“Same planet, different worlds: environmental histories imagining anew.”

Bristol, United Kingdom | 5th-9th July 2021

The European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) is pleased to invite proposals for our upcoming conference at the University of Bristol, UK. We want to host a conference for a post-plague world. Right now, our old ways of living have been interrupted, disrupted and ruptured by the COVID-19 outbreak. This devastating global pandemic carries an undeniable message of our entanglement across continents, species, societies, and bodies. Yet the virus hits us differently. We are all on the same planet but we are experiencing radically and divergently altered worlds. We thus draw inspiration for our conference theme from Arundhati Roy’s observation: ‘But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next’. The conference will provoke questions and conversations that can help us through the gateway. After all, our conferences have always been meaningful reactions to global conditions. Twenty years ago, at St Andrews we held the first ESEH Conference on ‘Environmental History: Problems and Potential’. Two decades later, we are now long past ‘potential’ – we need urgent intervention from historians in the crises of our times.

We embrace history that matters and our discipline’s ability to create ‘useable pasts’ for unusual times. This conference moves from the premise of an entangled world: first and foremost enmeshed in a global pandemic, a shared ecological crisis and climate catastrophe, as well as cultural connections from past colonial and postcolonial histories. Understanding entanglements and challenging boundaries has been important in bringing us together over the years. In Prague, we considered the boundaries of ‘diversity’. In Zagreb, we tackled boundaries as ‘contact zones’. In Tallin, we explored the boundaries ‘in/of environmental history’. In Bristol, we cross the boundaries into a new world.

Thus this conference resists a ‘return to normality’. These are extraordinary times and this will be an extraordinary conference. At this critical moment, as historians we need to look without and within. Certainly, we need to engage with the wider world: environmental historians are vital in today’s biggest planetary emergencies. Yet at the same time, we need to engage within our own discipline to rethink our academic practices in terms of environmental realities. This means thinking about writing ethical history, sustainable history and history that matters.

We want to use this opportunity to imagine anew: both how we have conversations (the conference format) and what the conversations are about (the possibilities of our discipline). This conference thus will be engaging in experimental new ways of sharing and generating knowledge, including a blended and collaborative co-learning environment.

Possible topics to be discussed under the umbrella concept of ‘Same planet, different world’, include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Pandemics: Politics, panics and panaceas
  • Environmental histories of public health and public policy
  • Industrial and agricultural impact on disease
  • Resisting the return to normality: the activist historian and strategies for sustainable research
  • Environmental histories of ‘wicked problems’
  • Edge effects: the uneven fallout of climate change
  • Other knowledges: vernacular histories and indigenous knowledge systems
  • Burning issue: fire histories
  • Justice and the past: writing history in the time of Black Lives Matter
  • Technology and envirotechnical systems in natural resource protection and conservation
  • Environmental justice: the legacies of colonialism and post-colonialism
  • Writing more­-than-­human histories
  • Creativity and the historical discipline
  • The possibilities and pitfalls of interdisciplinary research
  • Imagining other futures

We also welcome papers/provocations/presentations on environmental history outside the conference theme.

See the Conference website for details.

The submission deadline is 31st October 2020.

Image by Xtrememachineuk