Wed Feb 25: Deanna Kreisel, “Ruskin’s Raw Materials: Toward a History of ‘Sustainability,’” Oecologies Speaker Series at Green College, UBC

Please join us for the third talk of the semester in the Oecologies Speaker Series at Green College, at UBC:

Dr. Deanna Kreisel
(Department of English, University of British Columbia)
“Ruskin’s Raw Materials: Toward a History of ‘Sustainability’”
5-6:30pm, Wed Feb 25, the Piano Lounge at Graham House, Green College, UBC

KreiselPhotoSummary: Much of the content of contemporary sustainability discourse in the West can be traced back to the social reform movements of the Victorian period. As David M. Craig notes, for political economist and art critic John Ruskin, “the exercise of moral restraint as a consumer starts in a recognition of specific physical limits…. [T]his recognition of physical limits and a commitment to moral restraint are inextricably bound.” Patrick Brantlinger extends this line of thinking even further when he insists that for Ruskin, “the apparently private choices of individual consumers, gendered female, are matters of public, national urgency.” This paper will begin to sketch a history of the concept of sustainability in the nineteenth century by examining how Ruskin’s challenge to Victorian models of private domesticity also includes an alternative conceptualization of the relationship between interior and exterior, both bodily and architectural. In his 1858 lecture “The Work of Iron, In Nature, Art, and Policy,” for example, Ruskin delivers a polemical analysis of “raw materials” as an important part of a reconfigured relationship between natural and human activity—a relationship that is characterized by limits and bounded by quite literal frames and rigid structures for which iron becomes the emblem. This paper will trace this line of thinking throughout some of Ruskin’s voluminous body of work, and consider its roots in the Physiocrats’ model of self-contained economic organization and its future in theories of steady state zero growth economies.

All those attending talks in this series are invited to stay for dinner at Green College with the speaker. Those interested in attending dinner are asked to make a reservation at least by noon the business day before. Contact 604-822-8660 or visit the Green College website for details.

“Oecologies: Histories of Sustainability” is a Speaker Series sponsored by Green College that gathers scholars from the humanities living and working along the North American Pacific coast to investigate the idea of “oecology,” an older spelling of the modern concept “ecology.” For event details, abstracts, and speaker information, please visit or view the event poster. Also follow us on Twitter (@Oecologies) and “Like” us on Facebook (! If you have other questions about Oecologies, please do not hesitate to contact me ( or our assistant, Sarah Crover (

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