The Year in Review, 2019-2020

Dear friends of Oecologies:

As my last task as Outgoing Director, I want to report on the group’s happenings and to get you excited about what we’re planning for the upcoming academic year. The year-in-review is, in my experience, never an easy genre in which to write. And it is one I rarely enjoy reading. How do I strike the right tone? How do I fondly recall past gatherings and individual successes without humble-bragging? How do we attract new friends of Oecologies? Perhaps more to the point for this year, what is there to say in an annual roundup of 2019-20 that is not trite, over-sentimental, and akin to a sound-byte?

Running such risks, this is what I will say: Oecologies has transformed itself over the course of the last year. The changes hearten me greatly; they have not always been easy to make happen; and they are a work-in-progress, so please join us as we steer Oecologies in the next decade. In the meantime, let me show you what’s new with us.

In solidarity with BLM and BIPOC academics whose scholarship, historically, isn’t cited or acknowledged, we reimagined our bimonthly reading group. Under the care and guidance of Mo Pareles, we now read this work, with the hope that we will engage it in our ecocritical projects in medieval and early modern studies. Our first reading group for the year will take place, virtually, on 2 October 2020 at 10:00 AM PST. It contributes to the “Earth, Sea, Sky” project that flies under the Oecologies banner. Our readings will concern the sea and early modern maritime cultures; they will include writings by Renisa Mawani (Sociology, UBC), Helen M. Rozwadowski (History, University of Connecticut), and Surabhi Ranganathan (International Law, King’s College). If you interested in this event, please email me for further details. We expect such reading-group programming to continue through 2021, so stay tuned for a full schedule.

In response to the global pandemic, Oecologies will host a virtual event, “In the Wake,” which will be held on Zoom on 23 October 2020 from 1:00-2:30 PM PST. This moderated conversation is the brainchild of my Oecologies colleagues, David Coley (Simon Fraser University), the prize-winning author of a recent book on plague in medieval literature, and Derrick Higginbotham (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa). It will feature Urvashi Chakravarty (English, Toronto), Gabriel Rocha (History, Brown), Rebecca Totaro (English, Florida Gulf Coast University), and Elaine Treharne (English, Stanford). Here is the event’s formal description:

Speakers will take as their stepping-off point our contemporary social and cultural moment, one in which the sudden cataclysm of a global pandemic seems to be catalyzing a series of social, cultural, political, and economic changes that would have been difficult to imagine a year ago. This paradigm—of response, recovery, and perhaps re-creation in the wake of pandemic—resonates with similar moments of social change in the medieval and early modern world, where change, progressive and/or reactionary, has followed plague, war, natural disaster, and human-made political catastrophe. The virtual symposium will consider what our study of such moments in the past might reveal about our present and, conversely, what our current moment of turmoil might suggest about similar crises in the past? 

Details about this event will be advertised on social media soon by Sarah-Nelle Jackson (UBC PhD), our new influencer.

In mentioning my colleagues David Coley and Derrick Higginbotham, I allude to a change in governance that Oecologies has just formalized. David and Derrick are now the group’s co-directors: David will serve for one more year, and Derrick for two. As of this writing, in other words, I am no longer co-supervising the operations of the group I co-founded in 2012 with Tiffany Jo Werth and colleagues at UBC and SFU. Cue the sentiments. 

First, excitement. I can think of no two better folk to be running Oecologies than David and Derrick. Smart, progressive and forward-thinking, responsible: all come to mind when I think of words to describe them. And they won’t be fine-tuning a new vision for Oecologies alone. Joining them as members of the Oecologies Advisory Council are Allan Mitchell (University of Victoria), Courtney Barajas (Whitworth), Sharon O’Dair (Alabama), Noah Guynn (UC Davis), Leila Kate Norako (University of Washington), and Kenna Olsen (Mt. Royal University), as well as graduate representatives Breanne Weber (UC Davis PhD), Scott Russell (SFU PhD) and Kirsten Schuhmacher (UC Davis PhD). I am eager for the programming, including blog posts, reading groups, and further virtual events, that this team will put together as the pandemic continues to modify how scholars share their research and socialize. To get a sense of what could happen, check out the range of events recorded in “2019-2020 Season” on our website.

Second, elegy. Rotating off the Oecologies council with me are dear friends and long-time collaborators Frances E. Dolan (UC Davis), Louisa Mackenzie (UW), and Mo Pareles (UBC), as well as graduate representatives and students extraordinaire Alexander Cosh (UBC PhD) and Karol Pasciano (UBC MA 2020!). I have immense gratitude for their heroic efforts in solidifying a foundation upon which Oecologies will continue to thrive and for having had to the opportunity to play, seriously and joyously, with them (and all the other Oecologists, especially Tiffany Jo Werth, Patricia Badir, and Robert Rouse) during the last several years. 

This year, more difficult than writing a year-in-review is perhaps figuring out how to sign-off on any communication. What to say? Stay well, be kind to yourselves, your colleagues, and your students, and I hope to “see” you soon.

Vin Nardizzi
University of British Columbia

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