Creating Nature: Premodern Climate and the Environmental Humanities (conference)

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Scheduled for May 23-25, 2019

In the premodern past, weather was never just weather. Storms expressed the rage of gods, drought punished human sinfulness, and fires provided revelations straight from divine mouths. To suffer in hostile environments meant encountering more-than-human forces with merely human flesh. The inhuman power Shakespeare calls “great creating Nature” touches and sustains human bodies, but opaquely, and sometimes painfully. Nature is creator and created, force and object, destroyer and home.

This conference will bring together premodern environmental humanities scholars to explore the long and varied history of how humans have conceptualized their environment. Its invited speakers will explore historical and cultural forms in which humans have come to terms with their love for, dependence on, and need to manipulate the nonhuman world.

Fourteen distinguished speakers will cluster their conversations around four environmental keywords: "storms," "sustenance," "shelter," and "spirits and science." Together with the conference-goers welcomed into conversation, "Creating Nature" will provide insights into premodern ideas about human entanglement with the nature they knew themselves to be creating and the nature that created them.

Organizers: Steven Mentz (St. John's University, NY), with Owen Williams (Folger Institute)

Invited Speakers: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (George Washington University) and Lindy Elkins-Tanton (Arizona State University) will open the conference with a public dialogue on Thursday evening. On Friday and Saturday, the following scholars will present their original thoughts on the topic: Liza Blake (University of Toronto), Dagomar Degroot (Georgetown University), Michael Dove (Yale University Forestry and Environmental Sciences), Chris Pastore (SUNY Albany), Jedediah Purdy (Duke University), Kellie Robertson (University of Maryland), Debapriya Sarkar (University of Connecticut), Mick Smith (Queen’s University Canada), Valerie Trouet (University of Arizona), Henry Turner (Rutgers University), Philip Usher (New York University), and Julian Yates (University of Delaware). Joseph Campana (Rice University), Anne Harris (Depauw University), Rebecca Laroche (University of Colorado), Jennifer Munroe (University of North Carolina), and Karen Raber (University of Mississippi) will act as “conversation stewards,” who will chair the sessions, introduce the speakers, and guide the dialogue.