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Lauri Jokinen # Posted on February 18, 2016 at 07:38

Finally, my final paper:

Lauri Jokinen
Current Debates VT16
Final Examination Paper

In this final examination paper for the course Current Debates in Environmental History I will first present a list of all the seminars where I have been present, and in that list I will specify the seminars that I have been a part of leading. This list will be followed by a diary of varying reflections on content of the seminars, assigned literature and discussions with classmates during the seminars and afterwards on the discussion forum.

List of Seminars Attended
I have attended the following seminars:

1. Tue 12 Jan: Finale and new beginning
2. Fri 13 Feb: Donald Worster on Environmental History
3. Tue 5 March: River History
4. Tue 10 March: Integrated History for People on Earth
5. Tue 24 March: Urban ecology workshop (Leading)
6. Tue 21 April: Pre-opposition on Ma theses
7. Tue 5 May: Past solutions for future transitions
8. Mon 25 May: Actors, networks and resilience in urban landscapes
9. Tue 22 sept cont. Past solutions for future transitions working with undergraduate education
10. Tue 6 oct: Climate history today
11. Mon 26 Oct. From natural to cultural landscapes
12. Wed 28 Oct Mind & Nature excursion (Leading)
13. Wed 11 Nov: Interpreting Landscapes
14. Tue 17 Nov: Entanglement
15. Tue 17 Nov: Nature, narrative and Environmental History (Leading)

Reflection Diary

12 January
During the day we first had an introduction to the Current Debates course, and this event was also my entrance to the program. Already from this beginning I saw that this course was very different from any course that I had taken during my undergraduate studies. I was impressed by the responsibility that us the students were given and together with the excitement of beginning studies in a new program this was very motivating. In the afternoon some of the second year students presented their thesis projects, which was first of all a great opportunity to meet them as we didn’t share any courses together, and secondly this served to motivate me even further regarding my own studies. Having to write reflections on what the second year students had presented of their thesis projects was also helpful as it forced us to get to know their work, which would in turn help us in forming ideas for our own thesis projects. What I took as most important from this day was the motivation to start working on the program and especially my thesis. I think it was also very good to focus on the thesis work of the second year students even if all of us didn’t have much ideas for our own theses. This is because I see the master’s thesis as perhaps the most important part of doing a master’s programme and since the programme length, as ours, is usually not more than 2 years it is crucial for the students to get into the mindset of thesis work as soon as possible.

13 February Donald Worster on Environmental History
On this day we had a very interesting talk by professor Donald Worster followed by a lively discussion. It was nice to see that the intimate small group setting helped us overcome and forget the intimidation of discussing with a scholar of such experience and merits as professor Worster. One important topic we discussed was agriculture, and professor Worster was especially promoting the work of certain researchers in the U.S. The sort of agriculture that Worster was mentioning as I understand it, an agriculture mimicking nature, would in one sense be no more natural than current agricultural systems. In the sense that the systems would be adjusted by humans for food production and other purposes defined by humans, they would be similar to current systems. Since most human societies or cultures have lost the ability to live in a natural system while minimally adjusting the system, and we might not even desire to regain that ability, the kind of agriculture Worster is presenting seems like a plausible option. Still, if we are trying to solve this 10 000 year old problem with agriculture in terms of its sustainability, I do not think it is only a technical matter. These new agricultural systems that mimic nature surely require a wider transformation of societies to go along with them, if we desire sustainable cultures with sustainable agriculture as a part of them. Since food is so important for humans, it seems fitting that efforts in change towards more sustainable cultures would hold production of food as a central issue.

5 March
This seminar was focused on two articles on research about the section of the Danube river in Vienna. This research project to me serves as an example of environmental history’s ability to make use of a very broad spectrum of disciplines within both social and natural sciences. I do not have experience of studying natural sciences on the university level, but my impression would be that natural sciences are not necessarily expected to connect phenomena that they research to social constructs, and they are not expected to theorise on the social meanings of the phenomena they study or their findings. What is expected of environmental history then? Does a research effort in environmental history always have to include theorising on the social meanings of the findings, or could the maps produced in the Viennese Danube research project already be environmental history? It would seem to me at least that we would be wasting the effort of this research if nobody did try to theorise at least partly based on those maps. I would say that the maps are already important research in environmental history, but their importance is perhaps only realised through enabling us to theorise based on the data that these maps contain.

10 March IHOPE
As the reflection on this seminar we presented on the discussion forum our ideas for research that could be part of the IHOPE project. The idea I am proposing is based on my current thesis project, the feedback I got from presenting that during the seminar, and my reflections on the assigned literature. I proposed a seminar bringing together research efforts that would focus on the history of the Mono, a river that originates in Togo and flows down to South Western Benin. The purpose of the workshop would be to compile and analyse evidence of change in the socio-ecological systems surrounding the river. Making this thought experiment of a thorough multidisciplinary research project focusing on the Mono river really made me appreciate the magnitude of the tasks proposed by the IHOPE project. I also understand more that in order to create knowledge that would be less fractional than what we are used to dealing with, this seems very necessary. Also, I would see that this sort of structure of research projects would really be using our capabilities efficiently by bringing researchers from many disciplines together to work around a shared focus.

24 March Urban Ecology Workshop
This seminar was led by me and Ghide, and it was partly successful, but in some sense I would see that we failed in what we were trying to achieve. We decided to arrange the workshop as a mostly outdoors activity where we would start at the 4H farm at the outskirts of the city and then walk to the city centre while observing our surroundings and discussing. One idea regarding the pedagogy was that walking a longer distance through changing environment while discussing could inspire some different kind of insights than sitting in a room and talking. I was quite happy with how the first part of the workshop turned out, and the discussion at the 4H farm was already fruitful. However, before the workshop we were thinking that the most interesting discussion would be after our two groups had walked through the city and came together to share reflections, and this part was missed because most people continued home before gathering for a final discussion. We did share reflections on the course discussion forum afterwards, but I feel that a face to face discussion would have been more fruitful.
The walk from the 4H farm to the city centre certainly helped me to reflect on the readings we had done for the day. I was reflecting on what kind of non human life is accepted in these different urban commons, and I feel like the city is not seen as a place for any animals bigger than hares, and maybe even they are not accepted. I know that at least in Finland they hunt hares in the city in order to curb the population. The walk form the city’s outskirts towards it centre showed me how the urban space became more crammed, leaving less space for commons, and how towards the centre most animals would be seen as out of place. Still, I am reminded of how Metzger points out that non human life is everywhere, and even our human bodies could be seen as largely consisting of non human life. Even in the most dense urban concentration there is an abundance of non human life, although we might not see it. I don’t mean only birds, rodents, insects and other animals, but all the bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic life that is all around us and that we depend on as well as are threatened by.

21 April Pre-opposition of Ma Theses
On this day we were each giving comments on one second year students thesis as they were at that moment. To me this was a very interesting exercise as I was already familiar with some of the thesis projects from our first current debates event. It was a good insight into the process of thesis work to see how the ideas and approaches of the second year students had changed and developed. It was also encouraging to see that despite their expressed insecurity, the ideas of the students had become more refined, coherent and clearly expressed. I was giving comments on the thesis of Markus and it was a pleasure since I found both the topic and his approach very interesting. By reading the thesis, especially the theory and methodology sections I learnt a great deal on literary theory, discourse analysis and related methods. This area of research was not very familiar to me before, so the fact that I felt informed about it after reading the work of Markus should say something about his ability to explain the theory and methods he was dealing with. Furthermore, hearing from Markus and the other second year students that they appreciated our comments and even found them useful for their work was very motivating to me. I would say this event helped uphold and reinforce a sense of togetherness, that despite differences in experience and academic merits we can discuss and share comments and ideas freely and feel respected for what we give. This has been one of the aspects of the programme and the course that I have appreciated the most, and events such as the pre-opposition have helped to create this sense of respect and appreciation within the course, the programme and even the whole department.

22 September Cont. Past Solutions for Future Transitions, Working with Undergraduate Education
I think that it was a very good idea to have us from the master’s programme to meet the students of the undergraduate course. I am not sure how much the students would feel they benefited from that day, but I would say that I got good experiences. I found that first as the groups described me their topics and ideas so far, I had to be very careful of not putting out too much of my own ideas when I gave recommendations on how they could continue developing theirs. I feel that I should have stated more specifically to every group that they should also be critical about what I am saying, but I think that in the end they followed their own ideas, perhaps inspired partly by what I had to say.
Towards the end of the day I found that my comments had changed from discussing the content of their projects to discussing research questions. More specifically I was telling them to try to formulate a research question already now in the beginning of the work, and then adapting or changing that question if and when they would need to do so as the work progresses. I was also telling them to consider how they will motivate their choice of angle to approach the given topics so to say. I feel that this latter approach might have been more useful to the students since it was more about raising questions than trying to give any kind of answer to what they should look into or how they might structure their work.
I think this way to arrange the mentoring was good as it didn’t demand too much from us, but still created contact between the undergraduate students and us. However, I felt at least myself that I was expected, by myself and others, to be in some sort of an expert role, and in some ways that makes sense, but it could be good to think of ways to help close the socially constructed gap between master’s and undergraduate students, although just meeting in this way is already a good start. I would connect some of my experiences from this event with those from events with second year students during our first year in the programme. This is because I felt that this event contributed to a similar bridging of gaps between what could be seen as different levels of the academia, although the gap in this case was arguably larger than between us and the second year students in the previous events.

26 October From Natural to cultural Landscapes
How this event turned out was especially interesting to me because I would consider it as one of the best examples of the atmosphere of mutual respect and sharing of ideas. First we had a lecture where doctor Valentina Caracuta presented some of her latest work. During this part I would see the setting as an experienced researcher and academic presenting to students and her peers, the researchers from our department who were also present. I would see this as a more traditional setting of students listening and perhaps posing a few questions. When the very informative, and easily approachable, as in for us who have no training in archaeology, talk by doctor Caracuta was finished we continued to the staff break room with her and some of the researchers from the department. The discussion that followed was an exceedingly pleasant experience, where everyone from master student to professor seemed free to express ideas and experiences. I felt that we were also making good use of our differences in our academic and other backgrounds. What was especially interesting to me was the discussion on domestication, about how to define a species as domesticated, about the process of domestication, and what might be seen to separate and connect what we define as domesticated and wild species.

Tue 17 Nov Nature, Narrative and Environmental History
I was leading this seminar together with Wenzel, and the preparatory material inspired a very lively discussion where I found the most interesting content centred around the differences of approaches in what are often referred to as natural and social sciences. I feel that this discussion has been a recurring one throughout the programme and it is quite telling of the challenges and opportunities presented by the way the program is set up. My university studies have been in disciplines that are quite firmly grounded in the social sciences, but this master programme has really given me an opportunity to interact with students whose backgrounds are in the so called hard sciences. This is what was one important part of the discussion in the seminar, as one of us who had previous education in the natural sciences shared her experience of what I would summarize as learning to understand and appreciate different perspectives on knowledge production. On my part I would say that this programme has enabled me to rekindle my interest in the natural sciences and really appreciate the rigour and precision that researchers in those disciplines can achieve. However, I would say that my education in the social sciences has on the other hand given me tools to critically assess systems and cultures of knowledge production. From my experience this critical eye contains the danger of dismissing the work and professionalism of people whose views on knowledge production might seem too rigid to oneself.

About the Course
Reflecting back on the course I would see that the most important thing this course had to give was the atmosphere of mutual respect and sharing of ideas, that I have been mentioning throughout my reflections here. Also the responsibility given to students was something I appreciated, although I think that we were not, or at least myself I was not, always living up to that responsibility. The fluidity of the structure of the course and the good relations between the department staff were also something that I would see contributing to the very special experiences that I got from the events built around this course. I would say that through this course I have felt that I became a part of not only the master programme but the department of archaeology. This is thanks to the willingness and interest of the staff to participate in the events and the discussions therein. In the same way we students have been offered the possibility to take part in the seminars that the staff attend, and I wish more students become aware of this possibility and take advantage of it.