgensen (History and History of Science, Umeå University, Sweden), “Artifacts and Habitats”
  • Sverker Sörlin (Environmental History, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden), “Cool Numbers? Northern Notes on Technologies of Environmental Globalization”
  • Alexa Weik von Mossner (American Studies, University of Klagenfurt, Austria), “Touching the Senses: Environments at the Movies”

Domestication, February 24, 2015

Biographies of featured participants:  

  • Susanna Hecht (Urban Planning, UCLA), “The Growth of the Soil: Domesticated landscapes and anthropogenic soils of the New World Tropics”
  • Emma Marris (Independent Scholar), “Hybrid aversion: wolves, dogs, and the humans who love to keep them apart”
  • Libby Robin (History of Science, Australian National University), “Domestication in a post-industrial world”
  • Masami Yuki (Foreign Language Institute, Kanazawa University, Japan), “Meals in the Age of Toxic Environments”

Transspecies and Multispecies Perspectives, January 27, 2015

Biographies of featured participants:

  • Stacy Alaimo (English, University of Texas at Arlington), “The Anthropocene at Sea: Paradox, Anachronism, Compression”
  • Elizabeth DeLoughrey (English, UCLA), “‘Moments in Passing:’ Maritime Futures of the Anthropocene”
  • Thom van Dooren (Philosophy, University of New South Wales, Australia), “Lively Ethography: Storying Animist Worlds” (co-authored with Deborah Bird Rose)

Diversities: Culture, Biology, Knowledge, December 10, 2014

Biographies of featured participants:

  • Joni Adamson (English, Arizona State University), “Corn Mothers and Sunflowers: Cultural Difference, Biodiversity, and the Emergence of Critical Plant Studies”
  • Jessica Cattelino (Anthropology, UCLA), “On Loving the Native: Invasive Species and the Cultural Politics of Flourishing”
  • Ronald Sandler (Philosophy, Northeastern University), “Techno-Conservation in the Anthropocene: What does it mean to save a species?”
  • Kyle Powys Whyte (Philosophy, Michigan State University), “Indigenous Peoples, Resilience, and the Anthropocene”

Decline and Resilience, November 12, 2014

Biographies of featured participants:

  • Rosanne Kennedy (Gender, Sexuality & Culture, Australian National University), “Multi-Directional Eco-Memory in the Anthropocene: Whaling, Settler Colonialism and Extinction”
  • Kathleen Morrison (Anthropology, University of Chicago), “Losing Primeval Forests: Degradation Narratives in South Asia”
  • Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert (Hispanic Studies, Vassar), “The Caribbean’s Agonizing Seashores: Tourism Resorts, Art, and the Future of the Region’s Coastlines”
  • Richard White (History, Stanford), “Play It Again, Sam”

Boundaries of the Self, October 15, 2014

The Sawyer Seminar on the Environmental Humanities at UCLA kicked off with a discussion of environmental aesthetics, theater, reinhabitation of the senses, a provocative project to encode a poem in the DNA of an extremophile bacterium, and a critique of neurohistory.

Biographies of featured participants:

  • Christian Bök (English, University of Calgary, Canada), “The Dire Seed”
  • Una Chaudhuri (Drama, New York University), “Liquid Lives: Performing Bodies in the Ocean”
  • Linda Nash (History, University of Washington), “Writing the Environmental History of the Body in a Neuro-centric Age”
  • Robert Watson (English, UCLA), “Selfhood, Symbiosis, and Shakespeare”

Environmental Humanities Reading Group

During the 2014-2015 academic year, the environmental humanities reading group functioned as an informal companion to the Sawyer seminar series for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. We met once a month, about a week before each Sawyer seminar, to discuss classic scholarly essays in the environmental humanities and previous work by some of the seminar’s visiting participants.

Reading group meetings in 2014-2015:

May 5, 2015, joint meeting with the Postcolonial Theory reading group: Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses” (Critical Inquiry, Winter 2009) and “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change” (New Literary History, Winter 2012); Jason Moore, “The Capitalocene: Part I” (2014).

April 8, 2015: Rob Nixon, “Introduction,” Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (2011).

March 10, 2015: Leo Marx, “Sleepy Hollow, 1844,” from The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (1964) and Allison Carruth, “Introduction: The Power of Food,” from Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food (2013).

February 17, 2015: Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (2003), p. 1-32.

January 22, 2015: Stacy Alaimo, “Chapter 1: Bodily Natures” from Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (2010) and Val Plumwood, “Introduction” and “Chapter 1: The ecological crisis of reason,” from Environmental Culture: The ecological crisis of reason (2002).

December 4, 2014: William Cronon’s “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature” (1995) and Joni Adamson, “Introduction: Entering the Middle Place” and “Chapter 1: The Road to San Simon: Toward a Multicultural Ecocriticism,” from American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice and Ecocriticism (2001).

November 11, 2014: Richard White’s “‘Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?’: Labor and Nature” (1995).

Integrated Environmental Humanities and Global Change: a seminar with Steven Hartman, October 6, 2015

Steven Hartman is Professor of English Literature and academic leader of the Eco-Humanities Hub at Mid Sweden University. Hartman’s current work focuses on environmental consciousness in literature and the tracing of environmental memory in medieval Icelandic sagas. Together with Thomas McGovern, he coordinates the Circumpolar Networks program of IHOPE (The Integrated History and Future of People on Earth), a core project of the Future Earth. He is also chair of the Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (NIES).

Check out Steven’s post “Unpacking the Black Box: the need for Integrated Environmental Humanities” on the Future Earth blog.

Kim Stanley Robinson on John Muir and the Creation of California, June 1, 2015

John Muir and the Creation of California

A lecture by Kim Stanley Robinson 




Global Ecological Change and the Environmental Imagination: a dialogic lecture by Catrin Gersdorf and Linda Williams, May 14, 2015

Catrin Gersdorf, “Sublime Weather: Climate, Change, and the Political Ecology of (American) Literature” 

Linda Williams, “It’s About Time: Ocean acidification, affective imaginaries and the pivotal role of the longue durée

Catrin Gersdorf (American Studies, University of Würzburg) is the author of The Poetics and Politics of the Desert: Landscape and the Construction of America (2009). She has written about gender and landscape in American Studies, and has published articles on the work of Henry David Thoreau, Ruth Ozeki, Angela Carter, and Ana Mendieta, among others.

Linda Williams (Art, Environment, and Cultural Studies, RMIT Australia) is a scholar of art whose research focuses on ecocritical theory and human-animal relations. Her work on social theory, historical sociology and European philosophy is focused on issues arising from materiality, such as the ontological status of the nonhuman and the connections between cultural history, science and technology. Her recent curatorial projects include Water & Reflections(Shanghai, 2013), 2112: Imagining the Future(Melbourne, 2012), and Heat: Art and Climate Change (Melbourne, 2008). Williams is a key researcher for the Australia-Pacific Observatory of Humanities for the Environment, and is President of the Association for the Study of Literature, Environment and Culture–Australia & New Zealand.