The Year in Review, 2017-18

2016-17 saw Oecologies grow with new members and expand its temporal range into the 19th century. 2017-18 continued that trend and was a year marked by change, development, and the culmination of initiatives. Such change and growth crystallized over the summer, when a subcommittee of Oe collaborators was tasked with exploring models for best practices and sustainable growth. At summer’s end, the existing slate of co-investigators and collaborators from the Pacific Northwest voted to expand Oe’s geographic reach down the Pacific West coast and instituted a new structure of institutional governance, including new leadership roles and newly codified parameters for membership. Under this new structure, Vin Nardizzi will be assuming the role of Director, with Tiffany Werth filling the role of Past Director and David Coley as Incoming (Future) Director. The executive council will consist of Alex Cosh (UBC), Karol Pasciano (UBC), and Breanne Weber (UC Davis) as Graduate Student Liaisons; Mo Pareles (UBC) as Diversity Officer; J. Allan Mitchell (University of Victoria) as International / National Affiliate Liaison; Frances Dolan (UC Davis) as Activities Coordinator; Courtney Barajas (Whitworth University) as Executive Secretary; and Louisa Mackenzie (University of Washington) and Sharon O’Dair (Emerita) as Membership Coordinators. We believe that these new structures of governance should position Oe to build on our past strengths and successes. With the help of RA support from UC-Davis, Tiffany, Vin, and David will begin a substantial overhaul of the current Oe webpages that reflects these changes, a project that we expect to be completed by early 2019.

As it did last year, the Oe Speaker Series featured three public lectures. In late October, in collaboration with the STS Colloquium at UBC, Jesse Oak Taylor (University of Washington) presented “Conrad’s Earth System Poetics.” The paper situated the work of Joseph Conrad within the overlapping environmental and human systems—biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, etc.—as they existed within his fraught cultural moment. In January, again at UBC, we welcomed Hillary Eklund (Loyola University) for a lecture entitled “Swamped: Wetlands and Mobility in the Early Modern Atlantic,” which considered the metaphorical and historical dimensions of swamps and wetlands, both real (Ireland’s bogs, England’s Fens, Florida’s Everglades) and imagined (Milton’s swampy Hell, Bunyan’s Slough of Despond), in the Early Modern literary imagination. Finally, in March, we hosted Sharon Kinoshita (University of California, Santa Cruz) at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus. Her talk, “Counting Sheep: Marco Polo and the Global Middle Ages,” situated Marco Polo’s representations of sheep in his Description of the World against Latin-European, Islamicate, and Chinese representations in order to interrogate the distinctiveness of Polo’s broader descriptions of the world.

In addition to the Speaker Series, Oe was well represented in regional and international conferences this year, both through its own sponsored sessions and in the related work of its individual participants. Several Oe-related publications also appeared this year in edited collections and refereed journals. The following are a few highlights:

  • VCologies, Houston, TX (September 2017). VCologies hosted its second annual conference at the University of Houston. Deanna Kreisel presented a paper entitled “Troubling Organicism” in a panel on ecoScience.
  • The Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society, Portland, OR (October 2017). Oe organized two sessions. The first, a roundtable held in anticipation of Premodern Ecologies in the Modern Literary Imagination and facilitated by Vin Nardizzi, featured Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, David Coley, Sarah Crover, Louisa Mackenzie, and Allan Mitchell, with a response by Tiffany Werth. The second, a paper panel on Shakespeare and the West, included work by both Vin Nardizzi and Patricia Badir, as well as Gretchen Minton (University of Montana). Finally, Frances Dolan’s beautiful keynote, “Hedge/rows,” reflected many of the interests of Oe as a whole, and it set the tone for an ecologically tinged PNRS conference. Oe also hosted a rousing cash bar mixer Friday evening during the conference which facilitated more informal conversation and networking.
  • MLA, New York, NY (January 2018). Vin Nardizzi and Tiffany Werth both participated in Oe-related sessions, Vin in a roundtable entitled Critical Semantics: New Transcultural Keywords (he spoke on “grafting”) and Tiffany in a roundtable on Performance, Materiality, and Ecology in Early Modern Literature. In addition, Vin presided over a panel on “Early Modern Biopolitics: Race, Nature, Sexuality.”
  • The Renaissance Society of America, New Orleans, LA (March 2018). Tiffany Werth presented “Lithic After Life and the New Jerusalem,” part of her continuing research on stone in the Early Modern Imagination as part of a two-part panel series bringing together literature scholars and art historians. Vin Nardizzi and Tom White both participated in a roundtable on Premodern Plants, and Vin and Louisa Mackenzie were also among the discussants on a roundtable entitled “Eco-philology: Early Modern Environmental Words and World.”
  • Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada, Victoria, BC (June 2018). Sarah Crover and David Coley both participated in “Making and Breaking with Environmental Periodization,” an interdisciplinary roundtable on the role of the Environmental Humanities in the academy.
  • Frances Dolan published two articles related to her essay in the forthcoming Premodern Ecologies in the Modern Literary Imagination. The first “Blood of the Grape” appeared in Blood Matters: Studies in European Literature and Thought, 1400-1700, eds. Bonnie Lander Johnson and Eleanor Decamp (Philadelphia:  U of Pennsylvania P, 2018), pp. 211-23; and the second, “Time, Gender, and the Mystery of English Wine” was part of Gendered Temporalities in the Early Modern World, ed. Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks (Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2018).
  • In early March, Vin Nardizzi and Patricia Badir both presented on Oe-related research in the Shakespeare Names and Sto:lo Memoryscapes symposium at the University of the Fraser Valley.
  • Tiffany Werth gave a talk on alchemy that explored its deployment as a surprisingly fecund model for human generation and poetic figuration in Distillation and Alchemy: Science, Society, and Sentiment, a one-day symposium hosted by the UC Davis Humanities Institute, Department of Classics, and Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

In addition, several collaborators taught classes related to Oe concerns. In Fall of 2017, Tiffany Werth developed a section of “Topics in Early Modern English Non-Dramatic Literature” at SFU that considered both the Early Modern roots of contemporary ecological thought and the challenges of engaging with premodern thought from the 21st-century West Coast. In the same term, Mo Pareles designed a grad course at UBC on Ecocritical Approaches to Beowulf, one that drew from animal studies, speculative realism, science studies, indigenous studies, and other contemporary critical approaches. Finally, in the UBC winter term, Vin Nardizzi offered “Anthropocene: Nomenclatures, Histories, Criticism,” a graduate course introducing students to the multidisciplinary literatures that have recently and increasingly constellated around this designation.

As we look forward to the next academic year, we are excited about several ongoing projects. Patricia Badir—in conjunction with Oe, Bard on the Beach, UBC’s Community-University Engagement Support fund, and faculty partners from UBC and SFU—will continue developing the Galatea Project, which will bring scholars, students, theatre producers and performers together for a six-day workshop and public reading of John Lyly’s play that explores the topics of same-sex romance and climate change. We are also looking forward to the projected 2019 arrival of Premodern Ecologies in the Modern Literary Imagination, edited by Vin and Tiffany, published by the University of Toronto Press. The volume originated with 2015’s Oecologies: Engaging the World, From Here conference, and features contributions from many Oe collaborators, as well as other scholars in the Environmental Humanities. Finally, Allan Mitchell, in collaboration with Tom White and Breanne Weber, has also agreed to coordinate linked Oe sessions for ASLE 2019, which is to be held at Davis on 26-30 June 2019.

We want to conclude with a round of thanks: first to our Oe RA from the past year, Alex Cosh (UBC), who was instrumental in keeping our social media presence and our website current, as well as in managing publicity for our speaker series; and second, to our new and ongoing players who make academic collaboration an enriching labor.

David Coley

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