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

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Scheduled for Thursday and Friday, May 23-24, 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.

The 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 and Lindy Elkins-Tanton (both Arizona State University) will present a public dialogue on Thursday evening. On Thursday and Friday, 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.


Applications for Folger Institute consortium grants-in-aid must be received by 7 January 2019.


Provisional Schedule


Thursday, 23 May

All sessions will take place in the Folger Board Room unless otherwise noted.


9:00-10:15
Session One: Storms
Chair: Joseph Campana (Rice University)

Shipwrecks, Tree Rings, and Hurricanes
Valerie Trouet (University of Arizona)
Storm Time
Kellie Robertson (University of Maryland)
Storm, Complexity, Chaos: Nature and the Limits of Experience in Shakespeare’s Theater
Henry Turner (Rutgers University)


10:15-10:45
Break


10:45-11:45
Moderated Discussion


11:45-1:45
Lunch (on your own)


1:45-3:00
Session Two: Sustenance
Chair: Karen Raber (University of Mississippi)

Macbeth’s Bubbles and Shakespeare’s Cosmopolitics
Julian Yates (University of Delaware)
The Frigid Golden Age
Dagomar Degroot (Georgetown University)
Anthropocene Democracy
Jedediah Purdy (Duke University)


3:00-3:30
Tea Break


3:30-4:30
Moderated Discussion


5:00-6:30
Reception (Founders’ Room)


6:30-7:30
Public Plenary

Climate/Weather/Feeling (Paster Reading Room)

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lindy Elkins-Tanton (both Arizona State University)


Friday, 24 May

9:00-10:15
Session Three: Shelter
Chair: Rebecca Laroche (University of Colorado) and Jennifer Munroe (University of North Carolina)

The Shelter in Merapi Volcano: Mimesis and the Domestication of Disaster
Michael Dove (Yale University)
Shore as Shelter
Debapriya Sarkar (University of Connecticut)
No Globes Please: Moles not Astronauts!
Philip Usher (New York University)


10:15-10:45
Break


10:45-11:45
Moderated Discussion


11:45-1:15
Lunch (on your own)


1:15-2:30
Session Four: Science & Spirits
Chair: Anne Harris (Depauw University)

Atmosphere: On being in touch with the (in)difference of the world
Mick Smith (Queens University)
Enter Heavens: Meteorology and Irregular Causation in Early Modern Drama and Science
Liza Blake (University of Toronto)
Dead Reckoning: Myth, Mystery, and the Poetics of Marine Natural Knowledge
Christopher Pastore (SUNY Albany)


2:30-3:00
Break


3:00-4:00
Moderated Discussion


4:10-5:30
Session Five: Conversation Stewards' Roundtable
Chair: Steve Mentz (St. John’s University)


5:30-7:00
Closing Reception (Founders Room)