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Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ENHANCE (Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2019-02-28

The main aim of ENHANCE has been 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 (LMU), and the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (KTH)––while Europe’s largest science and technology museum, the Deutsches Museum, and five associated partners from the private and third sectors have been closely involved as well. Secondary objectives have been 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).

The research training has concentrated on three major areas––natural disasters and cultures of risk, history of science and technology, and environmental ethics––and has addressed a series of core interlocking issues: wilderness and conservation; flooding and drought; climate change and risk; production of diverse kinds of waste, environmental justice, and environmental health. In addressing these and other issues, the program has set out 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 ENHANCE ESRs.
At the ITN’s three-day induction meeting in October 2015, ESRs were given an overview of the structure and purpose of the ITN; were formally introduced to representatives from partner organizations (Bündnis Mensch und Tier; Dagens Nyheter; Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) as well as supervisory board members from Leeds, Munich, and Stockholm; and were given the opportunity to present their PhD proposals to the board, with extensive feedback and two-way discussion following in each case. ESRs were also invited to take part in a university-wide colloquium focusing on the benefits of collaborating across media and disciplines.

The development of the ITN as a collective was further enhanced during the first stage by designing a joint website, henceforth actively used by the ESRs; by offering a range of host-institution-led training activities: customized in-house training events, research colloquia, reading groups, seminar series; and by creating a further series of cross-institutional opportunities explicitly designed to bring ESRs together outside of their host institutions. This included the program’s inaugural conference, ‘The Future of Wild Europe’, which took place in Leeds from September 12–14, 2016. This three-day interdisciplinary conference, attracting more than 90 delegates from Europe and beyond, was designed to gauge the meaning, place, and value of ‘the wild’ within the Europe of today and the future.

An October 2017 five-day summer school on Public Environmental Humanities in Stockholm was organized by the Stockholm-based ESRs with solid support from other ENHANCE team members at KTH. Highlights of the Summer School included lively public talks by the American ecofeminist scholar Stacy Alaimo and the Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental journalist Dan Fagin; a guided tour of a local ethnographic museum; and a series of practical talks and workshops at the headquarters of Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s widest circulating daily newspapers (and one for which, during the course of the program, several of the ESRs would come to write).

Further features of the 2017–18 period included a series of programme-related training events and workshops, several of them organized by the ESRs themselves, preparation for the culminating 2018 conference-cum-exhibition in Munich, and a raft of international activities, both group and individual, that spanned several different countries in Europe and elsewhere. Several of these activities went far beyond the traditional bounds of academia, and a defining characteristic of the ITN as it developed was the willingness of its young participants to engage with environmental issues in the public domain.

All 12 ESRs were highly active, continuing to produce collaborative as well as individual work and coming together as a group to organize and implement the main event of this particular period: a three-day conference-cum-exhibition co-hosted by LMU and the Deutsches Museum and running from October 17 to October 20 2018. The main aim of this thrilling open-to-the-public event, which also featured keynote addresses from world-leading environmental scholars Robert Bullard, Sheila Jasanoff, and Erik Snydegouw, was to showcase the work of the ESRs themselves, which was exhibited through a series of state-of-the-art posters and VR installations. The event also provided a further opportunity for the ITN to work together with some of its associated partners, with workshops on environmental management and the role of media in supporting sustainable development being delivered by colleagues from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Dagens Nyheter, respectively.
In most cases, several publications have resulted from project research, and nearly all the ESRs have developed impressive publication portfolios that––should they choose––will create a solid platform for future academic work. Some ESRs (Carruthers-Jones and Gough, for example) have used innovative ‘walking’ and VR methods, while others (Lakhani and Yoho) have shed new light on both historical and contemporary disaster events. Some have had the courage to confront controversial topics (Oomen’s work on climate engineering, for instance, or Lagier’s on the Brazilian landless movement), while others (Allen and Valisena, for instance) have used anthropological and/or historical inquiry to radicalize the intertwining of social justice and environmental health. Some (e.g. Antonova and De Smalen) have done pioneering comparative work on European coastal ecologies, while others (Peterson and Van Dam) have produced work on water-related issues (‘dead zones’ in the Baltic, water scarcity in Almería) that is as creatively imagined as it is critically thought.

However, probably the main achievement of the ITN has been a collective one––the general progress made by these gifted young scholars in building communication and leadership skills that will serve them well in a wide variety of both academic and non-academic professional careers. Few if any of them prior to embarking on the ITN had much experience in communicating their ideas beyond a restricted academic audience; now all of them have. Few if any had experience, but now all of them have, in organizing academic workshops and conferences or in working together with non-academic institutions, from regional museums to national newspapers to international NGOs. As noted above, it was particularly pleasing to see the ESRs’ confidence build as they progressed through the program, and it was also gratifying to see them take increasing control of their own destinies, both individually and collectively.