Environmental Humanities Labs: Coastal Conservatory and Sanctuary Lab
As a Research Specialist in Environmental Humanities at UVA, I’m a core member of two transdisciplinary EH Labs that bring together faculty in humanities, arts, and applied sciences. Coastal Conservatory is a multi-platform initiative using sensory experiences to ‘listen’ to coastal water futures and issues of water justice by connecting narratives, ecoacoustics, and climate data to listen to the dynamics that are reshaping coasts, and to the coastal communities affected by sea level rise and climate change. Sanctuary Lab develops immersive methods to track changing cultural imaginaries of global sites of particular ecological and social significance facing climate pressures. On our forthcoming research trip in 2022 to Alaska’s North Slope we will combine inquiry into climate impacts on the Arctic by recording Arctic soundscapes, discussing with indigenous groups their cultural connections to sites experiencing environmental change and the human rights issues that are bound up with climate migration, following the caribou migration and trans-Alaska pipeline, and participating in scientific inquiry into permafrost melt.
Symposium: "Burning the Library of Life." Species Extinction and the Humanities
Primary organizer with collaborators Elizabeth Fowler (English, UVA), Willis Jenkins (Environmental Humanities and Chair of Religious Studies, UVA), Mary Kuhn (English, UVA) and Molly Schwartzburg (Curator, Special Collections Library, UVA).
Many scientists conclude the current precipitous decline in global biodiversity and the thousand-fold increase in the rate of species extinction needs to be understood as marking the planet’s sixth era of mass extinction, but the first such event in which humans have played the primary role. This urgent, global and contemporary crisis is often described not only as the destruction of animals and plants but also as the destruction of knowledge, as “burning the library of life.”
This symposium, "Burning the Library of Life: Species Extinction and the Humanities," at the University of Virginia in Fall 2019 featured interdisciplinary humanities scholarship addressing this emerging issue from environmental humanities, the history and philosophy of science, literary and cultural studies, native studies, sound ecology, curatorial and archival work, and the media. The symposium contributed to departments and curricula across the university at all levels – faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. It brought together prominent and international scholars from across the disciplines whose work engages with the challenge extinction poses to knowledge, including exploring philosophical definitions of “life” and “world-making” in an era of species collapse; documenting the biological violence wrought by imperialisms, globalization, and development; and reinterpreting the “global south” and “global north” through the lens of ecology. Fundamental to the symposium will be questions of preservation of information and knowledge: what are the technological and material formats that preserve and record biodiversity, and how fragile are they?
Humanitarian Collaborative: Research in Action As a member of the cross-disciplinary Humanitarian Collaborative working group, I designed a research project for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) on how to incorporate literature into their humanitarian advocacy campaigns.
Project funded by a Humanitarian Inquiry Initiative Grant: "Investigating the Uses of Literature for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) Public Advocacy Campaigns"
Project Description While UNOCHA and its allied humanitarian organizations such as SCF already use visual media – photography exhibitions, photojournalism in media outlets, photo-stories and film, as well as some recent experiments with Virtual Reality (SCF) – as key aesthetic resources in advocacy and in building support among public audiences for government aid policy, the uses of literature for humanitarian advocacy remain under-explored. At the same time, the recent refugee crises are generating a body of substantial literary material beyond the journalistic: fiction, essays, literary non-fiction. I brought together the key issues and questions driving these organizations’ use of visual aesthetic resources with this emerging and robust body of literature through the redesign of my current course for first-year students in the University of Virginia's New College Curriculum. EGMT 1540: “Does Reading Literature Make You More Ethical? Really? The Novel and the Refugee Crisis” as an experimental class on the uses of fiction in particular for humanitarian advocacy. It took as its organizing principle one of UNOCHA’s most pressing questions: whether awareness-raising efforts that build tolerance, empathy and solidarity among public audiences can build support for policy in concrete ways. Key matters addressed included: empathy and its limits; the difference between feelings of obligation towards individuals and towards groups; the possible roles for literature in behavioral/social change. The culmination of the course as a lab space addressing these core questions was a white paper on implementation ideas and a student-led portfolio of reading materials with accompanying podcasts and the design of a social media campaign.