UH hosts Environmental Humanities Symposium

A group of national and international researchers gathered at the University of Houston last month for a symposium in the Environmental Humanities. The event, hosted in part by the College of Liberal Arts and Social SciencesDepartment of English, was titled Vcologies 2.0 and covered a variety of topics including ‘Worlding ecoGenres’ and ‘Energetics and the Extraction’.

“Vcologies” (“Victorian Ecologies”) is an interdisciplinary, international working group of scholars of the nineteenth century committed to environmental approaches in the humanities. Dr. Lynn Voskuil, associate professor of English, is a founding member of the working group.

“The guiding assumption of Vcologies is that the humanities disciplines have crucial contributions to make toward the struggle for environmental justice today,” says Dr. Voskuil. “Members collaborate online and at conferences year round; they also meet face-to-face at least once each year to exchange brief papers excerpted from their current book manuscripts-in-progress. In 2016, the group met at the University of California; in 2018, they will gather at the University of Nevada, and in 2019 at the University of British Columbia.”

At this year’s meeting in Houston, papers touched on an array of environmental topics, including the theme of coal extraction in nineteenth-century novels and the Victorian roots of climate change denial. They also raised a series of important, linked questions, including the following:  

  1. How did concepts such as extinction, biodiversity, and ecology emerge from and shape nineteenth-century literature, science, and culture?
  2. What do histories of the nineteenth century—the period of both rapid industrialization and imperial expansion—have to contribute to the shaping of environmental narratives today? 
  3. Can we imagine new forms of action consonant with our political moment building from nineteenth-century initiatives?

“A highlight of the symposium was an opening discussion of texts focused on the recent flood in Houston and Gulf Coast storms in general,” adds Dr. Voskuil. “These texts included an article on the role of development in altering the local Houston environment and creating conditions that encourage flooding; survival stories narrated by victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and poems by local poet and CLASS English department faculty member Dr. Martha Serpas, from her volume entitled The Dirty Side of the Storm.”