Foreign Bodies, Intimate Ecologies Symposium

Last month I co-convened the international symposium, Foreign Bodies, Intimate Ecologies: Transformations in Environmental History, at Macquarie University in Sydney, with Emily O'Gorman (Macquarie University), Alessandro Antonello (University of Oregon), Cameron Muir (ANU) and Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center).

 Ian Tyrrell (University of New South Wales) launches  Climate, Science, and Colonization: Histories from Australia and New Zealand  (Palgrave, 2014), edited by James Beattie, conference co-convenor Emily O’Gorman, and Matthew Henry. L-R: Tyrrell, O’Gorman, Beattie, and contributors Chris O’Brien and Ruth Morgan. [Photo by conference co-convenor Alessandro Antonello]

Ian Tyrrell (University of New South Wales) launches Climate, Science, and Colonization: Histories from Australia and New Zealand (Palgrave, 2014), edited by James Beattie, conference co-convenor Emily O’Gorman, and Matthew Henry. L-R: Tyrrell, O’Gorman, Beattie, and contributors Chris O’Brien and Ruth Morgan. [Photo by conference co-convenor Alessandro Antonello]

Over three days, scholars from Scandinavia, Germany, South Asia, the Philippines, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States joined Australian environmental historians to discuss the latest issues, questions and challenges in the field of environmental history.

The Royal Australian Historical Society hosted the symposium’s opening plenary, presented by renowned Australian environmental historian Tom Griffiths (The Australian National University). His paper, ‘The Transformative Craft of Environmental History’, traced the development of environmental history in Australia and showcased the innovative research of emerging scholars.

On the following day, we delved further into these transformations of environmental history with a roundtable on the aesthetics of conservation as well as sessions exploring resources, records, collecting and exploration. Keynote speaker Dolly Jørgensen (Luleå University of Technology, Sweden) sustained the enthusiasm of these sessions with a provocative plenary examining the history and politics of rewilding in North America and Western Europe.

Buoyed by the first day’s success, the symposium continued with a stream of sessions focusing on water in its many forms – from the ice of Antarctica to the Georges River, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Southern Ocean, and from oyster harvesting to whaling.

After a delicious symposium dinner in the heart of Sydney, delegates returned for the final day of the meeting. The day’s sessions centred largely on the transformation of landscapes, taking delegates to the Mallee, Gippsland, Brisbane, and the Victorian goldfields. Keynote speaker Vinita Damodaran (University of Sussex, United Kingdom) highlighted the cultural and ecological impacts of such transformations in eastern India, and urged environmental historians to engage more closely with social movements in the Anthropocene. To conclude the symposium, Australian filmmaker Robert Nugent treated delegates to a sneak preview of his haunting documentary, Night Parrot Stories.

Crossing boundaries, whether temporal, geographical, cultural or disciplinary, was at the heart of the discussions and debates that the symposium papers raised. The co-conveners were delighted that the speakers shared new research that addressed the related themes of borders, space and scale; conflict and contestation; and methods and interdisciplinarity.

Selected papers will be published in the Rachel Carson Center's Perspectives series and a special issue of International Review of Environmental History.

You can find the program on the symposium website.

Foreign Bodies, Intimate Ecologies would not have been possible without the generous support of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich; the Faculty of Arts, Monash University; the Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney; the Centre for Environmental History, The Australian National University; the Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University; and the International Water History Association.