Tue 17 Nov: Nature, Narrative and Environmental History

Start Forums Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History 2015 Tue 17 Nov: Nature, Narrative and Environmental History

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December 1, 2015 at 21:11 #17598
Lauri Jokinen

Hello everyone,

Post your reflections about the discussion seminar on the work of William Cronon here by Thursday 3.12.

Also post a comment on the reflection that is below yours in the thread by 6.12.


December 1, 2015 at 23:38 #17600
Sanna Karlsson

In our discussion we foremost discussed the interview with William Cronon. We talked about boreness and that Cronon suggested that we learn why we are bored and try to change it. In some ways we agreed on this. There are two sides to it. First of all, curiosity is important in what you do, and there will be boring things along the way anyways which need to be overcome. Yet, if one is thoroughly bored (which I believe is hard to find), things will not get done, neither if one is thoroughly curious, since there will be no peace to settle down on one thing. So there needs to be a mixture.

I brought up one aspect of boredom which somewhat contradicts Cronon, and that is that boredom can be considered a skill. I do not mean always, toward most things, but truly it is a valuable skill nonetheless. It is through boredom that I am taught not to do certain things, while I gain more energy to pursue the passions of my heart. This is one important aspect, it is not good for us to be too divided, but instead single-minded on the work we have before us. However, as we discussed, there will always be obstacles of boredom on the way of getting to our goals and this is where boredom is to be overcome as mentioned earlier. But over all, I believe in today´s society when we are expected to be updated all the time, to follow along in everything, to get bored with things like Facebook can be beneficial for thus can we use our time on more important things. To shut things out can be a skill that we do not want to live without.

We also discussed knowledge and how it can make us boastful. One suggested that if we keep our curiosity we will be humble enough and not try to disprove others with our knowledge. I´m not sure if I fully agree. For one can be curious and yet have selfish motives that make them proud and wanting to disprove other with their knowledge. What is in the heart, that is the issue. What focus we have and what we use our curiosity for. The old saying, ”knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”, I believe is relevant here. Knowlegde isolated can always lead to boastfulness, while having the focus of loving ourselves and others will always keep the knowledge where it should be, keeping love as our main focus. For I believe only love can break down pride, and not merely curiosity.
Another thing I found interesting in todays discussion is how we tend to value academic knowledge above other knowledge which we get from everyday life. However, sometimes our everyday life affects us more than what we can learn from the academic world. I consider both as important. Some information might not have been gained and understood was it not for the academic world, or vice versa, outside the academic world. One example was how if I speak to a person and get that person´s experience on something, I should consider that as knowledge just as valid as any academic knowledge. This is good to understand. However, I might say it probably will be easier for the social scientist or human scientist, since they work with interviewing people. This is therefore a larger step to take for the natural scientist who do not work with people in that same way. Nontheless I think it is very important to consider, since that in itself can make one more boastful, if not thinking others knowledge is as important as my own.

December 2, 2015 at 18:47 #17601

Fanny’s refelction https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mf9ou0J63Op56wSV4HuY0SgnUkSTe_HLAy803tJZIPY/edit

December 2, 2015 at 18:48 #17602

Fanny’s reflection https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mf9ou0J63Op56wSV4HuY0SgnUkSTe_HLAy803tJZIPY/edit

December 3, 2015 at 11:56 #17603
Sanna Karlsson

Fanny, I cannot access your reflection. Could you please post it in a different way?

December 6, 2015 at 18:32 #17610
Sanna Karlsson

Reflection to Fanny:

You wrote in your reflection of the seminar concerning us surrounded by short information everywhere we go and how this can make us disoriented of our place in the world:

The more complex and connected the society gets, the more do one person need (and want) to keep along with the surrounding society. This takes time and effort. The more things you need to bear in mind, the less can you go on the depth. But the loss in depth also makes people lose interest. We became more hungry on fast and quick info, just because we need to stay connected with a complicate society, however this do also detache us at the same time which makes us bored and uninterested in complex issues.

I understand this dilemma. I believe there is an answer to this. As the society gets more complex, there will be no chance we could keep up with it, as you said, we have limited access to time and effort. Maybe finding our place in the world is instead about becoming more simple and thus more selective in what information we choose to attend to. As you mentioned, much of the info is unneccessary. If we were more selective could we also go in depth on the things which really matter to us and also hopefully there would we find our place in the world. This could mean to choose ”fika” with some class mates, rather than watching more TV. Choosing to look at Facebook only once per day is another example. But each need to find their things to cut out.

You also posed the question: Is an article like a scientific blog post? I would say so. However probably to more value than a regular blog, or that is,depending on what it contains. The difference is that scientific articles tend to later end up in a book summarizing for example what´s new in the academic field concerning a newly discovered bodily enzyme. I have a bachelor i Biomedicine, and there I bought books on for example, the anatomy of the human body. It was a thick book, all based on articles and research. I must add here that there is a good thing I believe to often wanting quick information. For example, if one research, one will always get quick overviews of a book, or abstract of an article, in order to select whether the information is interesting and needed or not. Thus again, is selection something of great value.

December 8, 2015 at 09:41 #17611
Sarah Rodrigue-Allouche

William Cronon seminar
Unfortunately I did not attend this seminar, but William Cronon is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring scholars of our days.
In the interview we had to watch, Cronon explains what environmental history is and how we are to use it today.
Cronon highlights the importance of telling a story even when doing history, which I utterly agree with. People could get interested in environmental history and thus be better able to understand our current environmental crisis if environmental history was narrated in an entertaining way .
Narrative is thus capital. Not a too simple narrative such as that of progress or that of the fall, but a more complex narrative. The history of mankind and his environment is above all a history of choices.
Cronon also suggests that environmental historians should be able to sum up informations for the public to get more interested. Indeed, as Fanny underlined, few people are willing to read long articles and long books which makes it more difficult to grasp all the subtleties of an author’s idea.
It is then possible to spread compact information about environmental history for the general public which is not so interested in getting in depth, and make available long resources such as books and articles for those who want to get more in depth.
Cronon successes at making people interested in his books because he masters the art of the narrative. He knows how to tell a story which can captivate his audience. To him, environmental history is not an overly simplistic narrative of humans’ fall from nature nor the narrative of human progress and detachment from society. It is a much more complex story in which mankind is a species among other species.
I agree with Sanna that it is paramount to choose which kind of information do we want to be exposed to and which kind we do not want. One must choose how to spend his time and energy, and what does he want to be exposed to.
Academic knowledge and other kinds of knowledge are both valuable. They both help us to make us sense of the world.
Environmental history helps us to understand our place in the world today. It helps us dismantling prejudices and dichotomies. As Cronon wrote in “The trouble with wilderness, or getting back to the wrong nature” (1996), it is in understanding that there is no such thing as wilderness that we can reclaim our place in the world. That ultimately we do not exist apart from nature but we exist as part of nature. That being integrated, we can thus start to live life on a different basis and to choose which kind of information do we want to absorb. One must obviously be careful because many texts, books or articles are built on fake assumptions. Thus, the importance of reading critically in order to be a good environmental historian. This is definitely something that Cronon teaches us.

January 5, 2016 at 01:16 #17622
Meghan Buurmans

My complementary assignment:

17th of November

This is my complementary assignment for the 17th of November, which I could unfortunately not attend due to my exchange. I say unfortunately, because it looks like a very interesting discussion that bring back a few points we have already discussed before. I will respond to the interview with Cronon and to my classmates reflections, since they raise a lot of points that immediately captured my attention too. These include the use of the narrative and the discussion of humans being part of nature instead of being above nature.

What I first want to consider before I start is that both Cronon and also Worster are both American environmental historians, which I believe is slightly different than the environmental history we practice, which is very interesting, since it gives us a different perspective to. When I followed an environmental history course In Los Angeles and also during our conversation with Worster, it seemed like US Environmental History includes more science and biology and less humanities aspects. However, it seems to me that William Cronon is actually very much thinking about environmental history as a way of thinking differently and includes more humanities aspects, which is why I believe it would have been very interesting to have met him. In the interview he mentions this multiple times, how writings can be an addition to simply looking at geology etcetera.

I found it interesting to come back to the issue of narrative in history, since that is also how some of us started this degree. In the introduction week we discussed multiple times how history is not made up of facts or an objective truth, but how many aspects can influence how we see history, aka how a story is created. This can simply be as easy as when to start or stop a story, which facts to include and which sides you look at. I believe it is important to keep repeating this and I appreciate academics focusing on this, especially since they are often taken very serious. I believe that sometimes people, especially from a science background, can have difficulties accepting history as a field, since it cannot be measured and there is often no objective answer. The importance of well known individuals in the academic community therefore addressing this is very important in my opinion.

In my classmates comments I came across the discussion of intellectual or academic knowledge versus daily or more practical knowledge. I obviously was not there for the discussion, but it seems like a very interesting point. Academic knowledge obviously has its value and should not be considered less. However, especially in environmental issues, including environmental history, there are a lot of things we can learn from people interacting daily with the environment and from people who have historically been able to have personal interaction with issues we can only study second hand.

January 5, 2016 at 14:58 #17627
Miguel Núñez

The next reflection answers to the question: How the modern environmentalism understands the concept of “wilderness”, according to W. Cronon? Here, by drawing the main ideas wrote by the author I will do a critic about his propose about rethink the modern concept of “wilderness”. The main omission of that proposal is the perverse effects that massive industrialization has on the conservation big ecosystems of the world such as the Amazonas.
1. The “wilderness” concept is a human construction that depends on the social and historical context where the human being lives.
2. For instance, in the context where the bible was wrote by the evangelists, the “wilderness” refers to an untamed terrain which lacks water, where cultivating and harvesting are hard practices for the human hands and where maintaining human families was the first and only priority.
3. Such ancient concept inspired all the theocratic governments until the coming of the cultural movement of the romanticism, in the late XVIII century, which understood “wilderness” as a place where human being could feel sublime experiences. Usually, those places were pristine and far from human concentrations, where the perception of the firmament, the sea and the mountains lead to metaphysic sensations by its immense qualities. In comparison with the human creations made as image and similitude to its needs, the natural formations counts with immensurable sizes which highlights the smallness of human being.
4. Such understanding about the “wilderness” was the basis for the cultural developments of the Romantic Movement that drew a generation discontented with the modern promises. By highlighting the contact with nature rather than with the human, the romanticism propelled the sublime over the beautiful.
5. That aesthetic distinction, between both categories, was initiated in the modernity with the philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose definitions helps to explain, for instance, how a built house to resist the winter could be beautiful and the whiteness of the snow which falls during three months in order to give light in the darkness could be sublime.
6. According to W. Cronon a great part of the modern environmental conceptions about the “wilderness” maintained a preference for sublime experiences more than by beautiful sensations. For instance, the idea about the conservation of pristine landscapes as refugees is a modern trend inspired mainly in the Romantic Movement and its idea about the sublime but that today is enjoyed only by tourists.
7. As maintaining pristine big sizes of forests and seas has been the principal work for modern environmentalism, W. Cronon thinks that it is time to rethink the concept about “wilderness”. If, in line with sublime and romantic concept mentioned above, the small landscapes founds in cities and urban centers are not considered as nature, a great part of the sources of aesthetic enjoyment for the modern human being could be deleted.
8. A good historical example about such contradiction is the forced displacement, by the European white man, of the ancient American Indians from their own lands with a pretext of conservation of the pristine nature. In that case, the human dwellers of the north American landscapes lost their material and cultural inheritance and after, they were extinct as people.
9. Thus, according to W. Cronon the modern environmentalism based on the sublime concept of “wilderness” must be modified in order to answer to the current circumstances of the urban formations. In my opinion, the other side of such statement is the degradation of natural formations of great valor by the growing and developing of industrial societies.
In my opinion the essay of W. Cronon despite of that highlights problems of environmental justice which may be ignored by a romantic approach of the nature and wilderness, does not propose a real option to affront modern challenges that threats to modern industrial societies. The author believes that only by a personal concern where individuals controls autonomously their uses and consumes on natural resources, could be solved disasters such as industrial waste, polluted rivers, massive degradation of forests and extinction of species. But, how modify personal habits without a change in the offers that the industries make daily? I consider that the approach of W. Cronon is based on a way of life according to the massive consumption, the free capital and the economization of the daily life. These three pillars of the way of life of modern societies must be analyzed in order to lead real changes that improve expectations of victims of environmental injustices.
CRONON, William. The problema with Wilderness or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. New York: 1995, p. 69-90.

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