Sub-theme 3 (Transnational environmental consciousness)

Save favourite 19 Sep September 2014

In line with some well established research interests at Mid Sweden University (e.g. American Studies and Transatlantic Scandinavian Studies), and because this meeting is being arranged as the inaugural symposium of the newly established Eco-Humanities Hub, the organizers also wish to explore how these and other changes in environmental consciousness can be partly contextualized in transnational terms. In a historical perspective, the long unfolding of environmental consciousness has to a large extent taken place as a transnational exchange. North America has produced many influential environmentally minded writers, some of whom (e.g. Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey) left indelible marks on the modern environmental movement.  

Among these writers and scholars are some who embody transatlantic connections in and of themselves, such as John Muir, a major figure of American nature writing whose affinity for the more than human world began in his native Scotland, or George Perkins Marsh, a leading 19th century Norse philologist, polymath and diplomat whose influential Man and Nature (1864), one of the first major works to address the effects of human activity on the environment, was written during his service as first minister to the Kingdom of Italy during the American Civil War. Others, such as Henry David Thoreau, perhaps the central figure in American nature writing, was in his turn heavily inspired by The Natural History of Selborne (1789), English writer Gilbert White’s landmark work of natural history writing. Europe for its part has been home to some of the most influential philosophers inspiring environmental thought, from Heidegger to Arne Naess, whose concept of deep ecology has crossed and recrossed the Atlantic in steadily multiplying iterations and perhaps more than any other philosophical current animated the first wave of ecocritics. Similar influences can be noted between East and West, as for instance in philosophical currents that inform American environmental poet Gary Snyder's works, which have themselves yielded considerable secondary influence through Snyder's pivotal importance in the American ecoliterary canon of ascendant post-1960s environmental literature and environmental thought.  

However, the transnational (or in these cited cases the trans-Atlantic/Pacific) must also be understood as a site of contestation and division, a space where environmental initiatives break down, and political action is as liable to founder as flourish. In recent years, while exchange of ideas concerning the environment has been substantial and ongoing internationally, so have disagreements and the divergences in environmental consciousness, behavior and policy in all hemispheres of the planet. This is precisely why engaging with environmental consciousness in a transnational context is of more timely concern than ever. The North-American centered examples cited here are not meant to limit conceivable transnational scope or contexts, but are merely convenient frames of reference for a host program in English studies with a longstanding engagement in American Studies. The organizers certainly welcome cases that have little to do with an American cultural compass.