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Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ENHANCE (Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe)

Reporting period: 2015-03-01 to 2017-02-28

ENHANCE (Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe) is a pioneering doctoral training network aimed at providing the first fully coordinated programme for Environmental Humanities in Europe. Environmental Humanities is a relatively new but rapidly expanding research field that complements environmental science and public policy by examining the social, cultural, and ethical factors that underlie such major areas of European and wider international concern as water shortage, species extinction, and accelerated climate change. Environmental Humanities proceeds from the basis that these are not just technical problems to be solved, but also cultural issues bound up in the different values and attitudes we hold and the different stories we tell each other and ourselves. Hence the value of humanities research in analysing these narratives, in assessing the values and attitudes embedded within them, and in tracing the histories of problems that are not necessarily as new as they are sometimes made out to be (a good example here is climate change). At the same time, the academic research generated by ENHANCE has direct practical relevance as well, with the various non-academic partnerships built into the programme –– which cover a range of sectors including heritage, charity, utilities, media and communications, and waste management –– allowing its participating researchers both to gain professional experience and to relate their work to the everyday issues faced by European employers, and by European citizens as a whole.

The main aim of ENHANCE is to train twelve early-stage researchers (ESRs) based at three of Europe’s leading universities for environmental research –– the University of Leeds, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, and the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm –– while Europe’s largest science and technology museum, the Deutsches Museum, and five associated partners from the private and third sectors are closely involved as well. Secondary objectives are to give ESRs the academic and complementary skills training they need to place them at the forefront of a new generation of Environmental Humanities research; and to provide potential employment for ESRs in a wide range of careers including environmental consultancy, risk assessment, research and development, green business management, sustainable technologies, media and communications, and not-for-profit work (environmental and wildlife NGOs). Research training concentrates on three major areas –– natural disasters and cultures of risk, history of science and technology, and environmental ethics –– and addresses a series of core interlocking issues: wilderness and conservation; flooding and drought; climate change and risk; and waste management, environmental justice, and environmental health. In addressing these and other issues, the programme aims to contribute to key European environmental policies including the Climate Change Programme, the European Sustainable Development Strategy, the Water Framework Directive, and Natura 2000, with research-related policy documents, co-written within each work package, being one of the outputs expected of ESRs.
At this mid-point of the programme, all twelve ESRs have been recruited, in full compliance with European Research Council guidelines and with due attention given to gender balance and geographical and disciplinary range. All twelve have made significant progress with their individual PhD projects, which together cover a broad range of topics and involve fieldwork, both in Europe and beyond. The projects include work on the preservation of wild spaces and species; social and cultural responses to natural disaster and water scarcity; and climate ‘solutions’ and agro-ecological initiatives, while spanning case studies from Italy to India, and the Baltic to Brazil. Fieldwork has been undertaken in these and other sites, research findings have been presented at international workshops, conferences, and summer schools, and –– in some cases –– academic papers have been published, along with a wide variety of other written outputs including newspaper articles, opinion pieces, and web logs. Indeed, a feature of the work done so far has been its innovative mix of critical and creative initiatives, with ESRs using the full range of their creative talents in such areas as art, poetry, photography, and documentary film. Equal creativity has been shown with research methods, which have worked across traditional disciplines and have developed new investigative practices including locally inflected walking methodologies and adaptations of GIS (Geographic Information Systems).

Meanwhile, bespoke training has been provided for ESRs at each institutional site via a series of Environmental Humanities-themed workshops, colloquia, invited lectures and seminars, with ESRs able to benefit from the excellent infrastructure provided by all of the main partner institutions, which have also supplied them with the research facilities, office space, and equipment needed to meet their training needs. ESRs have also been brought together in a number of different events and activities –– notably a major international conference in Leeds, ‘The Future of Wild Europe’ –– and have worked intensively with one another, taking increasing responsibility for organising their own training in such areas as policy writing, fieldwork preparation, and the challenges of cross-disciplinary work. ESRs have also taken the lead in organising short internships for themselves at a variety of local and international institutions and companies, while longer (2-month) secondments have been arranged for them, to be taken at ITN partner universities (i.e. other than in the host country) during the next year or so.
Progress beyond the state of the art can be seen in the following three areas: (1) innovative cross-disciplinary research, (2) pioneering cross-institutional collaboration, and (3) creative as well as critical work relating to humanities perspectives on contemporary European environmental concerns. In terms of impact, a distinction can be made between achieved and anticipated impact. ENHANCE has primarily achieved impact so far by working with its non-academic associated partners, especially Dagens Nyheter (DH: a Swedish daily newspaper) and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT: a British-based environmental NGO). Several ESRs have written pieces for DH, generating publicity for both the programme and their own research, while ESRs were collectively responsible for co-organising a successful ‘family day’ with YWT at its Potteric Carr nature reserve, the main aim of which was to educate children about the importance of their surrounding natural environment. ENHANCE has also generated attention via a series of attractive open-to-the-public events, notably well-attended talks given in Leeds by the then newly elected President of Iceland, Gudni Jóhannesson, and by Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s granddaughter, the filmmaker and environmental campaigner Céline Cousteau. Finally, in terms of anticipated impact, ESRs have been encouraged to disseminate their work as widely as possible to a diverse range of audiences. In particular, two policy training workshops have been held to help ESRs translate their academic research into European policy initiatives and to establish contact with policy experts, both locally and at the European Commission (EC).
Dolly Jørgensen giving keynote lecture at Future of Wild Europe conference
Six ENHANCE ESRs speaking about visual ethnographic methods at 2016 conference
ESR Anna Antonova building signposts at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Family Day, September, 2016
Gudni Jóhannesson, The President of Iceland, giving his public lecture at Leeds ENHANCE conference
ESR Eveline de Smalen giving research presentation at Brussels mid-term meeting, March 2017
Newly-hired ESRs at ENHANCE project kick-off meeting in Munich, October 2015
ESRs Jonathan Carruthers-Jones and Jesse Peterson studying newts at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Family
Project Coordinator Graham Huggan and ESR Irma Allen discussing project research in Yorkshire
ENHANCE project members meeting in Leeds, September 2016