Report: Dying at the Margins Workshop

by Jesse D. Peterson and Natashe Demos-Lekker

On September 26-27, the Environmental Humanities Laboratory—along with the Division of History of Science, Technology, and Environment at KTH Royal Institute of Technology—hosted the Dying at the Margins Workshop. Put together by PhD students Jesse D. Peterson (KTH) and Natashe Lemos Dekker (University of Amsterdam), this workshop brought together scholars at various stages of their career and from various backgrounds and disciplines to discuss how contemporary perspectives in environmental humanities and the medical humanities might further research on how dying “bodies”—animal (including human), plant, thing, place—challenge natural, normative, and notions of a “good” death. The workshop had two keynote presentations, along with discussions of participant papers and a creative embroidery workshop.

Professor Philip R. Olson presents on human composting

On the first day, Dr. Philip R. Olson (Virginia Tech) presented his work on bodily disposition. Beginning with Roy Scranton’s premise in Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene, he posed the question as to how might the demise of culture impact body care? If the Anthropocene is largely a problem of scale, what challenges and opportunities will face the disposition of human bodies now and into the future? Looking specifically into the practice of “natural organic reduction” (essentially composting human bodies) alongside other disposition technologies—such as alkaline hydrolosis, burial pods, green burial, submersible reef balls, and promession—Olson articulated how these alternative forms of disposition claim to be more environmentally friendly than burial or cremation as well as gentle forms of body recycling. Yet, as he pointed out, individualist norms “die hard,” that is, although a stunning array of new technologies have challenged the social and cultural norms of disposing of a corpse, many end users don’t want to see their loved ones transformed by some kinds of ecological relationships or contaminated by the technologies that process multiple bodies. For instance, what critters and creatures are allowed access to corpses or how do people negotiate the possibility for bodies to be passive rather than active forms of nourishment? As a conclusion, Olson suggested that these issues lead us to consider what kind of species ought we to be, asking us what are the moral virtues to be cultivated and moral vices to shun. He argued that humans not only need a species centered history but a species focused virtue ethics.

The second day, Dr. Marietta Radomska (University of Helsinki and Linköping University)  spoke to us about the need for “queering” death studies. Responding to calls in queer theory and posthumanism that challenge normative conceptions of the human subject, a queer death studies ought to help reconfigure notions of death and practices related to it that have relied upon such conceptions. In other words, by challenging basic assumptions about dying and death, queering death can lead to producing alternative imaginaries about dying, death, and the dead beyond gender and sexuality. It also provides the means for moving away from “normative ontologies”

Marietta Radomska presents Queer Death Studies

Participants were also treated to an embroidery workshop led by Karina Jarrett (Broderiakademi), who stitched together ways in which fine arts feature in memorial, memory, and creative response to loss and grief. Having been working with residents of Malmberget, a town in northern Sweden currently being dismantled and “moved” to allow for the expansion of the local mine (LKAB malmberget), Jarrett curated a personal exhibition and provided the participants with time to express themselves by embroidering a friendship card. The experience highlighted how there is still very much to be done when facing loss even when there feels like there is nothing left that one can do.

Workshop participants practice their stitching.

Thanks to all the participants for their attendance, energy, and enthusiasm.

Crosscuts Film Festival: In-vision Environmental Humanities

by Sofia Jonsson, festivalgeneral

Den 22-24 november är det dags för Crosscuts att inta Bio Rio i Stockholm igen.

Crosscuts är Stockholms första miljöhumanistiska festival för text och film. Temat för i år är Ruptured Times/Brytpunkter. Genom ​dokumentärfilmer, poesiuppläsning och samtal mellan ledande forskare, filmare och aktivister utforskar vi den brytpunkt där vi befinner oss nu, i en tid av politisk ovisshet, globalisering och klimatkriser.

I programmet har vi Saskia Sassen, sociolog och professor vid Columbia University, speciellt inbjuden som hedersgäst för att presentera Fredrik Gertténs omtalade dokumentär Push, där hon även själv medverkar. I en efterföljande panel samtalar Saskia tillsammans med Erik Stenberg, arkitekt och lektor KTH och Marco Armiero, lektor och miljöhistoriker KTH om städers gentrifiering och konsekvenserna av detta. Samtalet modereras av Miyase Christensen, professor i media och kommunikation vid Stockholms universitet.

Under söndagen har vi äran att presentera en masterclass i filmskapande med vår andra hedersgäst: författaren och filmskaparen Trinh T. Minh-Ha. Efter masterclassen följer en visning av Minh-has uppmärksammade essäfilm Forgetting Vietnam. Filmen visas tillsammans med ett samtal mellan Minh-ha, Athena Farrokhzad, poet, författare och litteraturkritiker samt Jennifer Hayashida, poet, översättare och artist. Vi bjuder även på poesiuppläsning med Athena och Jennifer.

I programmet finns flera Sverige-premiärer, däribland Grit som visar situationen för lokalbefolkningen i olika byar i Indonesien efter ett jordskalv som begravt stora områden i lera. I dokumentärer får vi följa kampen mellan den drabbade befolkningen och det multinationella företag som kan ha orsakat skalvet med sina borrningar efter naturgas.

Under lördagen visar vi den första dokumentärfilmen som gjorts om den kanske mest inflytelserika, just nu levande, franska filosofen Alain Badoiu. Badiou har gett sig på allt från radikal politik till kärlek och antik filosofi i sina böcker. I filmen talar han själv om sitt liv, sina tankar och sitt verk. Efter visningen följer ett samtal mellan regissören Rohan Kalyan och filosofen Ashley Bohrer, verksam vid University of Notre Dame i USA. Samtalet hålls på engelska.

Festivalen avslutas med premiären av Look Away, en dokumentär med avstamp i Calais där vi får följa och ta del av den verklighet som många människor på flykt upplever. Efter filmen följer ett samtal mellan Roberta Biasillo, forskare på KTH och Fabio Gianfrancesco, flyktingaktivist och kapten på en av de båtar som räddar flyende människor på Medelhavet och Shahram Khosravi professor vid Socialantropologiska Intitutionen på Stockholm Universitetet.

Nytt för i år är sektionen Annals of Crosscuts – en filmgranskningsprocess där dokumentärfilmare från hela världen har skickat in bidrag på temat Ruptured times. En panel av granskare från film-, konst- och forskarvärlden har gjort ett urval av filmer och under festivaldagarna blir det världspremiär för dem. I panelen finns bland annat Kalle Boman, Forum för Visuell Praktik, Issraa El-Kogali, kreatör och filmskapare samt Jan Olsson, professor emeritus i filmvetenskap vid Stockholms universitet.

Varmt välkomna till en helg fylld av spännande dokumentärfilmer och samtal!

***
Fullt program finns på https://www.crosscuts.se och https://www.biorio.se ​
Crosscuts på Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EHLcrosscuts/
Bio Rio på Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBioRio/

Crosscuts
Crosscuts är en internationell festival för film, konst och forskning inom miljöhumaniora. Varje film visas tillsammans med ett samtal med speciellt inbjudna gäster. Festivalen organiseras i år av KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory (EHL) i samarbete med den ledande forskningsmiljön vid JMK, Institutionen för mediestudier, Stockholms Universitet och Bio Rio. Crosscuts arrangerades första gången 2018.

EHL: https://www.kth.se/en/abe/inst/philhist/historia/ehl
Forskningsmiljön vid JMK: https://research.ims.su.se/en/environments/1-global-media-studies-and-the-politics-of-mediated-communication

Sagt om Crosscuts:
This Stockholm Environmental Humanities Festival for Film and Text that was held for the first time in the fall of 2018, was an extremely successful and important event for both academic community and the general public. Madina Tlostanova, professor i postcolonial feminism, Linköpings Universitet. Paneldeltagare under Crosscuts 2018.

Vi är väldigt glada och stolta över att få vara samarbetspartner med Crosscuts och att dessa viktiga filmer och samtal kommer att äga rum på vår biograf. Vi befinner oss i en brytpunkt vad gäller klimatet och Bio Rio vill vara med och skapa den förändring som krävs vad gäller vår miljöpåverkan. Jocke Kellekompu, VD Bio Rio
——————————————————————

Kontaktpersoner:
Sofia Jonsson, festivalgeneral, 0739-108787, sofia@crosscuts.se
Jacob von Heland, programansvarig samt chefredaktör för Annals och kontaktperson för Trinh T. Minh-ha, 070-727 24 87, jacob@crosscuts.se
Miyase Christensen, programplanering, ansvarig Stockholms Universitet och kontaktperson för Saskia Sassen, 070-389 20 07, miyase.christensen@ims.su.se

Hemsida av https://www.wrangedesign.se/
Logga av https://carmonamedina.com/​

 

The “Grounding book” is now out! Published as #OpenAccess by MIT Press. “Grounding Urban Natures”.*

by Henrik Ernstson

We won the MIT Press Library Award! Our recently published edited book Grounding Urban Natures: Histories and Futures of Urban Ecologies (2019, MIT Press) can now be downloaded #OpenAccess as a searchable PDF from The MIT-Press website (press link above).

For colleagues with permanent jobs or research funding, consider to (also) buy the real and heavy book because its so nice!

The book provides well-written chapters on urban natures, their social lives, their vibrant matters, and their politics across a varied geography, from the global South to North. Bringing together ethnography and environmental history in a comparative gesture, the chapters are great to teach from as students can trust experienced scholars to unpack the multiplicity of urban nature in narrative form that is kept free from jargon. Let me know if you teach from it through my twitter handle @rhizomia (Henrik Ernstson).

Back cover of Grounding Urban Nature

Front cover of Grounding Urban Nature

The book Grounding Urban Natures unpacks the multiplicity of urban natures across a wide geography, from global South to North. It opens a space to re-think how we think urban environmental politics for the 21st century. Written by leading scholars it is divided in three sections: Unexpected Natures, Popular Natures, and Technological Natures, couched within an Introduction and Conclusion written by the editors Henrik Ernstson and Sverker Sörlin.

The chapters are made for teaching as they contain no jargon. They effectively open up urban natures from a multiple of perspectives, and bring case studies from across the world—from new emergent forms of urbanism of the global South, to re-worked cities in the global North. Students will have a wealth of experience to rely on as urban natures are shown to be shaped in sometimes unexpected ways through:

  • a multiplicity of agencies;
  • the role of historical changes, from colonisation to industrialisation;
  • the impact of race and class structures—but also social movements;
  • the circulation of ideas, from Confucianism to neoliberalism; and
  • the heavy hand of expert models and engineering standards.

Constructive review of urban ecology as an interdisciplinary field from especially the 1990s onward is given in the Introduction. The shear explosion of exciting thinking that have emerged and pushed the humanities and the social and natural sciences to regard urban nature very differently today than simply 20 years back. The Introduction includes debates and tensions between different perspectives from socio-natures, more-than-human, urban political ecology, and social-ecological systems theory (including resilience), which is paired with a close reading of how postcolonial and Southern urbanism, which has grown strongly in urban studies in the last 15 years, can help to open up a space to think urban nature from a wider lens, from a “world of cities” (1).

The chapters are written by leading scholars in the field. This includes chapters from one of the true founders to think cities as socio-natures, Ann Whiston Spirn who wrote The Granite Garden-classic in 1984 and here contributes an intimate chapter on teaching high school kids about landscape literacy in Philadelphia and theorising democratic practices; to Lindsay Sawyer’s chapter on Lagosian’s mode of building auto constructed real-estate; to Martín Ávila (with Henrik Ernstson) on infrastructures and scorpions and the problem of co-habitation in Córdoba, Argentina; how a huge engineering lock made a river disappear in New Orleans by Joshua Lewis; “alien” plant clearing in Chinese Dalian by Lisa M HoffmanAmita Baviskar on parks, forests and couples falling in love in New Delhi; and how Chinese “eco-cities” is linked to massive dispossession of farmers from their land in China by Jia-Ching Chen; and several more chapters from Richard A. WalkerLance van SittertJens Lachmund and James Evans.

Chapters are placed between an Introduction and Conclusion that provides historical background and theory from an expanding field. These chapters opens up a space to re-think urban environments from new locations. With rapid urbanisation and radically new ways through which urban natures are shaped across global South and North, we cannot trust old models nor unreflectively reproduce global models such as “eco-cities,” “smart cities,” “resilience cities,” or a new “science of cities” without paying attention to how place matters. Through a critique of how global discourse tend to homogenise and universalise how we think about cities, the Introduction and Conclusion opens a space to re-think our urban environmental crisis.

This book provides a step to gather a more inclusive and generous practice for thinking and formulating urban environmental policy and activism in the Urban Age of the 21st century. Drawing on the strong resurgence of Southern and postcolonial perspectives in urban studies, we as editors argue for a “comparative urban environmentalism” to create this space of critique and dialogue. The Introduction argues for combining the “wild” libraries of urban socio-nature from the 1990s onward, with postcolonial or “Southern urbanism” from urban studies, to invigorate thinking while decentering the global North as the locus of thought. This opens the global phenomena of rapid urbanisation and environmental crisis to be theorised from more places and disciplines. In the tradition of William Cronon’s edited volume Uncommon Ground, a truly eclectic and somewhat boistorous collection of writers, our “Grounding-book” offers a strong contribution to urban ecology, to environmental humanities, to political ecology, and to environmental thought more generally.

We hope you like it!

Published by MIT Press in their series on Urban and Industrial Environments in August 2019. Made Open Access through the MIT Press Library Award on 7 October 2019.

Contributors: Martín Ávila, Amita Baviskar, Jia-Ching Chen, Henrik Ernstson, James Evans, Lisa M. Hoffman, Jens Lachmund, Joshua Lewis, Lindsay Sawyer, Anne Whiston Spirn, Lance van Sittert, Richard A. Walker.

Editors: Henrik Ernstson and Sverker Sörlin.

(1) The expression is taken from Jennifer Robinson, a founding and generous sister of Southern urbanism. More on that in the Introduction.

*Reprinted with permission from http://www.situatedecologies.net/archives/2225

Behind the scenes of European environmental history scholarship: An interview with publisher Sarah Johnson

by Roberta Biasillo, PhD

This year features two important landmarks for the community of European environmental historians: it marks the 20th anniversary of the European Society for Environmental History and the 25th volume of the journal Environment and History, established by British publisher The White Horse Press in 1995.

Cover of Environment and History, November 2019 issue

These two milestones are connected because when environmental history started to become institutionalised in Europe – a process that generally comes along with the establishment of specific journals and the publication of pioneering volumes in the field – Andrew and Alison Johnson were already running their family business, publishing the journal Environmental Values. Since its foundation, the attention to the present and future environment of human beings and other species has always been a key aspect of the WHP editorial line. In 1995, The White Horse Press released the first issue of Environment and History, now recognised as the European journal of the field.

WHP now counts among its publications four international journals and a long list of environmental history monographs and edited volumes. Sarah Johnson is now largely in charge of the publication process, namely all the operations that follow the comforting line, “Your manuscript has been accepted for publication.” Sarah kindly agreed to share her story and experience and to discuss with us what we hardly see or think about – the final stage of our accepted works.

RB: For historians stories matter, make the difference, establish connections and foster a sense of community. When I firstly met you at the dinner table, I asked you something about your past and you opened up a most-interesting set of personal and professional memories. Can you tell us your story and your background, the story of your family and WHP’s story?  

SJ: My parents, Andrew and Alison, met as postgraduates in Oxford in the early 1970s and decided to ‘drop out,’ to flee ‘civilisation.’ They moved to the remote Scottish island of Harris, and, after several years working as teachers, they bought a derelict manse (priest’s house) and began to renovate it. I was born at the beginning of their twelve years running it as a hotel, which gained a prestigious reputation. My childhood was spent with the fabulous Scarista beach as my playground (Fig. 2), free to roam around in nature; and when I was eight I acquired a feisty Eriskay pony called Erica (Fig. 3-4). The hotel was closed in the winter, and my parents devoted time in these months to animal welfare and environmental projects. My father wrote a book on factory farming in the late 1980s, and they were early Greenpeace supporters. So, the environment was both around me in its most elemental form (Harris is extremely beautiful but battered by ferocious weather) and in my consciousness from childhood as an ‘issue.’ We recently published a book (Peter Quigley’s The Forbidden Subject, 2019) on how cherishing natural beauty is often regarded as intellectually suspect, but I’d say that, because of my childhood in this very special landscape, it remains one of my core values and one that I’m proud now to be instilling in my daughter.

Sarah (in red) and her friend Tina, riding Erica circa 1989

Eventually my parents decided they would like to return to a more intellectual way of life and sold the hotel to found The White Horse Press. After a few artistic liberties, Erica the fat and recalcitrant pony was remodelled as a suitably grave and cerebral looking Assyrian-style White Horse. From the age of ten or eleven, I recall meetings at our home of the emerging environmental humanities (that term was a long way off!) community – the diffident philosopher Alan Holland, the ebullient and rather chaotic environmental historian Richard Grove, to name but two. I earned pocket money stuffing leaflets and early issues of journals in envelopes, and later by proofreading. My father traded up from an ancient Amstrad to one of the very first Apple Macs, and I was one of the only teenagers in the Hebrides with that amazing modern innovation – email – as early as 1994.

White Horse Press Logo
Logo for White Horse Press

The early days of the Press coincided with an epic conservation battle, to save a large portion of our island from being quarried away to provide road stone for more populous parts of the country and further afield – all the battle-lines of modern environmental campaigns were apparent on Harris in the early 1990s, not least the continuing intractable tensions between local and national/global as well as economic ‘progress’ (figured here as local jobs as well as national infrastructure) and ecological protection, regarded by many, then as now, as a form of elitist luxury. The campaign was long, legally complex and at times entertaining – once I gave evidence at the Public Inquiry into the application alongside a Mi’kmaq chief from Nova Scotia and the eccentric human ecologist Alistair MacIntosh. However, while the Press continued to thrive – and my later teenage years were peppered with diversions such as a pistol-toting Mongolian envoy turning up in a bulletproof car to collect a number of copies of the latest Inner Asian monograph and most politely consuming tea and cake – I was an average teenager, determined to get as far as possible physically and intellectually from my parents! (This culminated in a long Pacific sailing voyage when I was 16, as well as numerous other adventures on the waves.) I studied English at Balliol College, Oxford and followed this with a Ph.D. at St John’s College Cambridge, and it was in this period that the environment came creeping back in. My Ph.D. on Cook’s Pacific voyages was ostensibly under the banner of literary studies, but I found myself fascinated by explorers’ engagement with landscape, by how they positioned themselves and their cultures in relation to Nature. A few desultory years of university teaching and freelance editing, and the growing sense that most of what was interesting was tied up in this nexus of humanity and environment, saw me somewhat shamefacedly returning to the fold in 2010 just as my parents had given up any expectation of the Press continuing beyond their retirement, having already sold off a few journals and more or less stopped publishing books.

I was fortunate enough to come in at a time when new publishing technology such as “Print on Demand” was making it easier for small publishers to be very flexible in publication processes and gain a little more visibility through various online platforms. After a difficult decade, during which probably the majority of small publishers perished or were absorbed by larger ones (something WHP has always resisted), we were on the cusp of a more positive publishing climate for a Press that was prepared to work hard in a very defined niche. Coming in with some knowledge of publishing processes, absorbed around the breakfast table over the years, but little practical experience, I think I was well placed to take the press in slightly new directions, while my parents and all their accumulated knowledge kept common sense to the fore!

My daughter Miranda (aged 8) now likes to have a say in the cover designs of books and journals, so maybe the next generation of WHP is already beginning…

Sarah’s father, Andrew, co-founder of The White Horse Press, and granddaughter Miranda on Scarista beach, Isle of Harris, July 2019

RB: You are an academic yourself. You have published papers and earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, but I would like to pose this question to Sarah Johnson the publisher. What would you like academics to know or to consider more about the publication and distribution phases? My impression is that academics tend not to really be aware of what is behind and beyond the transformation of a manuscript into a paper or a book.

SJ: I suppose my main thoughts in relation to this are with regard to the contemporary clamour for everything to be Open Access. It makes me laugh, or sometimes nearly cry – I see dozens of manuscripts, often in very bad shape in terms of use of language, rigour of referencing or, simply, style; and my job is to expose the gold within, to tidy something whose raw content is good into something that is presented as well as possible. The notion that publishers simply take authors’ hard work and profit from it is delusional – a lot of effort goes into turning a raw manuscript into a book or even article that is a pleasure to read and truly reflects its author’s abilities. Even the most eminent scholars (perhaps especially they!) seem often to be incapable of getting their footnotes in order, seem often not to have thought that they can’t simply take an illustration from another article or book without considering the ownership of copyright, and seem often to prefer fifty words where ten would do! So, in general, I’d urge academics to think about what a publication forum is offering. If it simply gives a platform to unedited and possibly sloppy scholarship, will that really stand the test of time? Conversely, if it is asking money to publish (we don’t, except in the case of Open Access journal articles), what is it offering in return? We undertake rigorous editing, copyediting, proofreading and indexing (in the case of books); and this work has to be paid for, either through subscriptions / sales or payments for Open Access. The notion that no-one pays and no-one profits seems an obvious fairytale, but it’s one that holds more currency than I would like and perhaps encourages a climate of resentment against publishers. Having said that, we almost invariably have extremely positive relations with ‘our’ authors, and it is a joy to hear quite often how much they’ve enjoyed working with us. Another common issue is the expectation of large sales – most academic books published in Britain and Northern Europe are very expensive and sold mostly to libraries. US presses are often funded by their universities and deemed ‘not for profit,’ so their books can be much cheaper. I always tell authors, “We will get your book out there.” Due to Print On Demand technology, it will be available in perpetuity on Amazon and other large wholesale and retail platforms, but what a tiny Press can’t do is make anyone buy it. It’s a sad truth that our biggest ‘hits’ are where authors do a lot of word of mouth marketing themselves.

RB: You must have read hundreds of published and rejected papers, dozens of successful book projects and lots of never released manuscript proposals. What would you say about the development of the discipline? Can you share with us any anecdote or moment in which you have noticed disciplinary transformation (e.g. the emergence of a new topic; a change in the editorial board; an event or a major book that has affected methodologies and interests of environmental history)?

SJ: That’s an interesting question – environmental history is such a multifarious discipline – and what I’d call ‘traditional’ environmental history (case studies about water regimes and woods, for example) is alive and well. But I suppose what I’ve noticed in the last few years is an increasing interdisciplinarity, which I suspect comes to all disciplines or sub-disciplines when they ‘come of age’ and have gained the confidence to shake off traditionalist expectations. ‘Undisciplining’ the humanities is of course your aim at KTH! So there’s more engagement with politics and policy – perhaps unsurprisingly given the increasing urgency of the climate crisis and the advent of the discourse of the Anthropocene – but also more work at the boundaries of environmental humanities and the arts (I could probably frame my Ph.D. as environmental humanities these days!) and more longue durée work where environmental history is bringing archaeology to life. I also think that human actors are more prevalent – whether activists, victims of environmental issues, or ordinary people in relation to their environment. There’s more emphasis, perhaps, on the sorts of testimonies obscured by the more traditional forms of history.

RB: Conversely, what do you think has changed in your profession over the last decades in terms of technological and communication strategy? What are the strengths and challenges that a small, committed and sectorial publisher faces nowadays in respect a market dominated by global and multi-sector companies?

SJ: Well, I’ve outlined some of that above in terms of the conversations around Open Access, which are a major challenge to all publishers, big and small. It is difficult to ‘flip’ from a reader-pays to an author-pays model, and, of course, no publisher – however large or small, commercial or ‘committed’ – can survive with a no-one pays model! People are reading journals almost entirely online these days, and this has made us adjust how we do things, teaming up with aggregators like JSTOR, for example, and providing ‘online first’ publication, which has been very popular with our authors. I think as a small, niche publisher very much in touch with our public, we have managed to be quite ‘agile’ about adopting technology – printing books on demand massively reduces financial risk (there is no large print run to be stored and maybe one day pulped), and that allows us to offer to publish things that we find interesting without it being a dangerous financial gamble. This must be positive both for us and for authors. Communication strategy is a difficult one, and I’ll freely admit marketing is our Achilles heel – there are many consultants out there who offer to revolutionise marketing strategy, but at a cost that seems an excessive capital investment for us, given our small turnover and the indeterminacy of the returns. So, we do tend to rely on goodwill and word of mouth. Social media certainly helps, and I appreciate the increased personal connection this gives me with our publics. Of course, large publishers have economies of scale and so CAN employ marketing specialists, social media editors etc. Economies of scale are most apparent, of course, with the large journal publishers’ ‘bundles’: libraries have limited budgets and, of course, it seems more attractive to buy 30 journals for an amount that is far less than the cost of 30 individual publications than to buy individual ones. I’d argue that this is often a false economy – these companies put a big journal that everyone wants at the top of such bundles, and then throw in a number that probably wouldn’t be chosen, so there’s the illusion of a good deal but with little active consumer choice. It’s a sort of supermarketisation of publications. All we can do in the face of these really big companies is to try to forge ever stronger personal networks, to listen to our authors and readers, and to hope that they will make the case to librarians that our products are worth having. It is a great joy to me that we do manage to flourish in our small way by this kind of personal approach.

RB: Last questions, and I invite you to rely on all your sensibility. How would you define a good paper/volume? When you are about to open a new file or to browse the first pages of a newly submitted manuscript, what expectations do you generally have? 

SJ: That is another interesting question. It is so much about instinct. (And I’m very blessed to work in a context where I have huge autonomy.) We do have a formal proposal process for books, where we do ‘due diligence’ – asking certain key questions about originality, relationship to the rest of the field, etc. And after that, if  I think a proposal is attractive, I’ll always send it to referees – members of that wonderful environmental history community that I really feel a part of after all these years. Occasionally, I think a book is ‘necessary’ rather than just interesting or attractive, but most often it is the latter factors that have the most weight. And they are so nebulous. It is hard to explain what I am looking for, except to say that I know it when I see it. I like to witness the author’s personality and heritage come through (as with Leona Skelton’s Tyne after Tyne (2017). I copyedit almost all the articles for Environment and History myself (hence my irascibility about references above!) as well as a lot of our other journals, so I have a sense of what topics are flowing around. So, it does please me if proposals, without slavishly following, show awareness of current research directions. Sometimes a book will very obviously fill a gap that I’ve become aware of – as with the recent collection of essays on the environmental history of the Ottoman Empire edited by Onur Inal and Yavuz Köse, Seeds of Power (2019). The fact that I also have great personal love for Turkey, having visited the country regularly for 30 years, is a neat illustration of the different sorts of factors that play into a successful book proposal! There are certain subjects – landscape, vegetation, the ‘blue humanities’, eco-cultural networks – that I’m instinctively attracted to so I hope you don’t mind me abusing this forum you’ve given me to encourage proposals on these subjects!

Occasionally, while copyediting an article, perhaps by a younger scholar, I’ll ask the author if he or she has considered submitting a book – Giacomo Bonan’s The State in the Forest (2019) came out of this kind of interaction. I’m often engaged by the voice and style (which is absolutely not the same as linguistic or grammatical perfection – those are my job!) as much as the topic – after all, I started as a literary scholar. That’s why it’s important to check out my instincts with the real experts, though I’d say that, after ten years, most of them are reasonable. One thing that makes my heart sink is an author confidently claiming a book will be a ‘crossover hit.’ Sorry, it won’t. Not with WHP. You’ll have a really nice publication process. We’ll produce a book you can be proud of and that will be available widely. But you’re not going to be fronting a BBC documentary on the subject as a result. We really are strictly an academic press – we need to stick to our niche to survive in the modern publishing climate, and I’m always reluctant to start working with authors who are likely to get disappointed along the way. Having said that, I wouldn’t want authors to be afraid of showing enthusiasm and personality – that is really important.

I’m not so hands-on in the editorial choices made by our journals, as they all have autonomous editors, and I tend only to see articles once they have been accepted. But I’m certain that similar factors play into their decisions and that following the style guidelines for authors religiously will make editors so happy that they will accept anything. Joke, of course. But – boring but true – it really does help to generate a positive feeling if you show that you respect the journal enough to adhere to its guidance on things like formatting references (there I go again!) and word limits.

So… in summary, enthusiasm, awareness of what is going on in environmental history and perfect footnotes!

 

In the shadow of geopolitics: Notes from fieldwork in southern Greenland*

by Annika Nilsson, Researcher

As we returned to Narsarsuaq after a week of fieldwork in communities of southern Greenland, the outer world came charging in: planes arriving with tourists on their way to various local excursions and high-profile news stories about US president Trump wanting to buy Greenland, including the aftermath of political reactions of uncomfortable surprise at such an absurd idea.

What people living in the villages and towns of Greenland think about this diplomatic exchange, we can only guess as it has not been visible in the reporting in international media. However, after talking to people and visiting places in southern Greenland, we know that opportunities to take part in important decisions are often lacking and that living conditions in small communities are often shaped by the priorities of others. The communication network is just one example. The Narsarsuaq airport in is on a US air force base, established during World War II and still serves a major communication hub for travels anywhere outside the region. The priorities of others also relate to mining, where Greenland has a long history of outsider’s attention because of its unique geology with a wealth of minerals. Past interests in southern Greenland included establishing a mine of cryolite, which was used for aluminum processing, in the small town Ivittuut. Today, we found this mine and the town deserted and the building in decay, though memories of past activities and their links to people in nearby places remain.

Approaching Narsarsuaq IMG_3361 cropped
Approaching Narsarsuaq – Photo : Annika Nilsson

AMIDST MINING AND A POST-INDUSTRIALIZED FUTURE

Today’s focus is on the strategically important rare earth minerals that occur in the same ore as uranium at Kuannersuit (Kvanefjeld) by the small town of Narsaq. At the time of our visit, people were still waiting for a decision ‘from above’ about whether a mine would be opened. The discussion and the focus on mining had however already affected the town by creating social tensions between people who were either for or against this development. Some saw it as a source of new jobs as well as a base for a livelier service industry with restaurants, grocery stores and other facilities. As pointed out by one politician, it could also help pay for infrastructure in the form of roads that would connect nearby towns. For others, concerns about the impact of pollution raised major questions, especially if the mine would become detrimental to the rich fisheries in the area. A major hope was instead that the local fish processing plant would reopen. According to the local fishermen, shrimp was again abundant. The development of the local fish processing industry was however hampered by a changed structure of the Greenlandic fishery industry and what they saw as imposed bureaucracy and rules.

Some hopes were connected to increasing tourism but with a great concern that the transport infrastructure was insufficient. Most tourists appeared to stay around Narsarsuaq. To make tourism a viable industry also for other communities would require affordable and reasonably frequent boat transport or roads that connect at least some of the small towns in the area. The high cost of transport was a major concern for many people living in villages we visited.

Modern infrastructure is also about virtual communication routes. A visit to an internet café in Narsaq illustrated the cost of access to internet – a cup of tea and a blueberry muffin bought me 15 minutes of internet access. While some people have other access option, Greenland’s sea cable for internet was being repaired when we were visiting in August, limiting wire-carried internet access for private citizens in order to allow public institutions to continue to function. So, while international politicians and businesses discuss Greenland in ways that would have profound impact on the everyday lives in southern Greenland, people’s opportunities to get their own voices and priorities heard in the debate are circumscribed by costs and access to communication networks.

CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR ARSUK

Earlier in the week, we visited the settlement of Arsuk. We heard proud stories about how this town once had one of the world’s highest per capita income, when the cod was still plentiful. However, since the crash of the cod stock that previously brought riches and job opportunities to many Greenlandic communities, the outlook for economic opportunities has been bleak. With only four children left in the local school, no nearby access to health care and a harbor that the big ships pass by but do not stop at, several people expressed concern about the future of the community. However, there were also hopes from new sources of income. They included the possibility of selling carefully hand processed wool from muskox, which two women entrepreneurs were developing as a business. Once the 15 kg of fine wool prepared, it would be sent to Denmark for spinning and later sold to others who would knit garment for the Greenlandic market and possibly also for tourists. Arsuk is also home to a fish factory, whose owner expressed hopes that fish would again become plentiful.

While fishery is still part of everyday life in Arsuk, as it has been since the small town was funded in 1805, fishing is also circumscribed by other activities. An elder fisherman described how he had been ordered by a Danish Arctic Command vessel to cut his long line and get out of the way because the military was about to start an exercise in the area. Arsuk fishing activities have previously been hampered by military and industrial activities in the Arsuk fjord, which was home both to the Ivittuut mine, which has left lead pollution in the fjord, and to the Danish Grønnedal military station, both of which were geopolitically important during World War II. Thus, when we visited Ivittutt, Grønnedal, Arsuk and Narsaq, we were at the same time at the periphery of transport infrastructure and at the center of geopolitics.

 Arsuk harbor
Arsuk harbor – Photo : Annika Nilsson

The Narsarsuaq airport may close in the future to be replaced by a regional airport near the town of Qaqortoq. However, the future is uncertain. It will depend not only on what might happen with the mine near Narsaq but also if climate change will have a positive impact on local fisheries. Indeed, in a scenario exercise with four young students, the military was highlighted as a major point of uncertainty when looking 20-30 years ahead in time. Although, when asked about what was most important, the focus was on education opportunities, the future of fisheries, and places to work. The voices of these young people and their peers need to be heard in the narratives about Greenland’s future.

*This post was initially published on the REXSAC blog. Many thanks to REXSAC for sharing this post with us.