There’s nothing new about the end of the world: Dread and decolonization

Jastej Luddu and Fenn Stewart1

For the past year and a half, and all the way through the pandemic, the two of us have been talking (and writing emails) about dread. Were mostly interested in the usefulness, and uselessness, of different kinds of dread in response to the interconnected (and ongoing) catastrophes of colonialism and climate change. This piece reflects some of our ongoing conversation.

FS: In a discussion of Indigenous women’s love and rage, Rachel Flowers says that “for Indigenous peoples, unbearable suffering is often the motive for revolutionary action”; for settlers, the “anguish of facing the truth […] compels them into action [but], as Sartre (1965) reminds us, “most of the time we flee anguish in bad faith.””2 

Though Flowers doesn’t refer to “dread” here, her words remind me of a question that Jastej and I keep coming back to: how do we know which dread is useful, and which isn’t? For settlers, how do we know when we’re “flee[ing] […] in bad faith”? How do we know when our anguish is a sign that we’re “facing the truth” in a useful way? 

Jastej and I have a recurring argument (it dates back pre-COVID) about the dread-full movie First Reformed (2017). Jastej keeps trying to get me to watch it, and I keep refusing. I’m repelled by this film. As far as I can tell without actually watching it (ill-informed-spoiler warning), it’s about a reverend played by Ethan Hawke, who spectacularly self-implodes (with grim consequences for those around him) due to his overwhelming dread about climate change. 

JS: Fenn thinks I’m giving the film too much credit, but I was floored by First Reformed. The film offers a crushing depiction of dread: the sense that something has gone deeply wrong and will only get worse. Dread implies a future-oriented affective mode of living and being in the world. But what if what you dread is an ongoing set of circumstances, something that is already happening and is unlikely to stop anytime soon? David Theo Goldberg calls dread “a driver of our time,” arguing that a number of social and political issues, like climate change, racist and sexist violence, economic inequality, white supremacy – and, one might add, settler-colonialism – have contributed to a profound and prevailing sense of anguished paranoia.3 For Goldberg, “Dread is depthless, bottomless, lacking insight.”4

In First Reformed, Michael, a disillusioned young environmentalist, describes the devastation wrought by climate change to Reverend Toller, and asks, “Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to this world?” The coming years offer so little to look forward to that Michael has asked his pregnant wife to have an abortion. She has asked Toller to speak to Michael, who doesn’t attend church. In his conversation with Michael, Toller calls for hope: “Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind simultaneously. Hope and despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself.” But Toller’s face is tired and his voice weary. He is ill, and his 250-year-old church is nothing more than a tourist trap, kept afloat thanks to the support of Abundant Life Ministries, a wealthy megachurch. His conversation with Michael is a tipping point. The young man’s despair gnaws at Toller, driving him towards drastic, self-destructive action. It’s this “gnawing” that I find so compelling.

FS: In the year and a half in which I’ve been refusing to watch this movie, I’ve found myself recoiling from many similar expressions of dread.5 It seems contagious. I tell Jastej that I think First Reformed is just a vehicle for “settler apocalypticism” — this term, as used by Kyle Powys Whyte (and others), points to how popular forms of climate pessimism ignore Indigenous understandings of, and organizing against, climate change. When I first heard the term “settler apocalypticism” – in an interview Kyle Powys Whyte gave on the Cultures of Energy podcast – I felt an immense sense of relief. The nameless dread had a name! It was a specific, historical, contingent formation (not Truth). My relief wasn’t relief in the sense of things are not so bad or in the sense of everythings going to be fine. It was relief in the sense of people(s) are thinking and working through these times in different ways. I will attend to these realities

Apparently “apocalypse” originally meant “the unveiling of things as they are” and not (just) “the end of the world.” When the settler apocalypticist sees the end of the world, he thinks he’s seeing things as they are. But he’s not. He’s wrapped up in himself, wrapped up in what April Anson (also a theorist of setter apocalypticism) calls the “solitary and asphyxiating atmospherics of settler time-space.”6 

Another way of saying this is that settler apocalypticism “speciously universalizes a set of environmental anxieties that is in fact particular to white settler society.”7 It turns out there’s nothing new about the end of the world. Many Black and Indigenous theorists have used the concepts of disaster and apocalypse (and dread) to analyze colonialism.8 As Heather Davis and Zoe Todd say, to “expand and pluralize collective understandings of the disasters of the Anthropocene” means attending to Indigenous peoples’ understanding of ongoing “practices of dispossession and genocide,” and it means learning from work, like Christina Sharpe’s, that “tend[s] to the ongoing disaster of the Middle Passage.”9  

JS: You’re right, there’s something problematic about centering white, masculine dread about the end of the world. I find this critique particularly relevant for groups like Extinction Rebellion (XR), who conjure up images of an uninhabitable Earth in their attempts to move governments to action. As Athian Akec writes in The Guardian, XR, a largely white, middle-class movement that has been roundly critiqued for its problems with race and diversity, employs apocalyptic language that “fails to cut through for those of us already faced with a nightmarish present, surrounded by poverty and austerity.”10

FS: Yes. Mainstream environmentalism — the non-apocalyptic kind — is often no better. 

See Whyte: “it’s been alienating for me and a lot of other people that in […] environmental movements there’s such an obsession with protecting today’s world […] if today’s world is actually a dystopia for [Indigenous peoples] and our ancestors, why are we trying to protect this particular world?”11 Warren Cariou has made a related point about how the cultural norms of settler colonialism are “fundamentally linked” to the current politics of “energy transition,” as in the “green power” megaprojects that are “violently imposed” on Indigenous peoples and lands.12 

JS: Yes, I don’t deny that Western culture privileges the concerns – and the dread – of white people. And it is certainly true that a violent white paranoia has accelerated systemic inequality. Achille Mbembe, and Frantz Fanon before him, acknowledged dread in their analysis of racism, genocide, and colonialism. Mbembe writes that many in the West live “afraid of having been invaded and on the verge of disappearing.”13 Colonizers are beset with “annihilation anxiety.”14 Frantz Fanon describes the “state of anxiety” that grips colonialism, transforming the environment itself into an enemy that needs to be conquered and controlled.15

These feelings – fear, anxiety, dread – are often rightly characterized as unproductive, negative, or reactionary. But what if are our bad feelings are alerting us to something important? Dene political theorist Glen Coulthard defends resentment, challenging the reconciliatory stance and arguing for a more nuanced and critical reappraisal of feelings of political anger that stem from living in a settler-colonial state.16 Audra Simpson articulates a “politics of refusal”; grounded in Mohawk nationhood and governance, this refusal reflects, and contributes to, a rejection of liberal recognition politics.17 Without appropriating Indigenous political and affectual responses to settler-colonialism, perhaps settlers can learn to use their own bad feelings to enable insight, action, and solidarity. I do not believe all dread “lack[s] insight” or affirms the kind of uncritical whiteness Fenn is so worried about reproducing. Perhaps it is precisely by cultivating a more critical relationship with this network of uncomfortable emotions that we can begin to imagine a different way of living in the world. 

FS: This reminds me of Erica Violet Lee’s “Reconciling in the Apocalypse,” in which she envisions a decolonizing form of dread — maybe, she says, imagining “the end of your world” might bring home to settlers the importance of making “reparations to Indigenous people”: if “duty or kindness” won’t do the trick, she says, “consider at the very least that you will need a friend who knows how to skin a porcupine, build a house, and navigate by the stars when the end of your world comes.”18 Maybe a dread that leads to reparations could get us somewhere?

JS: Yes, I think there’s something to the idea of a dread that points to where, or how, we need to be. My own dread moment came just a few months before I saw First Reformed. As part of a course on Indigenous North Americans’ experiences in the United Kingdom, I visited London for two weeks. Being somewhat educated on the blood-soaked history of the British Empire, I traversed the museums, monuments, and public spaces with a heaviness that I sometimes found difficult to bear. There was something dread-inducing about the British Museum, machine-gun wielding guards at Whitehall, and the statue of the last viceroy of India. The carving of coloniality into the streets, the buildings, the institutions, makes Empire appear everlasting; it’s been here, it continues to be here, and it will keep being here, violently enduring into the future. I sensed something ongoing that was unlikely to stop, something that had touched my parents and grandparents and was now making contact with me. 

FS: This is very different from the kind of dread I think of as First Reformed-type dread. That kind of dread seems to stop thought (and work): it seems to find suicide, the end of the world, the extinction of humanity, more plausible (more compelling?) than the uncertain, unending (and, for white settlers, non-self-focused) thought/work of anti-colonialism. The kind of dread youre talking about here seems inextricable from thought, and work. I think your conviction that dread can be useful shares something with Flowers’ point about the very fine line (sometimes indistinguishable?) between facing the truth and fleeing from it. Maybe I shouldn’t be so confident that I can tell the difference.

JS: I don’t expect us to ever agree on this film! I won’t stop talking about it and you will likely never watch it. But in reflecting on feelings of dread in our conversations, I have been able to think and work with what it means to harbor a painful desire for transformative social and political change. I have come to a better understanding of a world that seems dedicated to violent inequality through interrogating my hopelessness and keeping faith in my dread about the future. This is not an argument for self-destructive pessimism, or the violent fantasies of martyrdom depicted in First Reformed. But the film’s desperate call for something to be done resonates with what I think is a real feeling of dread – of anxiousness and unease – experienced by people the world over. 

Not everyone needs dread to be moved to understanding or action. But dread, like the apocalypse, can reveal something.  Feelings of doom can produce genuine, creative responses to a hellish world. They do not have to foreclose the opportunity to learn from and build solidarity with others. And they have the potential to engender critical engagements with the material and affective conditions that structure our lives – even if these engagements are, for the moment, only communicable over email and on a blog. 


[1] Fenn reads and writes on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh, and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ lands; she’s from a settler family (most recently, from England and Ireland). Jastej is presently living on sq̓əc̓iy̓aɁɬ təməxʷ, sc̓əwaθenaɁɬ təməxʷ, S’ólh Téméxw, Á,LEṈENEȻ ȽTE, Kwantlen, Stz’uminus, and Semiahmoo lands; his family immigrated from India. We’d like to thank Warren Cariou for generously sharing text from his 2019 UBC ILSA talk; thanks also to Afuwa, Evan Mauro, and Haeden Stewart for guidance on drafts.

[2] Rachel Flowers, “Refusal to Forgive: Indigenous Women’s Love and Rage,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society 4.2 (2015), p. 38.

[3] David Theo Goldberg, “In the Grip of Dread,” Los Angeles Review of Books. September 2018, 

[4] Ibid.

[5] A year ago, Mo Pareles wrote a very helpful post (on the Oecologies blog) on a similar subject: Mo Pareles, “Learning to Die Read More in the Anthropocene the Time We Have,” Oecologies, 2020,

[6] April Anson, “Apocalypse and settler/colonial climate change,” 2020,

[7] Bruno Seraphin, ““Rewilding,” “the Hoop,” and Settler Apocalypse,” The Trumpeter 32.3 (2016), 144. (Seraphin credits Zoe Todd and Whyte with this point.) 

[8] For instance, work by Cutcha Risling Baldy, Lawrence Gross, Frantz Fanon, Gerald Horne, Erica Violet Lee, Achille Mbembe, Christina Sharpe, and Whyte.

[9] Heather Davis and Zoe Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 16.4 (2017): 772, 761, 772. 

[10] Athian Akec, “When I look at Extinction Rebellion, all I see is white faces. That has to change,” The Guardian, October, 19th 2019. 

[11] Whyte, “Cultures of Energy,” podcast, at 1:02:38.

[12] Warren Cariou, “Breaking Colonial Circuits: Hydroelectricity in Indigenous Literature,” Presentation at ILSA, UBC (Vancouver, June 5, 2019). 

[13] Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 2.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 83.

[16] Glen Coulthard, “Seeing Red: Reconciliation and Resentment,” in Red Skin, White Masks (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 105-131.

[17] Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

[18] Erica Violet Lee, “Reconciling in the Apocalypse,” The Monitor, 2016,

Reading Notes from the Arctic: an Oecologies Reading Group

Laura Hutchingame, University of California, Los Angeles
Zachary Korol-Gold, University of California, Irvine

On 16 March 2021, scholars involved with the UCHRI Oecologies research group gathered to discuss two texts: “Arctic Ink” by Christopher Heuer (2019) and “Going Glacial” by Lowell Duckert (2017).

Following introductions in breakout rooms, the group began by comparing the two readings. Each reading takes a strikingly different approach to overlapping materials. Both Heuer and Duckert grapple with the difficulty of writing about representations of the Arctic, a space that defied the vision of early modern Western explorers. The group discussed the differences between the authors’ writerly modes, and how these modes related to both the physical conditions of the Arctic, and their objects of study. Duckert writes that “this chapter will be slow, but I hope it slowly, like a glacier, does some work” (107). One reading group member observed that Duckert’s own writing reads like an “accretion of ideas,” mimicking the very materiality of ice. Duckert’s text slowly complexifies, its long strings of sentences adjoining a variety of concepts and theories. We discussed how, in contrast, rather than attempt to look through the icy materiality of the Arctic, Heuer reflects upon it. The logical clarity of Heuer’s sustained reflection foils the impenetrable density of the object that anchors his chapter, a mass of Netherlandish engravings fused into a single block from centuries of freezing and thawing. Both texts, then, take divergent paths to write about that which defies description. In light of this, one participant provocatively asked, in relation to Heuer’s chapter, “what makes this art history?” Professors Massey and Wilson, who were leading this week of the reading group, noted that early modern desires to portray Arctic space force scholars to contend with the very limits of representation. And further, the freezing of the polar ice which brought disaster to many voyages and at once preserved and ruined artifacts, complicates traditional art historical periodicity.

Discussion of Heuer’s text thereby prompted fundamental questions for early modern art history, such as: Why and how is an environmental approach useful? What are we, as art historians, doing when we direct our inquiries in this way? A theme of the discussion pertained to early modern perspective and conventions of looking. Heuer shows a context in which the early modern tools associated with vision and orientation–such as horizon lines, compasses, and the viewer’s sense of a clear position in relation to the landscape–were denied and destabilized in the Arctic. Despite this instability, over time, this “ice desert” becomes a type of landscape which accommodates the crew in their ship house, and is altered by human actions such as shoveling (illustrated by Gerrit de Veer’s engravings). Heuer’s chapter offers an instance of interruption, stasis, and confusion–an important counterpoint to typical narratives of early modern seafaring which emphasize exploration, movement, and the visual construction of space through mapping. Finally, through an icy protagonist, Heuer thematizes the instability of the printed image as well as the lack of art historical vocabulary to describe such representational disjunctures.

Notes from “On the sea and coastal ecologies: early modern pasts and uncertain futures” Virtual Research Share

Kirsten Schuhmacher; University of California, Davis

On January 19th, 2021, the University of California Humanities Research Institute working group, “On the sea and coastal ecologies: early modern pasts and uncertain futures,” participated in a generative virtual research share. Led by Principal Investigator, Tiffany Jo Werth (UC Davis), the following members of the multicampus faculty working group gave presentations about their current research on early depictions of coastal ecologies: Andrés Reséndez (UC Davis), Lyle Massey (UC Irvine, Co-PI), Yve Chavez (UC Santa Cruz), Benjamin Madley (UCLA), Zirwat Chowdhury (UCLA), and Bronwen Wilson (UCLA, Co-PI).  To expand the premodern archive, presenters illustrated the need to work multimodally by focusing on literary texts, illustrations, and material artifacts.

A consistent thread in the research share was the attention to the Pacific Coast as an under-studied place of exchange. Many of the speakers thought through the movement between the “old” and “new” worlds from their current place within California. In this way, the speakers thought locally while also working in opposition to the better studied and understood early exchange networks on the Atlantic Coast. It was particularly enlightening when speakers brought together current issues on the Pacific Coast with past moments spanning more than two-hundred years. Benjamin Madley introduced a particularly pertinent example of this multi-temporality. His presentation looked at four different epidemics as the “invisible allies” of Europeans who colonized the western US between 1828 – 1844. His presentation drove home the critical importance of studying Pacific migrations of people and pathogens. 

The research share was unique not only given its focus on the Pacific Coast but also because of many presenters’ attention to non-European perspectives of the Pacific. For instance, Andrés Reséndez, as part of his Magellan Project, discussed ecological exchanges of goods such as the sweet potato, peanut, and corn, between China and the Americas, which ultimately helped the Chinese to expand their agriculture and use of silver. In addition, Zirwat Chowdhury examined one late 18th century English depiction of South Asian systems of writing and considered the implications of phonetics and their migration across the seas. 

As the research exchange came to a close, Tiffany Jo Werth reflected on some of the big concepts that spanned the presentations. I will draw attention to a couple here as particularly useful frameworks for thinking about and through the ocean and its coastal ecologies. For example, participants talked through Lyle Massey’s concept of “sea sense,” which she illuminated as a figurative as well as material concept of ocean as body. This discussion explored the porousness of coastal membranes and how their representation on maps illustrates the interpenetration of bodies of water and anatomy. Furthermore, participants created figurative maps that connected coastal materials, both manufactured and not, with humans and oceans alike. In one particular instance, Bronwen Wilson brought attention to an actual map and the use of the ship and compass on that map as a way to concretize the abstract through ornamentation. Additionally, many participants engaged with this porousness as a way to understand the exchange of goods, raw materials, and diseases as being part of the long history of the Pacific Coast. A material example of this occurred in Yve Chavez’s presentation of an 18th century Chumash basket in the British Museum. Her presentation posed questions about why such a basket was made and whether it was actually intended to be a “gift” for European explorers.

Another fascinating framework was born from a discussion on seasonal gyres and currents. By orienting themselves to these seasonal oceanic changes, the participants considered the ways that the ocean can and does exert its agency over the people that try to navigate it. Additionally, it allowed participants the chance to further illustrate the ways that the Pacific Coast is distinct given the unique particularities of the currents created by gyres and their impact on sailing routes as well as the season of travel. 

As an inaugural gathering of the multicampus faculty working group, the presentations provocatively introduced some of the issues that will receive attention in fall of 2021. There will be a symposium held at the UC Davis Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute at the Marine Lab in Bodega Bay, CA. This virtual research share is part of a series of events sponsored by the UCHRI in conjunction with the Earth, Sea, Sky research network. If you would like to learn more about the UCHRI working group, please visit: For all updates on future “Sea” events, please consult the dedicated landing page:

Finally, to help build our working bibliography on premodern coastal ecologies, please send relevant references to Laura Hutchingame:

Inventing the Past at the Virginia Dare Winery

Frances E. Dolan, University of California, Davis

Back when I was freer to explore California, I was driving with my partner through Sonoma County, heading south on US 101, when I spotted a sign for the Virginia Dare winery in Geyserville. Recognizing the name, I urged him to pull over so we could check it out. What we quickly discovered was a rebranding of one of Francis Ford Coppola’s wineries.

Why did I want to investigate and why am I sharing this with you now? As many will recall, Virginia Dare was the first child born to English Colonists in America (in 1587). But what I did not know at first, and what might be less familiar to other pre-modernists, is that Virginia Dare was also the name of a popular brand of wine, indeed the most popular wine made in the United States between 1835 (when the company was founded) and prohibition. Coppola bought the brand name in 2013 and began releasing Virginia Dare wines in 2014. The billboard that caught my eye repurposes the image and font of old Virginia Dare wine labels and advertising, and boasts of “American Wines since 1835.” But the winery’s website evokes stories about the sixteenth-century Virginia in ways I’d like to discuss. In mobilizing stories about the premodern past, while also reanimating the wine’s earlier branding, the winery’s website conjures a fantasy of Virginia as an icon for American identity conjured up in a period it never acknowledges: the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when anti-immigrant and anti-black movements latched onto the birth and christening of a white baby girl as an origin story that served white supremacy.1

Coppola’s comments on why he wanted to call his winery Virginia Dare focus on the sixteenth century and his own memories from the twentieth century, rather than the period that connects the two. “The myth of Virginia Dare always intrigued me,” he confided to an interviewer, “and as a child I remember the wine because of the pretty blond girl on the label and the ‘Say it again, Virginia Dare’ jingle they used to advertise on the radio. . . . My goal is to revive the brand so that it isn’t lost to future generations.”2

But Virginia Dare is always, inevitably, lost. She was born on Roanoke Island in 1587. So, like everyone else in what was first christened the “Lost Colony” in the 1830s, Virginia disappeared from the historical record.3 She stands as a first, an origin. And not. We don’t know what happened to her. But we can know the history that linked Virginia Dare to wine. This is a history that the winery both depends on and suppresses.

The Paul Garrett wine company started producing Virginia Dare wine in the early twentieth century. At first the company relied on the scuppernong grape native to North Carolina and named the wine Virginia Dare, since she was born on the island where Scuppernong was supposed to have originated, Roanoke. But soon the demand exceeded the supply and the Garrett company began to rely on grapes imported from California, despite its emphasis on the local nature of its wine and the tie between Virginia Dare and the scuppernong.4 The Virginia Dare winery today engages in a similar slight of hand, pointing to a vine it has planted from a clipping of the “mother vine,” a supposedly 400-year-old scuppernong vine in Manteo, North Carolina that was most likely planted in the nineteenth century. This enables the winery to insert itself intowhat it calls “the rich heritage of American wine making”—despite the fact that it does not grow or use scuppernongs. Asserting that “this vine was cultivated in pre-colonial times by Native Americans, and by English colonists after them,” the winery’s website invents and appropriates aNative American winemaking tradition.5

The slight of hand goes farther than this. Known as “the big white” grape, the scuppernong was often praised in the nineteenth and early twentieth century in racialized terms, as historian Erika Hannickel shows. Writing in 1884, winemaker Warton J. Green, in a promotional brochure for his vineyard, claimed that the scuppernong was an especially valuable native grape, a “grape prodigy,” because its discovery was “coeval with Caucasian rule on the continent” and that scuppernong wines were more healthful because “pure’ and “without adulteration or artificial flavoring,” in contrast to foreign wines that were “impure and sophisticated abominations.”6 Whether he knows it or not, Green resurrects language used by Englishmen in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries to justify growing grapes and making wine in England, rather than importing wine, which was often spoiled by the time it reached England and adulterated by various efforts to improve its taste . The earliest pitches for English winemaking were always about the close connections between wine and blood, the risks of imbibing foreign and contaminated drinks, as well as the costs of relying on imports. Wine has never been separable from race; indeed, it is part of the etymology of that term in English.7 The meaning of race specific to wine is an early word for “terroir,” what distinguishes one wine from others, and what binds soil, climate, plant, and human consumer. When Garrett branded his wine as local in its relation to North Carolina and Virginia Dare, he added a post-reconstruction layer to this association of wine, purity, and race. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that his early glass bottles were embossed with the confederate flag.8

Some of those bottles had the labels “Pocahontas” and “Minnehaha” as well as “Virginia Dare.”Here too, the new Virginia Dare winery follows the lead of its predecessor. It is currently closed because of the pandemic, but it sold Navajo jewelry in its store and its restaurant, Wero, served what it called Native American fare. The winery’s website, under the label “History and Mystery,” presents at some length a story it calls “a Native American myth” but that depends on one text it does not name, Sallie Southall Cotten’s lengthy poem, The White Doe: The Fate of Virginia Dare: An Indian Legend, printed for the author in 1901, under the auspices of the Colonial Dames of America. Cotten wrote at a time when interest in Virginia Dare revived, leading to countless poems, novels, and pageants about her as well as a monument dedicated to her in 1923. Cotten, a white woman from the South, describes Roanoke Island as home to “a wealth of climbing vines and clustering grapes which point instinctively to grape culture” and also as “the first home of the English race in America,” tying those two together.9

Cotten’s poem is the source of the name for one of the Virginia Dare wines, “Two Arrowheads,” and of the “Legend of the White Doe,” presented on the winery’s website. The website’s legend, like Cotten’s text and many of the fantasies about Virginia Dare, imagine that she survived and grew to adulthood, living with Indians yet always remaining both apart from and above them. As the winery presents it, Virginia, transformed into a white doe by a jealous sorcerer, is simultaneously struck by a charmed arrowhead––which transforms her back into a woman––and by a silver arrowhead (which Cotten specifies was a gift from Queen Elizabeth I). As the winery’s version puts it:

As the two arrowheads pierced her heart, the white doe changed back into a fair maid, but it was too late. As she fell dying, she whispered her true name. Then she was gone.

And where she fell, the stories tell us, her blood soaked the soil. Lush grapes grew there, the white scuppernong variety cultivated by the locals. The fruit on the vines was forever stained with her blood. And that, the legend says, was how wine in the Americas became red.

Virginia Dare was her name. The White Doe. The first born of English descent in the new world. The woman whose myth became the legend of American wine. And so to this day, when we savor American wines, we toast her: Virginia Dare, an American original.10

Cotten’s subtitle is “an Indian legend” and her preface insists that “The legend of the White Doe is probably the oldest and possibly the least known of all the legends which relate to the history of the United States. It is a genuine American legend” (Cotten p. 6). She does not, however, explain her source. She then stands invisibly behind this website’s reference to “stories,” which turn out to be one story of very particular provenance. Her legend sutures together associations around whiteness, scuppernongs, indigenous people, and wine.

For me, this winery and its promotional materials are a perfect example of a purported interest in the past that depends on and propagates misinformation and uses one past to erase another. In the case of the Virginia Dare winery, a fiction about the past works to enshrine a smiling blond girl as the American original. The branding for the winery announces an interest in the past; it insists the late sixteenth century is connected to their current enterprise and necessary to understanding and valuing it. They dig the past, but they also bury it. The winery defines its brand through a sense of another place, roots in a fabricated history, and memorializing a vine whose grapes it does not use in its winemaking. It relies on history as a cover up. It also relies on literature as license. If you call something a story, tale, or legend, then you can say anything with impunity. “The Legend of the White Doe” as presented on the winery’s website, manages to rely on, repurpose, and erase: the history of wine in America; the long history of linking blood and wine and its complicity in racism; and the abbreviated history of Virginia Dare. Perhaps its worst erasure is of the story of Manteo, who gives his name to one of the wines. Called on the winery’sfact sheet “a legendary Indian,” Manteo was a Croatan chief who had been brought to England to meet Queen Elizabeth and was on his return baptized on Roanaoke, about a week before the infant Virginia Dare was.11 The bottle label depicts Manteo as both the background to and a kind of Virgin Mother to tiny Virginia;12 like her, he disappears from the historical record with the lost colony, only to be reanimated as part of these “legends.” The wine label thus misrecognizes and appropriates indigenous people’s history, and perpetuates a fantasy that white English colonists were the first, the true, the only real Americans.


[1] Robert D. Arner, “The Romance of Roanoke: Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony in American Literature,” Southern Literary Journal 10.2 (1978): 5-45; Andrew Lawler,

[2] Linda Murphy, “Francis Ford Coppola Reinvents Virginia Dare Wines,” Sonoma Magazine, July 2016,

[3] Eliza Lansford Cushing coined the term in an 1837 article in The Ladies Companion entitled “Virginia Dare; or, The Lost Colony.” Her account seems to have inspired the fuller fictional elaborations of writers such as Cotten. See Andrew Lawler, The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke (New York: Anchor, 2018), pp. 276- 77.

[4] Thomas Pinney, A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 415-419; Alexia Jones Helsley, A History of North Carolina Wine From Scuppernong to Syrah (Charleston: History Press, 2010).

[5], accessed January 10, 2021. In recent months, the winery has changed its web address from Virginia Dare Winery to Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Too, but the content of the History & Mystery part of the website remains the same.

[6] Erica Hannickel, Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 143-44; Wharton J. Green, Tokay Vineyard (Boston, 1884), 24.

[7] Frances E. Dolan, Digging the Past: How and Why to Imagine Seventeenth-Century Agriculture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020), p. 95.

[8], accessed January 10, 2021.

[9] Sallie Southall Cotten, “Forgotten Facts and Fancies of American History,” The White Doe: The Fate of Virginia Dare: An Indian Legend (Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott, 1909), p. x.

[10], accessed January 10, 2021

[11] On Manteo, see Coll Thrush, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire (Yale University Press, 2016), esp. pp. 35-36, 58-59.

[12] You can see this wine label at, accessed January 10, 2021.

SF Bay Area Enriches Early Modern Book History: Breanne Weber

This week in Contingent, Oecologies graduate representative Breanne Weber (PhD candidate, UC Davis) reflects on the scholarly benefits of local, embodied practice as she explores book arts in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

Breanne’s experience inking and type-setting at the San Francisco Centre for the Book, together with visits to the American Bookbinders Museum and M&H Type Foundry, has added new dimension and perspective to her doctoral research on early-modern print and manuscript cultures in England.

“In the tactile process of making a book, we engage firsthand in the networks of people, plants, environments, and objects that must come together in order to produce it,” she writes. 

This palpable practice, in turn, helps illuminate “the moments where bookmaking appears in early English literature.”

Read on at Contingent: “Book History in the Bay Area” by Breanne Weber.

Notes from “Earth, Sea, Sky: An Environmental Humanities Research Network Exchange”

Laura Hutchingame, University of California Los Angeles

On 12 December 2020, an international group of scholars shared their research over Zoom, as part of the Earth, Sea, SkyOecologies working group. The scholars were Todd Borlik (University of Huddersfield); Debapriya Sarkar (University of Connecticut); Liam Lewis (University of Liverpool); and Bronwen Wilson (UCLA).

Todd Borlik discussed Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina, a map printed in Venice in 1539,and proposed an ecocritical argument that  reads the Carta Marina as a vision of human monstrosity and insatiable hunger, which is ecologically self-destructive. Borlik pointed out that the commensurate size of ships and sea-beasts gives the impression of a reciprocal monstrosity; from the marine creatures’ point of view, the human ships would appear monstrous invaders. Borlik compared the Carta Marina to a map by Hendrick Hondius from 1636 in which bunches of fish hang from the cartouche, indicating that the oceans have been emptied, and that humans are the most significant predator on the seas.

Borlik showed, too, that the Carta Marina was part of a conflict about fishing rights in Scandinavia and that the monstrous elements in the map served to deter unauthorized fishing in Scandinavian waters. Further, Scotland is obscured on the map, despite the fact that Scotland enjoyed a claim to Scandinavian fisheries since the fifteenth century. Denmark had refused to acknowledge the treaty with Scotland, and Borlik suggested that the marriage of King James VI and I to Anne of Denmark might have been connected in part to politics surrounding Scandinavian fishing.

Debapriya Sarkar examined Lady Mary Wroth’s prose romance novel, Urania, published in 1621, to investigate how islands and shores function as a threshold, a liminal space, in the early modern imaginary. Islands and shores are prominent in early modern English literature and their presence in literature reflects the imperial ambitions of England. But the island is also the site of important oppositional forces. Sarkar focused on a particular moment that reveals a notable transfer of power.  In Wroth’s romance, the protagonist is an aristocratic woman who finds herself on an island, accompanied by her brother, Amphilanthus, who must throw her in the ocean in order to save her. Sarkar noted that as Urania enters the water, her emotional turmoil becomes transferred to the ocean. This, Sarkar argued, embodies  a maritime ecology connected to female subjectivity, which represents the dynamism of human emotion. 

Liam Lewis argued that representations of noise and sound are culturally managed, and that if we can become aware of how we manage these sounds, we can have positive effects on the wildlife in the ocean. Describing the history of the hydrophone in the twentieth century, which allowed underwater recording or listening, Lewis asked: how can we conceptualize sound before and after the hydrophone? In answer, Lewis focused on an illustration from the Irish Voyage of Saint Brendan, a manuscript produced in 1047-1048, and Jacques Cousteau’s 1956 film Le Monde du Silence, as representative cases. In the Voyage of Saint Brendan, Brendan and his brothers sail in search of paradise, and at a crucial point in the journey, Brendan sings loudly to the point of waking the ocean creatures, who join him in singing. Le Monde du Silence, one of the first films to use ocean cinematography to depict the ocean as an underwater paradise, is not silent at all. But most of the sounds that accompany the cinematography are not produced from the hydrophone, but rather overlaid sound effects to mimic the sound of sunken ships, scuba tank bubbles, minor keys for eerie moments, or trumpets for triumphant moments of exploration. In other words,  the techniques used to depict underwater life actually obscure the real sounds of that life.

The last speaker, Bronwen Wilson, considered the compass, or wind rose, to introduce the spaces of elemental forces in between the abstract cartographic grid and the embodied viewer of Willem Jansz. Blaeu’s Nova Totius Americae. She discussed how compasses operated visually. For instance, users become repositioned in relation to depicted terrains.  Compasses can also be pictorial signs, such as in maps made after Piri Reis’s Book of Navigation. Wilson focused on two prospects, by Guillaume-Joseph Grelot and by Melchior Lorck, both with the artists seen at work. She showed how the abstract line associated with the compass can be multivalent. Grelot’s drawing reveals an artist imagining himself as a human compass—the artist’s quill is similar to the compass needle. Similarly, Lorck’s Prospect of Constantinople emphasizes horizontal movement, and while the flatness of the compass rose typically suggests views seen from above, Lorck prompts the viewer to lay the paper flat and to think about the vertical axis in order to reconcile these two poles of the image. 

This research share was generative for those who were able to attend and we hope to see you again for an upcoming research share on 19 January 2021 by faculty members involved with the UCHRI working group: “On the sea and coastal ecologies: early modern pasts and uncertain futures.”

Notes from “In the Wake”

Sarah-Nelle Jackson, University of British Columbia

On October 23rd, 2020, over two dozen attendees gathered virtually for the Oecologies Research Cluster’s inaugural panel of 2020–21, “In the Wake: Response and Recovery in the Premodern World.” Drawing connections between our present crisis and past catastrophes, panelists Urvashi Chakravarty (University of Toronto), Gabriel de Avilez Rocha (Brown University), Rebecca Totaro (Florida Atlantic University), and Elaine Treharne (Stanford University) explored medieval and early modern histories of solidarity and resistance amid natural, political, and pandemic upheavals.

In his opening remarks, moderator and Oecologies co-director David Coley (Simon Fraser University) encouraged us to frame “In the Wake” not as an expression of anxiety and despair over our current, pandemic moment — at least, not entirely. Instead, Coley explained, the panel would look to the past for futures that might arise from our own response and recovery in the present: an optimistic spirit of medieval prudentia that recognizes our own moment as one forged in and out of responses and recoveries past.

“In the Wake” took its name from Christina Sharpe’s homonymous monograph, which develops the varied, temporally fraught significances of the word wake. Speaking first, Urvashi Chakravarty built upon Sharpe’s attention to Black life “in the wake” by considering racial discourses of futurity and apocalypse in William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Tracing languages of degeneracy, stains, and stamping in Lear, Urvashi showed how the play’s “apocalyptical possibility” emerges as inherently racialized. As a result, she concluded, we face the difficult and urgent task of imagining worlds beyond and besides reproductive white futurity. (This conclusion pointed to the photo with which Chakravarty began: an early 2020 Associated Press image of four young, white climate activists. AP had cropped from the picture a fifth activist, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, erasing black activism and framing climate activism as a white project.)

From the prospect of refusing white futurity, Gabriel de Avilez Rocha turned our attention to an historical refusal of colonial futurity on the West African island of São Tomé. In 1537, a prodigious fire swept the main colonial town of the Portuguese-occupied island, destroying swathes of colonial goods and quarters and hamstringing the island’s trade in sugar and the enslaved (or enslaved peoples). Although the arson constituted a remarkable event in its own right, Rocha argued that we consider longer arcs of resistance and insurgency that predate and contextualize singular disasters. Outlining a long collaboration on the island between fugitive Africans and the dense forests beyond the colonial town, he showed that the fire was a culmination, but hardly the debut, of socio-natural insurgency on São Tomé against Portuguese colonialism.

From counter-hegemonic praxis, we moved with Rebecca Totaro to the widespread governmental and communal collaboration that bound Elizabethan England in the face of pandemic. When the bubonic plague arrived in England, documentary evidence suggests, the queen and her privy council issued national quarantine orders that isolated subjects in body but united them in spirit. Totaro took us through examples of guides for at-home Anglican worship, poetic meditations on friendship and community, and lists of trusted women within several communities who helped identify those who had died of plague. These materials offer instructive contrast to the conspiracies and xenophobia of the current response to the COVID-19 pandemic: a governance and neighbourliness rooted in mutual care can guide us through our present catastrophe and future ones.

Elaine Treharne turned from textual evidence to textual absence in catastrophe’s wake. What do literary and textual historians do, she asked, when a silence, a dearth of data, follows in the wake of catastrophe — and how does this differ from what we ought to do? Reading elision in surviving sources after the Norman Conquest of 1066, Elaine queried the difference between silent and silenced voices, quoting Patrick Wolfe to remind us that then, as now, “Settler colonialism is inherently eliminatory.” The absence of evidence does not necessarily signal compliance or ease, Treharne argued, pointing to the silence or silencing of the colonized English under Norman rule; of dissenters in Syria, Egypt, and Uyghur province in Xianjing; and in the systematic omission of Native Americans from COVID-19 public health data. Scholars, she concluded, must be mindful of our roles in creating and interpreting data. 

After an audience Q&A, Coley concluded the event by putting a question to the panel: “How do we bring these ideas into the now, the present moment of crisis, rebuilding, suppression, hope?” Together, the speakers emphasized the importance of defining ourselves against hegemonic categories, both academically (through interdisciplinary work, for example) and socio-politically (by not narrating the current pandemic into nationalized silos). 

The panelists offered exciting, important steps toward this kind of critically-engaged work. In the wake of their global, interdisciplinary papers, presented to a global, interdisciplinary audience, we at Oecologies dare to return to optimism: all those present on October 23 began the important, challenging work of response, recovery, and revitalization. Part of that success, I think, involves recognizing how very far we have yet to go.

Reading Notes from the Sea: an Oecologies Reading Group

Tiffany Jo Werth, University of California Davis, English

On October 2, 2020, the Oecologies Reading Group gathered virtually via Zoom to discuss readings related to this year’s theme of “On the Sea and Coastal Ecologies.” It was also the inaugural “Sea” event for the Oe-adjacent Earth, Sea, Sky network, who are joined this year by faculty from a University of California Humanities Research Institute multicampus faculty working group. We’re thrilled to welcome these scholars and look forward to a series of virtual conversations across the year. 

Over twenty-five Oe scholars and affiliates from around the globe engaged with readings selected by the reading group facilitators, Vin Nardizzi (UBC, English), Debapriya Sarkar (University of Connecticut, Maritime Studies), and Tom White (Oxford, English). The readings were 1) Helen M. Rozwadowski, “A Long Sea Story” from her Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans (2018), and 2)  Renisa Mawani, “The Free Sea” from her Across Oceans of Law (2018), and, as an optional third selection, 3) Surabhi Ranganathan’s ArcGIS collection of mini-essays, “The Law of the Sea” (2020). Joining us was one of the authors, historian of science Helen Rozwadowski, who engaged us productively in questions about her research on the sea.

Following brief introductions to the three essays, we divided into three breakout rooms to facilitate small group conversation. Each room developed its own oceanic ecological thread but with notable cross-currents. Vin’s group generated a set of words—cephalopod, flood, foam, plankton, fog, technology, bottom—that opened up conversations about relationships between depth and surface and the jurisdictional lines that delimit them. The etymology of “fathom-line” and its utility led to discussion of what it might mean to think about “ocean as method.” Similarly, in Debapriya’s breakout room, participants explored how we might define and know the sea. Questions of scale, especially as pertaining to a vertical or horizontal axis, prompted thinking about the relationship of limits to a “free,” “incomprehensible,” and “timeless” history of the ocean sea. The fluidity and mutability of the ocean also emerged as a theme in Tom’s group, where members drew on Rozwadowski’s long pre-human history of the ocean to frame changing and comparatively recent political fortunes and overlapping sovereignties in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Technologies developed for containing, mapping, and navigating the ocean, including the crucial chronometer, amplified our understanding of the relationship of colonial centers to the peripheries and margins, even on the “vast” and “free” sea.  This relationship was revealed, too, in the long legal influence of Grotius, and related Dutch and other colonial land reclamation schemes, an influence on infrastructure and oceanic shipping routes that in the early twentieth-century resulted in a spectacular challenge to Canada’s practice of excluding immigrants from India. When the Japanese vessel Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver, Canada carrying several hundred Indians, most of the migrants were denied entry into the country and repatriated to Kolkata.

The reading group also began to compile a working bibliography of scholarship that came up in conversation. If you have thoughts or suggestions, I welcome you to send them to Laura Hutchingame ( ), one of our wonderful graduate research assistants, who is creating an Endnote database for the working group this year. 

Our next reading group will convene in February 2021 and will shift our disciplinary focus to art history. It will be led by Lyle Massey (UC Irvine, Art History) and Bronwen Wilson (UCLA, Art History).  If you’re interested to join us, please keep an eye out for further details on the Oecologies Facebook and Twitter feeds. 

Oecologies CFP: “Climates of Consciousness” (IMC Leeds 2021)

Call for Papers for Session Proposals
at the International Medieval Congress (IMC 2021)
Sponsored by the Oecologies Research Cluster
05–08 July 2021
University of Leeds

These sessions seek to explore how space and form — ecologies of consciousness — inform, challenge, and perpetuate reading, writing, consideration, and understanding in the medieval and early modern eras. Focusing on the “climates” of perceptions, philosophies, and cosmologies of the premodern world, they query and explore how immediate and perceived environments created and generated texts and concepts from the medieval and early modern eras that are reliant on aspects of form, both imagined and real. How do the ecological proclivities of premodern cultures and understandings inform our exploration of the past, present, and future?

Suggested topics, on any geographic area, may include, but are not limited to:

  • landscape and place studies
  • textual forms
  • environmental humanities
  • systems of thought
  • world building, “built” worlds, and their environment
  • relationships between “climates” of thought, literatures, and philosophies
  • ecological intersections in cultural outputs or paradigms

Submissions from a variety of disciplines, including but not limited to literatures, textual studies, cultural and social histories, and visual cultures, are encouraged. We welcome global, regional, and local approaches to the Middle Ages, and we encourage proposals by BIPOC scholars, international scholars, and scholars at all stages of their careers.

Please submit a 250-word proposal for a 15- to 20-minute paper. Proposals should include an abstract and accompanying one-page CV including email, current affiliation, and position. Please submit proposals as PDF or Word files by 25 September 2020 by email to both:

  • — David Coley, Simon Fraser University, Co-Director, Oecologies Research Cluster, and
  • — Kenna Olsen, Mount Royal University, Advisory Council Member, Oecologies Research Cluster

For more on the Oecologies Research Cluster, please see

The Year in Review, 2019-2020

Dear friends of Oecologies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vin Nardizzi
University of British Columbia