Past Projects & Events

Page Directory


Oecologies Reading Group

8 May 2020 | 11:00 AM PST

The Oecologies reading group will be meeting via Zoom to discuss Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, “Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage,”  GLQ: A Journaljournal of Lesbian and Gay Studies  14. 2-3 ( 2008): 191-215.

A full article pdf can be accessed here:

Oecologies Reading Group

25 March 2020 | 11:00 AM PST|

The Oecologies reading group will be meeting via web to discuss the introduction to Juno Salazar Parreña’s Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation

A full article pdf can be located here:

Sponsored Lecture — Dr. Daniel T. Kline Transcending Oikos and Oecology: A North-Pacific Medievalist Workshop

28 February 2020 | 6:00 PM | Harbour Centre | Room 5120

Daniel T. Kline (University of Alaska Anchorage) will present initial work into developing a North Pacific Medievalism that incorporates decolonizing methodologies, highlights indigenous ways of knowing, and remains centered in pedagogy and the student experience. Dan’s initial presentation will open into a workshop-style discussion of how we might collectively consider doing premodern studies differently and what that might look like, both personally and institutionally.

Noëlle Phillips — Craft Beer Culture and Modern Medievalism Book Launch

27 February 2020 | 4:30 – 7:30 PM | New Westminster Campus | Laura C. Muir Theatre foyer and Amelia Douglas Gallery

Join Douglas College English instructor, Noëlle Phillips, for a presentation and reading of her new book, Beer Culture and Modern Medievalism: Brewing Dissent.

Oecologies Reading Group

23 January 2020 | 11:00 AM

The Oecologies reading group will be meeting via web to discuss Tavia Nyong’o’s “Little Monsters: Race, Sovereignty, and Queer Inhumanism in Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

A full article pdf can be located here:

Celebrating Oecologies: New Work in the Environmental Humanities

29 January 2020 | 3:00-4:30
Buchanan Tower 323, UBC

In this event co-sponsored by the UBC Department of English and Department of FHIS, Dr. Daniella Boccassini (UBC), Dr. David K. Coley (SFU), Dr. Vin Nardizzi (UBC), Dr. Tiffany Jo Werth (UC Davis) and Dr. Nöelle Phillips (Douglas College) will launch their recent publications.

Sponsored Lecture: Brantley L. Bryant —
“The Blue King and the Power of Water in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess

6 February 2020 | 4:45-6:15
Voorhies 126, UC Davis

In this talk co-sponsored with the UC Davis Department of English, Professor Brantley L. Bryant of Sonoma State University will present his talk “The Blue King and the Power of Water in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess.”

The Book of the Duchess begins with storm, shipwreck, and revenant – the body of drowned King Ceyx is taken from the seafloor to speak with Queen Alcyone. This talk will argue that this aquatic beginning disrupts the text’s aspirationally anthropocentric preoccupations and puts the power of water at the beginning of Chaucer’s poetic making. In Chaucer’s poem we find a late fourteenth century conception of water as agentic, omnipresent, and estrangingly active on human bodies. Ceyx, the drowned king subject to inanimate forces, is a “Blue King” who provides us with a watery counterpart

A flyer for this event can be located here.


“Earth”: September 19th-20th, TORCH, University of Oxford

The “Earth, Sea, Sky” project will commence at Oxford on “Earth,” the most anthropocentric, localized, and thereby familiar of the domains. The panel will consider how premodern texts and visual culture configure earth in proximity to various vantage points: local, regional, and national as well as theological, cultural, human, non/human, and creaturely.

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For “Earth,” the project invites workshop participants to dwell on one or more of the following areas:
• Excavating earth (mines, resources, fossil fuels and other energy sources,
• Picturing earth (maps, globes, diagrams)
• Perceiving / Delimiting earth (borders, limits, perspectives)
• Covering earth (urban/rural, vegetation and crops, weather)
• Saving / Leaving earth (preservation, seed banks, travel, transcendence, catastrophe)

For more information about our upcoming “Earth” symposium, please see our schedule and workshop descriptions. Please note that events are for registered participants. 

For more information about the “Earth, Sea, Sky” project, please visit

For more information about TORCH, please visit

4 June 2019

The Galatea Project: A Staged Reading at Congress

Oecologies is pleased to announce that the Galatea project will be holding two free staged readings of John Lyly’s delightful comedy on June 2 and 4, as well as a round-table discussion with the project’s members on June 3, at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. This project is the result of an exciting collaboration between scholars and theatre professionals from UBC, SFU, University of Manitoba, Oecologies, and Bard on the Beach.

25 April 2019

Ecologies of the Medieval Book

Oecologies is pleased to announce Dr. Siân Echard (University of British Columbia) and Dr. Matthew Hussey (Simon Fraser University) will be giving a talk entitled ‘Ecologies of the Medieval Book’ on Thursday, April 25 at 6.00pm. The talk will be held in 1530 Canadian Pacific Lecture Room, at SFU Harbour Centre (515 W. Hastings, Vancouver).

17-19 March 2019

Renaissance Society of America: Panels of Interest for Oecologies Members

As scholars from around the globe prepare for this year’s RSA conference in Toronto, we’re pleased to share with our members and friends some panels our members are particularly excited about. We thank Louisa Mackenzie, Vin Nardizzi, and Tiffany Jo Werth for compiling this list of sessions. Follow the link here for the full roster.

25 February 2019

Lecture: Jessica Rosenberg at UC Davis

Oecologies is pleased to welcome Jessica Rosenberg, Assistant Professor at the University of Miami, and currently a fellow at the Huntington, who will be giving a talk entitled “Harvesting Books and Uprooting Poems: Circulation and Vulnerability in Elizabethan Botanical Cultures” at UC Davis on February 25 at 4:10 in 126 Voorhies.

22 February 2019

Once Upon a Time Were We Ever Premodern?

Oecologies is pleased to share the news that one of our directors, Tiffany Jo Werth, will be giving a talk in the newly inaugurated premodern studies seminar series at the Newberry Library in Chicago on February 22, 2019. Her paper “Once upon a time were we ever premodern?” will be followed by a response from Adam Hooks.

Radical Cultures: Lively Vegetation in Literary Studies: A Symposium

Oecologies is pleased to share that Oecologies director Dr. Vin Nardizzi will be giving a plenary presentation entitled “In Gloucester’s Footsteps: Vegetality and Disability in King Lear” at the University of Texas- Arlington on February 22nd. His talk will be followed by a roundtable with Jacqueline Fay, Jason Hogue, Neill Matheson, and Jeffrey Marchand.

10 January 2019

Lecture: OEcotheology – Courtney Barajas at UBC

Oecologies is looking forward to Courtney Barajas’ upcoming talk at University of British Columbia, entitled “Oecotheology: Natural Wisdom in Old English Poetry.”

The talk will be January 10, 2019 at 2:30 PM in Buchanan Tower, room 323.


29-30 November 2018

Libertine Botany in Los Angeles

Oecologies is pleased to spread the news that one of our members, Dr. Vin Nardizzi, will be speaking at this fabulous event, “Libertine Botany,” in Los Angeles this week. Check it out November 29-30 if you are in the greater Los Angeles area.

10 November 2018

The Galatea Project: A Staged Reading

Oecologies is pleased to announce a staged reading production of John Lyly’s Galatea at the BMO Theatre. This event is a collaboration between Oecologies, UBC, and Bard on the Beach! The production is one night only, on Saturday, November 10. 

Tickets are free, but to guarantee a spot, reserve a seat online at:

23 October 2018


Oecologies is pleased to share the great news that one of our University hubs, UC Davis, is the recipient of a Green Power Leadership Award from the Environmental Protection Agency in conjunction with the Center for Resource Solution. It is also ranked in the Princeton Review’s “Top 50 Green Colleges” for 2018. See the write-up on UC Davis at the link here.

ASLE 2019: “Paradise on Fire” Oecologies Session

As ASLE’s gears up for the 2019 Conference “Paradise on Fire,” check out collaborator Allan Mitchell’s session “Oecologies I: Premodern Horizons.”

From the CFP, linked here:
“Horizons indicate apparent boundaries: where earth and sea meet sky, the past borders on the future, and human vision encounters its limit. Horizons also seem relative and recessive, introducing new and unusual perspectives. For this panel we invite speakers to consider premodern moments in which humans are on the verge: contact zones and ecotones where those in the past found themselves situated and across which they desired to move, whether towards remote kingdoms, the Garden of Eden, the Land of Faerie, or through the Sphere of Fire. Presenters are encouraged to address how early literature and culture traversed environmental and ontological boundaries, imagined atmospheric or global phenomena, and took up planetary vistas and scales (physical, conceptual, or fictional). How were distances calculated and charted in the sciences? What is the effect of flying through ethereal realms in dream visions? Other ideas include the development of three-dimensional globes, the mapping of the sky, or the depiction of cityscapes or landscapes in the visual arts. We are interested to discover whether and how premodern pasts open new ecological horizons for the future.”

Submission deadline is December 15!

5 October 2018

Lecture: Vin Nardizzi at UC Davis

The University of California, Davis hosted Dr. Vin Nardizzi on Friday, October 5th for his lecture “Tulips and Turbans in Renaissance Art and Natural History.”

Vin’s visit also included an illuminating trip to UC Davis’ special collections to see a copy of John Gerard’s Herball.

22 – 25 March 2018

Renaissance Society of America, New Orleans, LA

1) Dreams in Stone: The Early Modern Lithic Imaginary I

Organizers: Lyle Massey, University of California, Irvine
Bronwen Wilson, University of California, Los Angeles
Chair: Lyle Massey, University of California, Irvine

Lithic After Life and the New Jerusalem
Tiffany J. Werth, University of California, Davis;

Taddeo’s Dream: Illusion, Delusion, and Images on Stone
Carla Benzan, University College London;

Stone Matters: Sandro Botticelli and His Drawings for Dante’s Inferno
Bronwen Wilson, University of California, Los Angeles;

2) Dreams in Stone: The Early Modern Lithic Imaginary II

Organizers: Lyle Massey, University of California, Irvine
Bronwen Wilson, University of California, Los Angeles
Chair: Tiffany J. Werth, University of California, Davis

Stone, Water, Lizard: Bellini’s Ascetic Desert 
Lyle Massey, University of California, Irvine;

Geomedia in Early Modern Normandy 
Phillip John Usher, New York University;

The Liquidity of Sand
Amy Knight Powell, University of California, Irvine.

3) Roundtable: Premodern Plants

Saturday, March 24, 9:00 to 10:30am, Hilton New Orleans Riverside, 1, 1st Floor – Grand Ballroom A

Sponsor: Associate Organization/Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society

Chair: Vin Nardizzi, University of British Columbia

Discussants: Antónia Szabari, University of Southern California
Jessica Rosenberg, University of Miami
Tom White, University of London
Natania Meeker, University of Southern California
Lara Farina, University of West Virginia

Abstract: This roundtable elaborates the methods of critical plant studies in medieval and Renaissance literature and culture. RSA members unfamiliar with critical plant studies might imagine it as a successor to critical animal studies. But as Michael Marder outlines, critical plant studies begins with the reversal of Aristotelian taxonomy, taking seriously those plant characteristics of sessility and mute growth that Western philosophy all too quickly dismisses as “vegetative soul.” Marder’s philosophy is tendentious and can be utopian in its politics; it is also intellectually liberating insofar as it defies plant blindness with new questions about vegetal life. We thus consider such methods a provocation to explore how contemplation of the plant, from recent scientific controversies about its intelligence and genetic modification to its literary status as a symbol for growth and continuance, can alter our received histories of both the human and the ecological in medieval and Renaissance literary studies.

4) Roundtable: Eco-philology: Early Modern Environmental Words and World

Thursday, March 22, 9:00 to 10:30am, Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel, Vieux Carré Salon I

Sponsor: RSA Annual Meeting

Organizers: Pauline Goul, Cornell University
Stephanie Shirilan, Syracuse University

Chair: Roland Greene, Stanford University

Discussants: Louisa Mackenzie, University of Washington, Seattle
Vin Nardizzi, University of British Columbia
Marjorie Rubright, University of Toronto
Debapriya Sarkar, University of Connecticut
Phillip John Usher, New York University

Abstract: The participants in this roundtable have been inspired by recent ecomaterialist research to consider anew the ways that Renaissance ideas of the human, nation, self, sex, state, etc., were constituted in and through environmental experience. We likewise share a sense that language has been underutilized as a resource for such investigations, even across literary traditions, such as French and English. Each of us will present a 5-7 minute paper that submits a word of particular ecocritical significance to an ecomaterialist inquiry that follows the turn towards what Roland Greene describes as “critical semantics,” exploring the ecological imbrication and dynamism of semantic change. What new information and insight can a consideration of these words’ history, evolution, and early modern uses bring to modern ecocriticism?

12 March 2018

Oecologies Presents Dr. Sharon Kinoshita, “Counting Sheep: Marco Polo and the Global Middle Ages”



26 January 2018

Oecologies Presents Dr. Hillary Eklund, “Swamped: Wetlands and Mobility in the Early Modern Atlantic”

We are excited to welcome Dr. Hillary Eklund (Loyola University) for her upcoming talk at UBC.

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Abstract: In western literary history wetlands have been consistently, though not uniformly, cast as nature’s mistakes, landscapes that time forgot, rotten blemishes on the face of the earth. So commonplace are these associations that they slide even into metaphor. Dante’s misers spend eternity in a stagnant slime that reminds them of their sluggish improvidence. Milton likewise figures Hell as a hateful bog. The protagonist of John Bunyan’s allegorical Pilgrims Progress sinks under the weight of his sin in the Slough of Despond. In short, wetlands are slow, inefficient, and aesthetically outside what we are conditioned to find beautiful. In their mixture of slow moving waters and soft soils, wetlands tend also to be cast as obstacles to human movement and progress—an association that bears out even in our own vocabularies of limitation: “swamped,” “bogged down.” This talk considers early representations of wetlands in the colonial Atlantic world, where the stubborn slowness of wetlands runs athwart the fast violence of conquest, the circulation of dominant cultural and religious attitudes, and imperatives for technological progress. Inhabitants of the English fens stubbornly resist encroaching land use practices; Irish bogs harbour rebel outlaws; the coastal marshes of New England and Virginia impede settlement; and Spanish explorers fantasize of drying the Everglades to make them more easily passable. While these temporal clashes produce widespread disregard for wetlands, their undercurrents simultaneously invite us to tarry, to sink in to the uniquely slow ecomateriality of the damp earth.

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The talk will be held at 12.00pm, January 26th 2018 in Buchanan Tower 599.

4 – 7 January 2018

Modern Language Association, New York, NY

1) Performance, Materiality, and Ecology in Early Modern Literature Roundtable

4 January 2018 (12:00 – 1:15 PM) | Sheraton – Columbus Circle

Participants: Rebecca Bushnell, University of Pennsylvania

Karen Raber, University of Mississippi

Jessica Rosenberg, University of Miami

Tiffany Jo Werth, University of California, Davis

Presider: Joseph Campana, Rice University

Roundtable description: Prodigious pies, an island full of unruly noise, jumpy alchemical elements, vocal trees, and chatty marble stones present us with a sampling of more-than-human entities who jostle for attention within early modern texts. They challenge any conception of a quiescent material realm. Their “vital materialism” (to use the phrase of contemporary theorist Jane Bennett) suggests that matter could be—and was—a forceful “actant” in human experience. This session diverges from much current theoretical interest in the quality of “agency” and “actants” within ontological hierarchies to instead consider “performance” as a paramount factor in the generation of identity. Our roundtable participants showcase how repetition, the process of carrying out an action, even the disruption of movement, might claim the stage or the page, demanding that we rethink the relationship of human will and matter’s intention. How do the formal, generic, and ontological demands of early modern performance transform or inform the understandings of agency that have emerged from contemporary materialist theories?    Each panelist explores how different categories of matter perform, taking the discussion from the elements, to the mineral, the vegetal, and, finally, the human as outperformed by one of its parts.  The session thus brings ecocriticism into conversation with performance studies to offer innovative ways of rethinking the relationship between form, movement, and ontology within Renaissance literature. Together these four papers push back the historiographical narrative of pre- and post- within what we have come to call the Anthropocene to suggest how things, objects, forces, elements, and relations, operate quite indifferently to human desire.

2) Early Modern Biopolitics: Race, Nature, Sexuality

4 January 2018 (12:00 – 1:15 PM) | Sheraton – Riverside Ballroom

Participants: Urvashi Chakravarty, George Mason University

Drew Daniel, Johns Hopkins University

Ari Friedlander, University of Mississippi

Greta LaFleur, Yale University

Adam Sitze, Amherst College

Valerie J. Traub, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Presider: Vin Nardizzi, University of British Columbia

This session explores the utility of biopolitics to early modern English and to early American literatures, leveraging early modern culture to retrace the genealogy of biopolitics. Topics include sixteenth-century Atlantic slavery, Restoration-era conceptions of sovereignty and race, seventeenth-century sexuality and population theory, early American racial theories of Protestant lineage, and pan-European early modern cartography.

3) Critical Semantics: New Transcultural Keywords

4 January 2018 (7:00 – 8:15 PM) | Hilton – Gramercy East

Sponsoring Entity: CLCS Renaissance and Early Modern


1. Common, Crystal Lynn Bartolovich, Syracuse University

2. Color, John Casey, Brown University

3. Grafting, Vin Nardizzi, University of British Columbia

4. Utopian, Debapriya Sarkar, University of Connecticut, Storrs

Respondent: Roland Greene, Stanford University

Presider: Anston Bosman, Amherst College


19-27 October 2017

PNRS Conference, Portland, OR

“Oecologies: A Roundtable” 

 Organizer: Vin Nardizzi

Participants: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “The Love of Life”

Sarah Crover, “Distemperature”

Louisa Mackenzie, “Sustainability”

David K. Coley, “Failure”

J. Allan Mitchell, “Disorientation Devices”

 Respondent: Tiffany Jo Werth

Thursday 26th October 2017

UBC’s STS Colloqium/ Oecologies Speaker Series: Dr. Jesse Oak Taylor

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As part of the STS 2017-18 colloquium series at UBC, Jesse Oak Taylor will speak on “Conrad’s Earth System Poetics.” The talk situates Conrad’s writing, particularly his sea-writing, in the context of the emergence of the Anthropocene, thinking about literary history in the context of planetary dynamics and thus exploring what a literary/historical version of Earth system science might look like. The talk is cosponsored by the UBC Department of English and the Oecologies group.

The talk will be held on Thursday October 26th at 5pm in Buchanan Tower 1197 as part of UBC’s Science and Technology Studies (STS) Colloquium.

JOT poster 4


Thursday 20 July 2017

Oecologies Speaker Series: Dr. Keith Pluymers

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Monday 12 June & Tuesday 13 June 2017

The International Spenser Society Presents “Spenser, Poetry and Performance” at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London.

Panels on various topics including Performing Materiality and the Non/human, which may be of unique interest to eco scholars.

ISS Globe Poster Apr 24

Friday 7 April 2017

Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting (Atlanta, Georgia)

9:00 to 10:30 am

Plenary Session: Queer Natures: Bodies, Sexualities, Environments
Session Organizer: Karen Raber
Chair: Mario DiGangi (Lehman College, CUNY)

Love in a Time of Swarm
Joseph Campana (Rice University)

Fruits and Vegetables
Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia)

Karen Raber (University of Mississippi)

“Nature’s Changing Course”: The Non-Comparisons of Sonnet 18
Laurie Shannon (Northwestern University)

Cannon Schmitt_photo
Tuesday 21 March 2017

We are excited to range forward in time to the nineteenth century and to host Professor Cannon Schmitt (Professor and Associate Director of the PhD program in English at the University of Toronto). Professor Schmitt is the author of two books, Darwin and the Memory of the Human: Evolution, Savages, and South America (Cambridge University Press, 2009; paperback reprint 2013) and Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), and co-editor of Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture (Indiana University Press, 2008). His essays have appeared in RepresentationsVictorian StudiesELHGenre, and elsewhere. His current SSHRC-funded book project, which is tentatively titled The Literal Sea, hypothesizes that the ocean and associated phenomena—tides, prevailing winds, marine engineering, ships under sail—constitute a privileged locus of the literal in Victorian fiction. His talk, which draws from this new work, is titled “Soft Water: A Metaphor and Its Vicissitudes.”

The talk will be held on 21 March 2017 at 4:30PM in Buchanan Tower 1197 as part of UBC’s Science and Technology Studies (STS) Colloquium

Cannon Schmitt.jpeg

Saturday 18 March 2017

51st Annual Conference of the Medieval Association of the PacificMarch 16-18, 2017 (Los Angeles, CA)


Session 30. Coyote, Raven, Moa: Medievalism, Animals, and Indigineity around the Pacific Rim [ROOM TBD]

Presider: Anne Laskaya (University of Oregon)

Coyote and Raven Meet the Beasts of Battle: Interrupting the Human
Mo Pareles (University of British Columbia)

Chaucer’s Foules and Fools
Wallace Cleaves (University of California, Riverside)

“to smooth down their dying pillow”: Buller’s Birds and the Māori in New Zealand Colonial Medievalism
Robert Rouse (University of British Columbia)

Modern Language Association: Philadelphia, PA 2017

109. Memory Studies and the Anthropocene

Thursday, January 5, 2017, 3:30–4:45 p.m.. 201C PCC

Program arranged by the forum TC Memory Studies

Presiding: Stef Craps, Ghent Univ.

Speakers: Claire M. Colebrook, Penn State Univ., University Park; Richard Crownshaw, Goldsmiths, Univ. of London; Rosanne M. Kennedy, Australian National Univ.; Vin Nardizzi, Univ. of British Columbia; Jennifer Wenzel, Columbia Univ.

Participants address the following questions: What are the implications of the notion of the Anthropocene for memory studies? How, if at all, does the awareness of living in a new geological epoch defined by the actions of human beings affect the objects of memory, the scales of remembrance, and the field’s humanist underpinnings?

362. Eco-rhetorics and Shakespeare

Friday, January 6, 2017, 3:30–4:45 p.m. 109B PCC

Program arranged by the forum LLC Shakespeare

Presiding: Bradin Cormack, Princeton Univ.

1. “Off the Grid with Timon of Athens,” Joseph Campana, Rice Univ.

2. “Ecologies of Cruelty in Montaigne and King Lear,” Lars Engle, Univ. of Tulsa

3. “Vastness,” Vin Nardizzi, Univ. of British Columbia

Responding: Elizabeth D. Harvey, Univ. of Toronto

480. The World Is Flat: Ecomaterialist Perspectives of the Renaissance

Saturday, January 7, 10:15-11:30 a.m. 110A PCC

A special session

PresidingKaren L. Raber, Univ. of Mississippi

SpeakersLowell Duckert, West Virginia Univ., Morgantown; Holly E. Dugan, George Washington Univ.; Karen L. Raber; Steven Swarbrick, Brown Univ.; Tiffany Jo Werth, Simon Fraser Univ.

Ecomaterialism brings focus to the materiality of the world and its human and nonhuman things, processes, aggregations, and phenomena. This session showcases a variety of early modern ecomaterialist approaches, with the goal of initiating a conversation about the potential, and in some cases pitfalls, of their application in early modern contexts.

Keywords: ecomaterialism, ecostudies, materialism, non-human

598. Radical Hope and Early Modern Ecologies

Saturday, January 7, 3:30–4:45 p.m. 112B, PCC

Program arranged by the forum LLC 16th-Century English

Presiding: Steve Mentz, St. John’s Univ., NY

Speakers: Daniel G. Brayton, Middlebury Coll.; Lynne Bruckner, Chatham Univ.; Steve Mentz; Jennifer Munroe, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte

Respondent: Tiffany Jo Werth, Simon Fraser Univ.

Early modern conceptions of the relation between human beings and the nonhuman environment can supplement today’s doom-laden environmental discourse. Early modern ecological thinking was not bound by industrial or Romantic conceptions of nature but instead imagined complex and intimate interrelationships between human and nonhuman bodies.

Keywords: ecocriticism, early modern studies, environmental literature, Anthropocene


Oecologies Speaker Series: Kellie Robertson, University of Maryland

“Ecologies of Scale: Imagining the Human”

Thursday, November 10, 2016, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Simon Fraser University, Harbour Centre, Canadian Pacific Lecture Room (1530)

How do we imagine the human in relation to the nonhuman world? Every era renegotiates the terms of engagement between these realms. Robertson argues that we can better assess our modern understanding of this relationship by returning to its premodern origins. Late medieval writers were enamored with metaphors of scale for imagining mankind’s relation to the rest of the created world—most famously, the idea of the human as microcosm, a finite version of empyrean strivings and longings telescoped into local form. Revisiting these ubiquitous microcosmic figures gives us insight into sometimes opaque medieval intellectual practice even as it provides a place from which to analyze the commitments of recent (and increasingly popular) models of posthumanism, models that have rejected hierarchy and taxonomy in favor of adjacency and intimacy. Such a return also allows us to scrutinize how scalar metaphors accomplish their rhetorical work, an undertaking that contributes to the theorizations found in the sociology of science (beginning with Mary Hesse’s Models and Analogies in Science) as well as in literary criticism (Susan Stewart, Barbara Johnson, Daniel Tiffany).


Man as Microcosm embraced by the Godhead.
Hildegard of Bingen, Liber Divinorum Operum
Lucca Biblioteca Statale, MS 1942, f. 9r (ca. 1230)


Bartholomeus Anglicus, Livre des
Propriétés des Choses (15th c.)

BNF, fr. 135, f. 95.


Speaker information: Kellie Robertson writes about medieval literature and culture; her research and teaching are premised on the idea that a return to this earlier intellectual history can help us to better understand our own modern desires and philosophical commitments. At the University of Maryland, she currently serves as the Director of Graduate Studies for the English Department.

Early Modern Literary Geographies: October 14-15 2016, a Huntington Library Conference

Friday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Experts in the literature, history, geography, and archaeology of 16th- and 17th-century Britain will examine four key geographic sites—body, house, neighborhood, and region—to illuminate the important spatial structures and concepts that define the early modern engagement with the world.

Under Western Skies 2016

Water: Events, Trends, Analysis

September 27-30, 2016
Mount Royal University
Calgary, Alberta, CANADA

Under Western Skies (UWS) is a biennial, interdisciplinary conference series on the environment. The fourth conference organizers invite prospective researchers, authors, artists, and presenters to consider submitting proposals for oral and poster presentations as well as workshops and panels.

The conference theme, Water: Events, Trends, Analysis, will be threaded through four inter- and transdisciplinary conference tracks:

1.  Policy, programs, planning, and management: trends and emerging topics in this track include history of water, integrated water management, business risk, stakeholder engagement, governance, jurisdictions and law, instruments and tools, science and technology, informing decision makers, innovative interventions and practices, monitoring and assessment, education, urban planning and design, and lessons learned.

2.  Safety, reliability, and sustainability: trends and emerging topics in this track include human rights to water, borders and transnational issues, resilience and adaptation to climate change, catastrophes and disasters, alpine and glacial change, tensions in sustainability, invasive species, conservation, human health and wellbeing impacts.

3. Environmental Humanities Issues and Interfaces: trends and emerging topics in this track include water representations in law and public policy; in history and environmental history; in world religions, global literature, film, and drama; in the cultures of science; and in collaborative projects involving the sciences and humanities.

4. Agricultural and Industrial Use: trends and emerging topics in this track include water commodification, rural and Indigenous communities, water technologies and treatment, impact of scale, transportation, oil and gas development, mining, fisheries and oceans, and hydropower.

Under Western Skies 2016 is pleased to confirm the following participants:

Bruno Latour
Gaia Global Circus (Chloé Latour, Frédérique Aït-Touati, Olivier Vallet  & Company)
Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair

The UWS Committee look forward to receiving contributions from all environmental fields of inquiry and endeavor, including but not limited to the humanities, natural and social sciences, public policy, business, and law. Non-academic proposals are also welcome.

The UWS conference series is the 2015 recipient of the Environmental Community Organizer (ECO) Award conferred by the Environmental Studies Association of Canada (ESAC).

Vcologies Conference at University of California, Davis

Friday, September 16, 2016 to Saturday, September 17, 2016 

Vcologies, founded in 2015, is an international group of scholars studying the literature and history of the nineteenth century whose work is concerned with environmental and ecological issues. Members participate in an informal working group that meets and organizes panels at field conferences, such as the North American Victorian Studies Association, the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies conference, and the Modern Language Association’s annual convention. Vcologies will hold a two-day symposium, co-organized by Elizabeth Carolyn Miller at UC Davis and Deanna Kreisel at UBC, in September 2016 at UC Davis. Its members also hope to hold a similar summer symposium yearly. For more information about the group or the conference, please contact Deanna Kreisel at

Vcologies 2016 will take place 16-17 September 2016 at UC Davis. Please see this poster for details.

23-26 March 2016 Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA

  1. Shakespeare and the Histories of Sustainability

A Seminar led by Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia)

What might Shakespeare and his contemporaries contribute to multidisciplinary conversations about sustainability? Do English Renaissance texts and institutions model “sustainable practices”? Do they resist such practices, imagine them differently, or figure their failure? Papers are welcome on such topics as catastrophe, climate change, debt and gift economies, excess and festival, husbandry, resource depletion and extraction, resilience, risk management, scarcity, sufficiency, and yields.

Modern Language Association: Austin, TX 2016

  1. “Ecology” and the Early Modern: Animals, Plants, and the Environment in Seventeenth-Century England

Thursday, 7 January, 12:00 noon-1:15 p.m. 4BC, ACC

Program arranged by the forum LLC 17th-Century English

Presiding: Mihoko Suzuki, Univ. of Miami

Speakers: Ian F. MacInnes, Albion Coll.; Vin Nardizzi, Univ. of British Columbia; Karen L. Raber, Univ. of Mississippi; Jessica Rosenberg, Univ. of Miami; Charles Whitney, Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas

Session Description:

Panelists discuss the literature of seventeenth-century England by focusing on the posthuman in animal studies; the garden and the field as sites of imagining future time; animal husbandry, agricultural innovation, and the environment; the “environ” (as an adverb and as a noun); and seventeenth-century and contemporary reflections on sustainability.

  1. Spenser and “the Human”
    Sunday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 19A, ACC.

Program arranged by the International Spenser Society
Presiding: Melissa Sanchez, Univ. of Pennsylvania

1) “Spenser’s Inhumanity”
Joseph Anthony Campana, Rice University.

2) “The Species Life of Worldlings”
Russ Leo, Princeton University.

3) “Larval Subjects: Insect Ontologies in Spenser and the Posthuman”
Steven Swarbrick, Brown Univ.

4) “‘Degendered’: Spenser’s Stonie Age of Man,”
Tiffany Jo Werth Simon Fraser University


Sixteenth Century Studies Conference

Vancouver, BC (22-25 October 2015)

“Spenser in Motion: From Stasis to Speed” (Session 177; 24 October 2015; 3:30-5:00)

Organizer and Chair: Tiffany J. Werth, Simon Fraser University

1) “The ‘Slower Method’: The Flower Blazon in Sixteenth-Century Sonnets”

Vin Nardizzi, University of British Columbia

2) “The Incredible Flightness of Being: ‘Muiopotmos’ and the Speed of Text”

Chris Barrett, Louisiana State University

3) “Slow Violence and the Speed of System in ‘The Legend of Justice'”

Joseph Campana, Rice University

“The Non/human Erotic in the Renaissance World: Animals, Vegetables, and Minerals”(Friday, October 23, 8:30-10:00

Organizer: Tiffany J. Werth, Simon Fraser University

Chair: Stephen Guy-Bray, University of British Columbia

1) “Queer Ecology and 16th Century Romance”

Sallie Anglin, Glenville State College

2) “Archives and Animal Spectacles: Bestiality in Colonial New Spain”

Zeb Tortorici, New York University

3) “Romancing the Stone in Renaissance Poetry and Alchemical Treatises”

Tiffany J. Werth, Simon Fraser University

“Spenser’s Natures: Reconsidering the Poetics of Place” (Saturday, October 24, 3:30-5:00pm)

Organizer: Ayesha Ramachandran, Yale University

Sponsor: The Spenser Roundtable

Chair: Sarah Van der Laan, Indiana University-Bloomington


Catherine Nicholson (Yale University), Sean Henry (University of Victoria), Tiffany J. Werth (Simon Fraser University)

Oecologies – Engaging the World, From Here

OE poster

October 2nd – 3rd, 2015, Vancouver, British Columbia

Friday, 2nd October, SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Downtown Vancouver, #oeco15

Elder Ethel, SFU’s Elder in Residence, of the Stelómethet tribe, welcomed our conference participants to the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, and began our conference in a good way.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Professor of English, George Washington University) opened our speaker series with a trenchant paper entitled “The Love of Life: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Close to Home.” How surprising that from that paper one of the memorable quotations was: “cutting something off does not take it out of the mesh.” An apt reminder that in an ecotone of green even the distant may be close to hand.

Simon Estok (Professor of English Language and Literature, Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea) in “Here and There, Then and Now: Shakespeare and the Global Supermarket” spoke of “splitting here’s” and traced the relationships between the here (his “here” being South Korea and Vancouver), there, then, and now in the multiple ways that South Korea has embraced Shakespeare.

Louise Noble (Senior Lecturer in English, School of Arts, University of New England, Australia) then delivered a paper called “Bold Riparian Schemes: The Hydrosocial Cycle Across Time and Space” that took us through the landscape of cultural memory where the waterscape of a wet, lush England haunts the arid landscapes of Australia. Tracing a hydrosocial cycle, she netted meaning from “pathways dependency” and the resilience of metaphors in literature to the people and societies through which water flows.

After lunch, we reconvened with a dynamic roundtable of colleagues from the Pacific Coast, who engaged the theme of literature in place by talking about their own work as regionally situated medieval and early modern scholars. Allan J. Mitchell (University of Victoria) addressed the keyword of translation through the untimely object of Samuel de Champlain’s lost, found, and nationally-memorialized astrolabe; Heather Blurton (University of California, Santa Barbara) took up eco-cosmopolitanism in her discussion of the deterritorializing function of Mediterranean Studies; David Coley (Simon Fraser University), in a striking instance of confession-as-pedagogy, examined his own sense of the utilities of professional failure as a way to think through the position of medievalist-(inevitably-always)-on-the-edge; sustainability was at the centre of Louisa MacKenzie’s (University of Washington) discussion of the role of academic discourse in the environmental humanities; finally, Coll Thrush (University of British Columbia) problematized the geo-rhetoric of the premodern in his discussion of scale and repositioned urban indigeneity in early modern and contemporary London.

Friday evening, 2nd October, 2015, on the banks of the Humber/Fraser River, or SFU Woodward’s Theatre, Downtown Vancouver, #oeco15

See the play program here.

On Friday evening, The Lyly Gilders, a collective of UBC BFA students (past and present), English students, and a few other brave souls, presented a workshop reading of John Lyly’s Gallathea (1592) at SFU Woodward’s Theatre. Set at the edge of a forest, upon land that is perpetually threatened by the sea, Gallathea is a play about the threat of ecological catastrophe. It is also a play in which gods jostle for power over humans that have apparently lost their way. As such, the play opens itself up to an exploration of what it means to stage the premodern past “from here.” Our adaptation, created by Catherine Fergusson (BFA, 2015) and Tai Grauman (current BFA student), playfully relocated Lyly’s setting (the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire) to the Pacific Northwest and, in so doing, incorporated local environmentalism and indigenous traditions to reflect our sense of “here.” This is what Catherine and Tai had to say about the experience:

Lyly’s unusually large emphasis on setting reminded me that the earth we stand on, rather than being subservient to the needs of humans, is something bigger than all of us – it was here long before we were and will continue to thrive long after we are gone. One reason I cast indigenous actors as the immortal characters in the play was to evoke the sense that as settlers, we are visitors to this land, and that it takes not just a lifetime but many lifetimes to reach the level of intimacy with it required to truly call it home. We have lost our connection with our environment, and feel entitled to its resources when we should feel humbled. The earth is not subservient to humans – like the gods in Gallathea, it can give and it can take away, nourish or destroy. The heady smell of pine needles mixed with rain stirs the hearts of the two young lovers, the silence of the forest setting their imaginations free to love against convention. The ominous roar of Neptune’s waves crashing to shore outside their little town emboldens two fathers to protect their daughters. Cupid’s black feathers tickle the fancies of the nymphs and the breeze from his bow whispers in their ears. Setting invigorates the blood of the characters in any play and cannot, must not be ignored. Our production of Gallathea was a preliminary step into an exploration of our geography as it relates to classical theatre that I hope to collectively pursue and develop, with the goal to enliven the connection between audience and content.

-Catherine Fergusson

As a person of Indigenous ancestry, I never thought classical works were my style, nor that I would ever be cast in them. I always thought that classical playwrights such as John Lyly wrote for individuals of a different background; it had never dawned on me before to take into consideration where we were staging this play geographically. By incorporating current elements and adapting the text, as an actor and a dramaturge, I was able to find honesty and genuinely relevant conflicts within the text where I may not have seen them before. It does make sense to look at the earth we are standing on when we are working on a play, and that is what we did. It does make sense to create diversity within classical theatre because this is the country we are geographically standing on, this is Canadian Theatre.

-Tai Grauman

Saturday, 3rd October, SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Downtown Vancouver, #oeco15

Saturday morning found us transported with David Matthews (Senior Lecturer, English literature at the University of Manchester) back to a strangely hyphenated time where huffing mid-nineteenth century trains passed castellated towers of a newly “medieval” landscape in “Rain, Steam, Speed – and Turrets: How Green is Medievalism?” In his paper he troubled nostalgia for a more authentic past that created strange ripples and dislocations in early industrial Manchester.

Following a rallying donut break (#medievaldonut), Sandra Young (Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Cape Town, South Africa) next carried us to the roots of the global south wherein early modern maps imagined climactic zones that were also distinct racial and cultural divides. She explored how a “singular” globe and its imagined cosmography might create tensions against a sense of individual habitation.

Just before lunch, Sharon O’Dair (Hudson Strode Professor of English, University of Alabama) took the stage to deliver a rousing and lively exploration of “Consuming Debt.” She urged her audience to avoid a life of carbon and debt and instead to embrace otium as part of a practicing life that avoids being consumed.

After lunch, Frances Dolan (Professor Department of English at the University of California, Davis) got us thirsty with a talk on “Wine, Time, and Terroir.” In it, she explored the contemporary California biodynamic wine culture that claims to be “real, natural, naked, and authentic.” Bound up in these claims are appeals to a particular kind of premodern past that suggests how wine quickly becomes “human adjacent” in its synthesis of the human role in growing the “blood of the grape.”

Saturday, 3rd October, at the Hollow Tree, Stanley Park, Vancouver, #oeco15

After a morning of inspiring papers, conference participants burst out of the meeting room to enjoy an eco-tour of Vancouver’s famous Stanley Park. The afternoon was gloriously beautiful, but, of course, there was a snafu: the complicated ecosystem of the Vancouver transportation system. We had the challenge of transporting 30 people out of the Park and to the plenary session when the main access road into the Park, according to one taxi driver, was ensnarled with Saturday-traffic. However, our intrepid conferences-goers remained cheerful and game: some opted to jog back into the city along the forest trails, while others hiked the main road until taxis finally arrived. We imagine that this might be one of the more memorable highlights of the conference. #lostinthewoods

At the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park, we met Dr. Sally Aitken, Professor of Forest and Conservation Sciences at UBC. Dr. Aitken is an expert on the effects of climate change on North America’s forests. She designed a tour of the Park that integrated the history of the forest with the history of the peoples who have inhabited it over the centuries. During the tour, we learned about the lifespan of large cedar trees and the definition of ‘old growth’ forest. We visited Siwash Rock (Slhx̱i7lsh), learning about its multiple stories. We also got to visit a storm-scar regrowth area where you can still see the effects of a giant windstorm that blew down many of the Park’s mature trees in 2006. We ended the tour back at the Hollow Tree, where participants were able to ask questions and chat with each other before the taxi scramble began. We were delighted that the Vancouver weather shone on us.

We thank Dr. Aitken for guiding us and for sharing her research with us!

Saturday Evening, 3rd October, SFU Harbour Centre, Downtown Vancouver, #oeco15

The conference was brought to a magnificent close with keynote speaker Ursula K. Heise’s (Professor of English, University of California, Los Angeles, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability) plenary lecture “The Environmental Humanities in the Anthropocene.” Ranging widely across genre and critical approach, she explored the relevance of the human dimension to the environmental, noting the issues raised about multi-species inhabitation of a world increasingly defined by the anthropocene.

AnimalFest 2015

The First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program at UBC, in conjunction with Oecologies, hosted AnimalFest 2015 in Vancouver on July 18 and 19, 2015. A diverse collection of authors from Reaktion’s Animal Series discussed their species-specific volumes, the burgeoning field of Animal Studies, and their experiences in writing cultural histories for this transformative book series.

The events of AnimalFest was divided between the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC and at the Vancouver Public Library.

At the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, the authors spoke on a variety of topics, including: “Animal Kinship & Belonging,” “Animal Love & Slaughter,” and “Animal Lies & Falsehoods.”

The final event on Sunday was a series of readings from the Animal series books by the authors at the Vancouver Public Library.  Each author read a small passage from their book answering the question “Why Did I Write about my Animal?”

AnimalFest would like to thank the Departments of English and History, the Science and Technology Studies Program, Critical Studies in Sexuality, the First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program, and Reaktion for their support.

The Fifth International Spenser Society Conference

Dublin Castle, 18 – 20 June 2015

Spenser and the Human: A Conversation

Moderator: Ayesha Ramachandran (Yale University)

Joseph Campana (Rice University), “Spenser’s Inhumanity”

Kat Lecky (Arkansas State University), “Irish Non-humanness and English Inhumanity in A View of the Present State of Ireland”

Tiffany Werth (Simon Fraser University) ‘‘Degendered’: Spenser’s Stonie Age of Man”

Roundtable at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 14-17

Sunday, May 17, 10:30am-noon, Session 545, Fetzer 1010 

Organizer: Robert Rouse (University of British Columbia)

Discussants: Jeffery Jerome Cohen, Lowell Duckert, Daniel Helbert, Richard Godden, Cord Whitaker, and David Coley.

In this round table (6 speakers) we are interested in examining how medieval ecological catastrophe (eco-tastrophe), real or metaphorical, operates as a trope that is invoked in relation to human cultural change.  Greg Garrard observes that ‘Apocalyptic rhetoric seems a necessary component of environmental discourse.’ (Ecocriticism, 113)  The round table will take this as its starting point to consider the ways in which medieval fears of Apocalypse and Natural Catastrophe operate to mediate medieval culture and its constructed Other, ‘Nature’.  Floods, harsh winters, famines, plagues, the ruins after the fall of civilization — all are common medieval images of the catastrophic impact of natural change on medieval civilization. Additionally, other human threats to western civilization are metaphorized into natural ones: the first recorded raid of the Vikings on Lindisfarne (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 793) is preceeded by dire natural phenomena and a famine, while the first incursions of the Mongols into eastern Europe were described as a plague. Whether understood in apocalyptic terms as the wrath of the Divine, or as natural challenges to humanity’s Genesis-mandated struggle to domesticate God’s creation, the threat of Ecotastrophe was a powerful rhetorical idea through which medieval culture understood their place in the world.

Panel at the Renaissance Society of America, Berlin, March 26-28.

Marvell’s Poetry of Desire
Thursday, 26th March, 10:15-11:45am, Alte Palais, Unter den Linden 9, E25
This session is sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Association.

Organizer: Gretchen E. Minton (University of Montana)

“Andrew Marvell’s Heart of Glass: Desire and Memory in the Country House Poem,”  John S. Garrison, Carroll University

“Falling in Love with Virgil,” Stephen Guy-Bray, University of British Columbia

“Poets Loving Trees,” Vin Nardizzi, University of British Columbia

Chair: Paul V. Budra (Simon Fraser University)

Elemental Conversions in Early Modern England: Volition, Orientation, Transgression
Friday, 27th March, 3:00-4:30p.m., Alte Palais, Unter den Linden 9, 213
This session is sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Association.

Organizer: Patricia Badir (University of British Columbia)

“Substantial Conversions: Desiring and Directed Materials in Early Modern England,” Helen Smith, University of York

“On the Verge: Ecological Conversion in John Lyly’s Gallathea,” Patricia Badir, University of British Columbia

“The Thames Watermen: Disreputable Agents of Conversion in Early Modern London,” Sarah Crover, University of British Columbia

Chair: Bronwen Wilson (University of East Anglia)

Session at the Shakespeare Association of America, Vancouver, British Columbia, April 2-5.

Faith and Eco-Practice in Shakespeare’s England

Organizer: Tiffany Jo Werth (Simon Fraser University)

“‘Of Sundrie kinds?’ Creatures of Stone and their Gods,” Tiffany Jo Werth, Simon Fraser University

“Protestant Animals: How the Reformation led to Animal Protection in late-Renaissance England,” Robert Watson, University of California, Los Angeles

“Biodynamic Viticulture and the Pre-Modern,” Frances E. Dolan, University of California, Davis


Sessions at the Modern Language Association Convention, Vancouver, British Columbia, January 8-11.

Early Modern Matter

Thursday, 8 January, 1:45-3:00 p.m., 208, VCC West
Program arranged by the Division on Literature of the English Renaissance, Excluding Shakespeare.

“‘A Stonie Race in Deede’: Human Matter and Origin Myths in Early Modern England,” Tiffany Jo Werth, Simon Fraser University

“Beyond Humoralism: Affect Matter(s) in Early Modern England,” Bradley J. Irish, Arizona State University

“Between Goosenecks and Aristotle: Harington and the Matter of Invention,” Joseph M. Ortiz, University of Texas, El Paso

“Jonson, Shakespeare, Junk, and Art,” Jeffrey Knapp, University of California, Berkeley

Chair: Katherine Eggert, University of Colorado, Boulder

Spenser and Ecocritical Practices
Saturday, 10 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 115, VCC West
Program arranged by the International Spenser Society.

“Spenserian Slime: Waste Matter in The Faerie Queene,” Brent Dawson, Emory University

“Spenser’s Catastrophic Ecology: Environmental Literature in the Theatre for Worldlings,” Michael Ursell, Emory University

“Running with the Goats: Calepine, Spenser’s Goats, and the Problem of Meaning,” Sean Henry, University of Victoria

Chair: Colleen Rosenfeld, Pomona College; Tiffany Jo Werth, Simon Fraser University

Respondent: Katherine Eggert, University of Colorado, Boulder

Otium to the Grindstone
Sunday, 11 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 111, VCC West

Otium for Sheep?” Julian D. Yates, University of Delaware, Newark

“Sitting Shepherds,” Vin Nardizzi , University of British Columbia, Vancouver

“Love, to Melt,” Sharon O’Dair, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

Chair: Lowell Duckert, West Virginia University, Morgantown


42nd UBC Medieval Workshop:

Medieval and Renaissance Oecologies

Workshop dates: 7-9 November 2014
(see the conference schedule here)

Medieval and Renaissance Œcologies seeks to interrogate premodern understandings of the natural world and ecological thinking. A prevailing attitude within modern Western culture has imagined the natural world as “out there,” a distinct realm upon which humans import subjective meaning. More recently, ecocritics and theorists of the new materialism(s) have challenged this conception of nature. This workshop takes up these challenges by investigating the idea of “œcology,” an older and defamiliarizing spelling of the modern concept “ecology.” The spelling is retained in an effort to rethink “ecology” through the study of premodern natural history, taxonomy, hierarchy, and categorization, and to ask what conceptual or metaphorical resources might help us – as located moderns – reorient our perceptions about the premodern past and our present and future moments. In an effort to define complex terms such as “environment,” “landscape,” and “ecology,” we ask where do these terms come from? What came before them? What do they mean here and now? What did conceptions of Nature and “œcology” look like in the Medieval and Renaissance periods and how did different discourse communities define their meanings?

The 42nd UBC Medieval Workshop will be welcoming Dr. Laurie Shannon (Professor and Chair, English, Northwestern University) and Dr. Jonathan Hsy (Associate Professor, English, George Washington University) as plenary speakers.

This conference is part of the ongoing multi-year research project Œcologies (, supported by the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.

40th North American Byzantine Studies Conference

The 40th North American Byzantine Studies Conference will be held from November 6 to November 9, 2014 at Simon Fraser University (downtown campus) in Vancouver, British Columbia. Some Byzantine Studies events will be held in conjunction with the 42nd UBC Medieval Workshop. (Stay tuned for updates!)

Renaissance Oecologies: 3rd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group

On the Beach: Precariousness, Risk, Forms of Life, Affinity, and Play at the Edge of the World
16-18 October 2014
University of California, Santa Barbara
Learn more

Roundtable: “Coastal Creatures”

Organizer: Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia)

In contributing to this roundtable, we collectively produce a natural history, in its capacious premodern sense, for seven creatures inhabiting coastal regions: cultural amphibians (translators and/or bicultural people), fenlanders, petermen boating on the Thames, beached sea monsters, sails, saints, and sonnets. We aim not only to describe the naturecultures of these creatures (lineaments, customs, lore, and laws), but also to theorize what it means, in terms of embodiment and temporality, to be “coastal,” or a creature of the coast. In an effort to foster a common theoretical vocabulary for the roundtable, we’ll read Julia Reinhard Lupton’s “Creature Caliban” (2000), as well as short excerpts from Brian Ogilvie’s Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe (2006) and Elizabeth Jane Bellamy’s Dire Straits: The Perils of Writing the Early Modern Coastline from Leland to Milton (2013). We’ll frame our remarks with these materials. We do so in the generous spirit of dialogue: to explore, elaborate, reconfigure, and reimagine the parameters of the roundtable’s keywords. We also want to share our readings with audience members, so we hope to find an online platform for making these readings available.

Joshua Calhoun (Assistant Professor, English, University of Wisconsin-Madison), “Sails”

Sarah Crover (PhD. candidate in English, University of British Columbia), “Petermen”

Stephen Guy-Bray (Professor, English, University of British Columbia), “Sonnet”

Jonathan Hsy (Associate Professor, English, George Washington University), “Cultural Amphibians”

Louisa Mackenzie (Associate Professor, French and Italian Studies, University of Washington), “Manfish”

Louise Noble (Senior Lecturer, English, University of New England, Australia), “fenlanders”

Cord Whitaker (Assistant Professor, English, Wellesley College), “Saint”

Renaissance Oecologies: Scaling the Human in Shakespeare and Spenser

Panel at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, 16-19 October 2014, New Orleans

This panel aims to think beyond “the human” as a distinct—and privileged—ontological category in early modern literature. Stressing the need to revisit fundamental questions about the nature of matter and the place of embodied humans during a time of religious upheaval and emergent new philosophies, early modern scholars have contended that human indistinction shadowed the celebration of humanity’s preeminent place within the created universe. In addressing these questions, the panel asks the following: how might humanist philosophy, new- and old-world investigations of the natural world along with their technologies, or other contemporary currents of thought and writing, collapse or uphold the limits that early modern authors place on the definitions of “the human”? How does the variety of life forms and forms of life in Shakespeare and Spenser’s work allow us to glimpse the complexity of locating “the human” on a spectrum of being?

Papers & Presenters

“Exceptional Humans, Human Exceptionalism, and the Shape of Things to Come” by Joseph Campana a poet, critic, and scholar of Renaissance literature, who teaches at Rice University.

“Shakespeare’s Stones: Following the Proper Chain of Commands: Talus, Hermione, and the Imperative” by Andrew Tumminia, an assistant professor of English Literature at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama.

“Weighing the World: The Scale of Creatures in Spenser’s Egalitarian Giant” by Tiffany Jo Werth, an associate professor of Tudor literature at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver BC.

Chair: Peter C. Mancall, Professor of History and Anthropology at USC, and the Director of the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute.

Roundtable: Early Modern Oecologies

At the 60th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA), Saturday, March 29th, 3-4:30pm

Roundtable description: A prevailing attitude within modern Western culture has imagined the natural world as “out there,” a distinct realm upon which humans import subjective meaning. More recently, ecocritics and theorists of the new materialism(s) have challenged this conception of nature. This roundtable gathers scholars from the humanities living and working along the North American Pacific coast in order to address how we might rethink the interrelationships between living organisms and our local environments by looking back to early modern habits of natural history, taxonomy, hierarchy, and categorization. By exploring specific examples for how humans interacted with the creaturely world, our roundtable asks what conceptual or metaphorical resources might help us as located moderns reorient our perceptions about the early modern past (and our present and future moments). As a part of that process, the roundtable questions the names, labels, and habits of “science” that have frequently defined human interaction with the world. In an effort to define complex terms such as “environment,” “landscape,” and “ecology,” we ask where do these terms come from? What came before them? What do they mean here and now? What did conceptions of “Nature” look like in this historical period and how did different discourse communities imagine human and animal nature? Are these “natures” self-consistent, and under what conditions might they change? What are the relations among terms such as nature, landscape, ecology and technology and how do our regionally and temporally specific conceptions draw from / differ from the early modern?

The session is sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Association. It will be chaired by Patricia Badir (University of British Columbia). The confirmed discussants are: Frances Dolan (University of California, Davis), Carla Freccero (University of California, Santa Cruz), Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia), Tiffany Werth (Simon Fraser University), Peter Cooper Mancall (University of Southern California, Dornsife), and JeffreyTodd Knight (University of Washington).

The 60th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA) will be held at the New York Hilton Midtown, 27-29 March 2014. Please visit the RSA website for more details.

Oecologies Speakers Series: The Histories of Sustainability

The Oecologies Speaker Series gathered 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.” We retain this defamiliarizing spelling because our speakers have been asked to talk about how we might rethink “ecology” through the study of premodern natural history, taxonomy, hierarchy, and categorization. By exploring an array of discourses about “oecology,” our series asked what conceptual or metaphorical resources might help us – as located moderns – reorient our perceptions about the premodern past and our present and future moments. Among other matters, speakers discussed the relations among terms such as N/nature, landscape, ecology, economy, environment, and technology, and asked how our regionally and temporally specific conceptions draw / differ from premodern inhabitations of the world.


The Speaker Series, which was generously sponsored by Green College at the University of British Columbia, took place approximately once per month between September and April in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years.



24 September 2014 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House) 

Jeremy Davies (School of English, University of Leeds), “Sustainability, Geohistory, and the Anthropocene Epoch”

Summary: “Sustainability” is a longstanding desideratum in environmental politics. Recent years have seen much discussion of the idea that environmental upheavals mean the world is entering a new geological epoch, the “Anthropocene.” Those two notions—the ideal of sustainability and the proposal of the Anthropocene—offer sharply contrasting ways of imagining the current ecological crisis and possible responses to it. Both have significant antecedents in the earth sciences of the late eighteenth century. The former is typically attuned to the eighteenth century’s directional or cyclical theories of the earth; the latter is explicitly dependent upon the alternative historicist theories that came to prominence after the French Revolution. This talk will compare those ways of thinking about time and change in earth systems.


Speaker information: Jeremy Davies is a lecturer in English at the University of Leeds, UK. He is spending part of autumn 2014 as a visiting lecturer in UBC’s Department of English, working on a book called The Birth of the Anthropocene.



29 October 2014  (Event co-sponsored with Ecologies of Social Difference; talk to be delivered at 12 pm in GRSJ 028)

Catriona Sandilands (Environmental Studies, York University), “Botanically Queer: Plants, Sex, and Biopolitics”

Summary: Plants have been profoundly queer players in modern projects of describing “life” for ethical and political consideration. From their taxonomic destabilizations of colonial order in the eighteenth century to their questionings of agency in recent posthumanist discourses, plants demand that we think about living, being, and becoming in ways that interrupt anthropocentric, heteronormative figurings of agency, futurity, and life generally. This presentation will explore “botanical queerness” with an eye to thinking through the complexity of humans’ relations to plants beyond habitual modes of address. Plants are not simply objects of human concern; they offer up modes of being, becoming, and living that have been overlooked in more animal-centric accounts, and that point to a more queer and ecological understanding of life in relation to power.


Speaker information: Catriona (Cate) Sandilands is Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, where she teaches and writes at the intersections of environmental humanities/ecocriticism, social and political theory, and feminist/sexuality studies; she is also Vice President of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE). Among her many publications, she is the co-editor of Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire (Indiana, 2010) and has written numerous articles and essays exploring different facets of sexual/ecological  intersection; her most recent writings on plant-human relations will be collected in the forthcoming volume Plantasmagoria: Plants and the Politics of Urban Habitat.


26 November 2014 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House) 

Kenneth Lertzman (School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University), “Ecology and a Sense of Place: Go for a Walk in the Woods and Save the World”

Summary: What have we learned about people’s relationships with nature from explorations at the nexus of ecology, archaeology, and ethnobiology?  There are many examples of both positive and destructive interactions with the environment in the archaeological and historical records – and in research on modern systems of resource management. However, one broad conclusion is that sustainability is a learned phenomenon – and that learning happens through intense engagement with nature, whether through the multi-generational lived experience of traditional knowledge or through formal scientific research. Society today faces many profound challenges in our relationships with the global environmental systems that support us. All of these are made more difficult by the withdrawal of human experience from intense immersion in the natural world, loss of multi-generational connections to place, systematic dismantling of local knowledge in management institutions, and the disenfranchisement of science in the policy-making system. These issues, as expressed in phenomena such as global climate change, are the defining social-ecological problems of our time.


 Speaker Information: Ken Lertzman is interested in a broad range of topics related to ecosystem dynamics, conservation, and management. His research has focused on how natural disturbance regimes and management interact to produce pattern and dynamics in forest stands and landscapes. He has an ongoing interest in how changing climate drives ecosystems and the landscapes and resources available to people who live in them. Increasingly Ken’s work focuses on trying to understand the complex dynamics and resilience of coupled social-ecological systems. He conducts collaborative, multi-disciplinary research as part of the Hakai Research Network, which works in partnership with First Nations and others to conduct and apply research about ecosystem-based management and sustainability on the British Columbia Coast. Ken’s current research examines climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation, alternative silvicultural systems, analysis of forest light environments, ecological restoration, forest fire risk analysis, analysis of forest tenures and stewardship, First Nations’ forestry and Traditional Ecological Knowledge.



 January 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House. Wine and cheese reception to follow)

Paula Findlen (Department of History, Stanford University), “What is a Fossil?  The Rediscovery of Nature in Seventeenth-Century Sicily”

Summary: In 1670 the Messina painter, antiquarian, and naturalist Agostino Scilla published an important interpretation of the fossils of Sicily, Malta, and Calabria. This talk explores Scilla’s Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense as a case study in how nature became an object of special inquiry in seventeenth-century Sicily. The concerns of Sicilian and more generally southern Italian naturalists were not about nature in general but about the particular and local circumstances of nature in the world they inhabited. The history of Sicily and southern Italy was fundamentally a history of a dynamic, changing nature that periodically threatened to swallow up the human populations that inhabited this volcanic region of the world. This project explores why and how the experience of living on an ancient Mediterranean island shaped the outlook of its inhabitants and ultimately inspired some of them to become active interpreters of nature in the age of the Scientific Revolution. Reconstructing this Sicilian moment in the history of science is also an opportunity to reflect on how local nature shapes global interpretation of the natural world.


Speaker Information: Paula Findlen is Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History, Department Chair, and currently Director of the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science at Stanford University. She is the author of many publications on the relations between science, society, and culture in the early modern era, with a particular interest in natural history and collecting. Her publications include Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy (1994); Merchants and Marvels (2002, coedited with Pamela Smith); Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything (2004) and most recently Early Modern Things: Objects and Their Histories, 1500-1800 (2013). She is completing a study of Agostino Scilla and his fossils.

28 January 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House) 

Karen Bakker (Department of Geography, University of British Columbia), “The Politics of Panarchy”

Summary: Resilience has emerged as one of the key concepts in contemporary sustainability debates. The rapidly growing appeal of the concept of resilience across a broad range of disciplines has overshadowed the concept of “panarchy,” a cognate framework developed by ecologist Buzz Holling (then at UBC) and collaborators from the 1970s onwards. Holling seeks to provide an alternative explanatory framework for the source, pathways, and roles of change and adaptation in socionatural systems. Notably, in collaborating with a broad range of natural and social (notably political) scientists, Holling emphasizes the mutual constitutiveness of social and environmental change, an understanding of which (he argues) demands a radical reformation of governance. After presenting a genealogy of the concept of panarchy, I address the (sometimes strange) synergies between panarchy, panarchism, and post-humanism, including concepts such as non-dualism, agency, and relationality. Holling’s approach to panarchy is often depicted as a radical departure from other, notably nineteenth-century notions of “panarchism” (largely framed as expressions of anarchist or libertarian political governance). Indeed, “panarchy” is often depicted (and criticized) as an apolitical–perhaps even post-political–concept. Yet the concept of panarchy is ripe with potential political possibilities (both progressive and regressive). I conclude with a discussion of the potential relevance of a renovated and expanded concept of panarchy for our engagement with environmental politics.


Speaker Information: Karen Bakker is Professor, Canada Research Chair, and Founding Director of the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability. A Rhodes Scholar with a Ph.D. from Oxford University, Professor Bakker was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2011. Her work has appeared in over 100 academic publications (including books with Oxford, Cornell, and Toronto University Press), as well as the popular media (Dissent, Globe and Mail, Guardian, Huffington Post, Sunday Times). She regularly acts as advisor/consultant to national and international organizations (including the UNDP, OECD, and the Conference Board of Canada).

25 February 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, at the Piano Lounge in Green College’s Graham House) 

Deanna Kreisel (Department of English, University of British Columbia), “Ruskin’s Raw Materials: Toward a History of ‘Sustainability’” 

Summary: 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.


Speaker Information: Deanna Kreisel is Associate Professor of English at UBC.  She is the author of Economic Woman: Demand, Gender, and Narrative Closure in Eliot and Hardy (Toronto, 2012), and scholarly articles on Victorian literature, political economy, feminist theory, and psychoanalysis.  She is currently at work on a new book project analyzing the construction of utopian spaces in the nineteenth-century discourses of higher-dimensional geometry, Buddhism, and spiritualism.  Her Oecologies talk is drawn from a concurrent project on aesthetic theory and the concept of sustainability in the nineteenth century.

25 March 2015 (Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House) 

Thomas Kemple (Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia), “Mauss’s Roundtable: Continuity and Change in the Economy of the Eco-gift”

Summary: This talk considers the arguments of some classical sociologists from the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century concerning the relationship between subsistence economies of reproduction and sacrificial economies of symbolic exchange. Marcel Mauss’s celebrated figure of “the roundtable of gift-exchange” presents us with a model of reciprocity and rivalry, solidarity and strife that can be framed by Georg Simmel’s general reflections on the self-preservation of social groups and Thorstein Veblen’s famous thesis concerning the conspicuous consumption of the leisure classes. With reference to a few ordinary and imaginary examples, such as the family meal and the festive sacrifice, I consider how these early accounts of the extra-or non-economic foundations of social life anticipate and even exceed recent cultural theories of what I am calling the “eco-gift”: the paradox of “a given space to inhabit” or of “a given thing to have” that connects by separating, binds while freeing, and takes in receiving. By recovering this classic theme from the history of the science of social economics, I argue for a kind of “object-oriented sociology” that considers how bonds of association are materialized and describes how non-human things establish and make visible relations between people.


 Speaker Information: Thomas Kemple teaches social and cultural theory in Sociology, and is currently a member of the Arts One ‘Hero, Anti-Hero’ teaching team.  His publications include Reading Marx Writing: Melodrama, the Market, and the ‘Grundrisse’ (Stanford 1995), Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism: Weber’s Calling (Palgrave Macmillan 2014), and several articles in the Journal of Classical Sociology, Telos, and Theory, Culture & Society.  He is  currently working on a book manuscript, Classical Sociology in the Digital Age: Simmel 2.0.


13 April 2015 
(Talk to be delivered at 5pm, in Green College’s Coach House) 

Greg Garrard (Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, University of British Columbia, Okanagan), “Being Zoo: Bestial Humans and Sexual Animals”

Summary: Following a period of liberalization in the 1960s and 1970s, sex with animals is being gradually re-criminalized: Germany has recently banned “actions alien to the species,” while Sweden will enact a law against “bestiality” in January 2014. Reports of the debates construct zoophiles as sexually “predatory” (itself a zoomorphic term) and the animals involved as innocent “victims.” Because in all these countries cruelty to animals is already illegal, however, it can only be zoophilic desire as such that is abominable. Moreover, sexual interaction with animals is fundamental to the workings of the intensive meat industry, so the laws have had to frame the bans carefully, specifying, as best they can, erotic intention. The arguments in favour of criminalization equivocate intriguingly between the older, anthropocentric stigmatization of “bestiality” and newer rhetorics of animal welfare and rights. The two often mix poorly together. Meanwhile, queer ecocriticism and critical animal studies have been re-evaluating animal sexuality: Bruce Bagemihl’s landmark Biological Exuberance is a non-human Pride parade of sexual configurations, while Joan Roughgarden overtly analogizes the diversity of human and animal eroticism in Evolution’s Rainbow. “Being Zoo” will engineer a collision between the new laws against zoophilia and the celebration of queer eroticism among animals, taking in such literary and cinematic representations of zoophilia as Robinson Devor’s Zoo, Marian Engel’s Bear, and Peter Shaffer’s Equus.

Greg Garrard

Speaker Information: Greg Garrard is Sustainability Professor at the University of British Columbia and a National Teaching Fellow of the British Higher Education Academy. A founding member and former Chair of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (UK & Ireland), he is the author of Ecocriticism (Routledge 2004, 2011 2nd edn) and numerous essays on eco-pedagogy, animal studies and environmental criticism. He has recently edited Teaching Ecocriticism and Green Cultural Studies (Palgrave 2011) and The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism (OUP 2014) and become co-editor of Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism.



October 23, 2013

J. Allan Mitchell (English, University of Victoria), “Household Habitats and the Medieval Ecological Imaginary”

Summary: I am interested in how humanity was articulated and extended across a range of textual, visual, and artifactual assemblages in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Human identity issued from a dense material matrix that was barely human. Household texts and technologies (e.g., a handbook, kitchen utensil, child’s toy, trestle table) alone reveal the extent to which complicated ecologies underpin the tidiest cosmologies. My work focuses on sensitive moments of gestation and maturation that enable an exigent critique of individual mastery and self-sufficiency, nurturing something like a medieval ecological imaginary. My talk will be composed of vignettes drawn from domestic life and vernacular literature which expressed these worldly entanglements, covertly or overtly manifesting how persons became fleshed out in impersonal modes less anthropocentric than commonly assumed today. Along the way I hope to touch on practical questions regarding eco-historical scholarship. Where should we direct our attention? What sorts of help do we get from recent theoretical models (e.g., new materialism, speculative realism)? What are the possibilities of inhabiting premodern worlds? Our sense of the way the human creature articulates with a vast universe of organisms and objects has been reinvigorated by recent theory (e.g., “distributed agency,” “neural plasticity,” “somatic sociality,” and “meshworks”). Yet these understandings are not entirely novel. A longer historical perspective on contemporary ecologies is needed. Recovering venerable notions of animacy, infancy, virtuality and so on, we can begin to trace the inheritance of modern speculative and scientific concepts that are too often considered in isolation from the past.

J. Allan Mitchell

Speaker information: Allan Mitchell is Associate Professor of English at the University of Victoria. He has written on medieval rhetoric, practical ethics, and human ecologies, and is the author of Becoming Human: An Essay on the Matter of the Child in the Later Middle Ages (forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press in 2014). His other books are Ethics and Eventfulness in Middle English Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower (D.S. Brewer, 2004).

January 29, 2014*

Daniel Heath Justice (First Nations Studies Program and English, University of British Columbia), “Being a Good Relative, Becoming a Good Ancestor: Other-than-Human Kinship and the Decolonial Imperative”

Summary: From the nineteenth-century decimation of prairie bison herds and imposition of patriarchal farming techniques to the contemporary decline of coastal fisheries and narrowed concerns of familial obligations, a consistent pattern in Eurowestern political and economic colonialism worldwide has been the targeted suppression of Indigenous kinship relations with the other-than-human. While variously dismissed by colonial agents as “pagan,” “primitive,” or illusory, such expansive familial relations are in fact substantive to and expressive of Indigenous political, ceremonial, and intellectual practices of self-determination and cultural and political distinctiveness. This presentation will consider a few illustrative examples of the other-than-human as a vital concern in Indigenous decolonization and resurgence politics today, while critically engaging the potential consequences of an absence of such considerations in contemporary activism and scholarship.

Daniel Heath Justice

Speaker information: Daniel Heath Justice is a Colorado-born Canadian citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He is Chair of the First Nations Studies Program and Associate Professor of First Nations Studies and English at UBC on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam people. His work includes Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History, the Indigenous epic fantasy The Way of Thorn and Thunder: The Kynship Chronicles, and the co-edited anthologies Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature and, with James H. Cox, the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature. Current projects include a cultural history of badgers and a study of critical kinship in Indigenous literature.

*This talk was originally scheduled for November 27, 2013.

February 26, 2014

Lisa Shapiro (Philosophy, Simon Fraser University),  “Different Models of the Natural World?”

Summary: There seem to be (at least) two models of the natural world in play within seventeenth-century philosophy. One model dominates efforts to explain natural phenomena through efficient causes, and so conceives of the “natural world” as an intricate clock. Another model provides a background to utopian visions, imagining lush, textured landscapes where social problems vanish and human beings flourish and live peaceably together. One might think that these two domains are simply distinct, competing visions of the natural world, except that often utopian tracts are tied to natural philosophical projects. I consider possible ways of reconciling these different models, focusing on how each situates human beings within the natural world.

Lisa Shapiro

Speaker information: Lisa Shapiro is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University. Her research interests focus on early modern philosophy, and in particular on how early modern conceptions of human nature impact accounts of human understanding, both in our perceptions of the world and in our ability to have knowledge of it. Of particular interest is the role of affective states, including pleasure, pain, and the passions or emotions, in our understanding (rather than in our motivations to action). To hone in on the problem she is interested in, she has focused on Descartes, Spinoza and Hume, as well as Condillac.  Her book manuscript, tentatively titled, Descartes through The Passions of the Soul, shows how the Passions lends insight into Descartes’ ontology, his account of body-mind causation (and causation generally) and his philosophy of mind.

March 26, 2014

Renisa Mawani (Sociology, University of British Columbia), “‘Rule Britannia! Rule the Waves’: The World of the Ship and the Quest for Global Time”

Summary: Recent accounts of the creation and imposition of a global and standardized conception of time – through nineteenth-century developments, including the railway and telegraph – have only reinforced the primacy of land. Written at the juncture of science, law, and empire, this paper shifts optics from land to sea, and in so doing, tells a different history of global time that centers on the world of the ship and on imperial and maritime struggles over longitude. From 1492 onwards, the quest for longitude became a matter of great importance for Spain, Britain, and France. Transoceanic travel and the triumph of empire required precision in navigation that was virtually impossible once ships lost sight of land. Whereas latitude was easily determined through the position of the sun and its distance from the horizon, longitude necessitated an accurate measurement of time, determinations that were only complicated by the earth’s rotation and by the material properties of oceans: their limitlessness, continuous movements, and the changing temperatures they effectuated. Spain, France, and Britain all competed in the contest to discover longitude. Eventually, it was Britain that succeeded in this venture. As a maritime empire, longitude and global time were critical to Britain’s national and imperial aspirations, sentiments most vividly captured in the 1740 poem and song “Rule Britannia! Rule the Waves.” Ultimately, this paper argues that the standardization of time formed a crucial register of British imperial governance.

Renisa Mawani

Speaker information: Renisa Mawani is Associate Professor of Sociology and the inaugural Chair of the Law and Society Minor Program at the University of British Columbia (2009-2010).  She works on the conjoined histories of Indigeneity, Asian migration, and settler colonialism and has published widely on law and coloniality and legal geography. Her articles have appeared in journals including, Law and Society Review, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Environment and Planning D, Law/Text/Culture, Social and Legal Studies, Social Identities, Theory, Culture, and Society, and Cultural Geographies.  Her first book, Colonial Proximities: Crossracial Contacts and Juridical Truths in British Columbia, 1871-1921 (2009) details the dynamic encounters between aboriginal peoples, Chinese migrants, mixed-race populations, and Europeans in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, and the racial truths and modes of governance these contacts inspired. Her second book, Across Oceans of Law (in progress), is a global history of the Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship that carried 376 Punjabi migrants from Hong Kong to Vancouver, and eventually back to India in 1914.

April 16, 2014

Margaret Schabas (Philosophy, University of British Columbia), “European Concepts of Nature and Economic Growth in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”

Summary: In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the word ‘oeconomy’ was used to denote frugality in the management of one’s household. Only in rare instances was it conjoined with the state or polity. The concept of an economy as we know it emerges only gradually, arguably by the early nineteenth century. Until then economic phenomena were studied as part of the natural order. This talk will trace the historical trajectory by which the economy as we now know it came into existence as a theoretical construct.

Margaret Schabas

Speaker information: Margaret Schabas is Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia. She has published four books and over forty articles or book chapters in science studies, the majority of which address topics in the history and philosophy of economics. A number of these articles examine economics as it drew upon or impinged upon other disciplines, notably mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. Some of the journals in which her articles can be found are Isis, Monist, History of Political Economy, Public Affairs Quarterly, and Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science. Her first book, A World Ruled by Number (Princeton 1990), examines the emergence of mathematical economics in the second half of the nineteenth century. Her second book, The Natural Origins of Economics (Chicago 2005; pb 2007), traces the transformation of economics from a natural to a social science. She also has two co-edited collections, Oeconomies in the Age of Newton (Duke 2003) and David Hume’s Political Economy (Routledge 2008). She is currently writing a monograph on Hume’s economics, and will then turn to problems in bioeconomics.

April 30, 2014*

Louisa Mackenzie (French and Italian Studies, University of Washington), “Don’t Panic: The Unknowability of Early Modern Nature”

Summary: The use of the word “nature” in this talk’s title deliberately and anachronistically references a post-Romantic ideal of a non-human world absolutely beyond culture, including what we now call wilderness. Contemporary environmental thinking, especially in Anglophone contexts, often holds that experiencing wild(er)ness is restorative, even spiritually enriching. Many scholars have started to question the assumptions and to reveal the privileges that make this ideal thinkable: I will argue that early modern cultures can help us further these critiques. Working with texts from sixteenth-century France, in particular the long “scientific poem” La Savoie by Jacques Peletier which describes the landscapes of this mountainous and often wild part of France, I will show that early modern mentalities considered wildness to be not just frightening but literally unrepresentable by human knowledge systems. Wild areas, like unmitigated contact with the divine, inspired a kind of epistemological panic. This reminds us that the etymology of the word panic, from the Greek πανικός pertaining to Pan the god of wild places, gestures towards the fear inspired by environments devoid of human activity, and perhaps invites us to a more humble appraisal of the limits of our cognition of the non-human.

Louisa Mackenzie

Speaker information: Louisa Mackenzie is Associate Professor of French at the University of Washington. Her research focus is primarily on early modern French culture, which she reads through various contemporary critical lenses including ecocriticism and, more recently, animal studies. Her book The Poetry of Place: Lyric, Landscape and Ideology in Renaissance France (University of Toronto Press, 2010) is an interdisciplinary study of how a subjective and affective sense of place was produced by poetry in dialogue with cartography, land use history and other knowledge spheres. She is currently starting a book-length project on animals as “queer bodies of knowledge” in 16th-century France.

*This talk was originally scheduled for January 29, 2014.

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