The aim of the conference (and the proposed volume) will be to study the interplay of environmental perception and the way societies have – over the course of history – thought about the future state of ‘nature’ and the environments that coming generations will live in.
Anticipatory Environmental Histories
Narratives of Coming Nature(s) from Antiquity to the Anthropocene
In environmental discourse, it has become a common strategy to conflate different time scales. As Rob Nixon has recently argued, environmental activists, advocates, and artists make use of a form on “anticipatory memory” when warning about the effects of the ecological crisis, and especially of climate change: rather than merely projecting how things will turn out unless we change our environmental behavior, they often revert the perspective and look back on the present from an imagined point in the future. At this imagined juncture in time, the damage has already been done, resources have been depleted, biodiversity has dwindled, and wild spaces have turned into but dim memories.
While these speculative (environmental) histories of the future have served as powerful narrative tools since at least the beginning of the environmental movement, it is less clear on what kind of evidence, information, or generic structure they are based. Are environmental scenarios mere variations of “apocalyptic discourse” (L. Buell), or are they scientifically informed? What role does environmental perception in the present play in how we imagine future nature(s)? In which way does environmental memory shape these imaginings? And what are the historical precursors to this specific mode of environmental thinking?
The aim of the conference (and the proposed volume) will be to study the interplay of environmental perception and the way societies have – over the course of history – thought about the future state of ‘nature’ and the environments that coming generations will live in. What kinds of knowledge systems were/are involved in outlining the future state of the world? Who were/are the main actors implicated in these projections and what was/is their role in society? What kind of texts and narrative patterns were/are used to describe future environments? How did/do narratives of the past shape histories of the future? And what effect did/do environmental scenarios have on environmental behavior?
The conference will examine these (and related) questions in a diachronic as well as a cross-cultural perspective. It will offer a “meta-history” of anticipatory environmental histories, and look for the historical roots of the imagined, emergent worlds of the “Anthropocene”.
The conference is currently planned to take place digitally via Zoom over two afternoons (February 24 and 25, 2022). If you’re interested in taking part, please submit an abstract (c. 300 words) to the organizers Christopher Schliephake ([email protected]) and Evi Zemanek ([email protected]) by March 31, 2021; we will aim to respond no later than April 30, 2021. The final essays will be due April 30th, 2022.
Image: Joshua Sortino at Unsplash.