Monday, July 20, 2015

Ecocriticism at Leeds: Food, Feast, Famine

Food, Feast and Famine: Medieval Ecocriticisms
International Medieval Congress, Leeds, July 2016
Call for Papers

Medieval Ecocriticisms seeks papers and/or brief position statements for one or more sessions related to the 2016 Congress theme of “Food, Feast, and Famine.” Given sufficient interest, we will run a round-table session with five to six brief position statements as well as one or more tradition sessions with three twenty-minute papers.

These sessions ask the question, broadly construed: How can ecocritical perspectives illuminate medieval relationships with food, including feast and famine? Papers might consider the effects of weather and war on crop yields, medieval relationships with eating animals, literary constructions or documentary descriptions of any of these and / or other aspects of food in the Middle Ages.

This proposal seeks papers from various disciplines, including art, art history, history, literary studies, archaeology, the history of science, and more, addressing times and places across the medieval period.

Please submit 100-word abstracts with two to four index terms as well as your full name, title, affiliation, and postal and email addresses. The full call for papers, including a link to a list of index terms, is here:

For more information or to propose a paper, contact Heide Estes at

Ecocriticism at Kalamazoo

There are a few sessions planned for the May, 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo that look to be of potential interest for medieval ecocriticism:

The Environmental History Network for the Middle Ages has been allocated space for four sessions organized by Ellen F. Arnold (

Kathryn Vulić ( is organizing a special session on "Wild and Tamed Spaces in Middle English Literature. The organizers for both sessions are open to papers that take ecocritical approaches. 

In addition, Medieval Ecocriticisms ( is organizing a roundtable session on "Why the Middle Ages Matter," seeking explicitly ecocritical brief presentations. Here's the call for papers on that one: 
In their Introduction to Why the Middle Ages Matter: Medieval Light on Modern Injustice, Celia Chazelle, Simon Doubleday, Felice Lifshitz, and Amy G. Remensnyder make the case that an understanding of medieval ideas about power and justice helps to illuminate contemporary political and social issues concerned with power: who has it, who doesn’t, how it operates in contemporary nations and cultures. The essays in the volume address gender and sexuality, dis/ability and deviance, race, class, ethnicity and prisons. The editors acknowledge that an important topic not included in the volume is environmental history. They note that the contraction of economies in the early Middle Ages and the attendant reduction in the volumes of garbage produced in comparison to the late Roman era and suggest that this is a possible model for the reduction of consumption today. 
This round-table seeks short presentations that respond to Chazelle et al.’s call for future work on medieval environmental issues by considering what medieval texts and artifacts can teach us about how individuals and polities of the period conceived of their relationships and responsibilities to the non-human. Papers might address agriculture, wilderness, water, animal studies, urbanization, light and darkness, the relationships of gender, race, religion, and dis/ability to environmental questions and formulations, from the perspective of how such medieval formulations matter to the modern world. Papers are sought from a wide variety of disciplines, including but not limited to archaeology, art history, history, and literary studies. 

The Call for Papers for the Congress is here.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Twitterati: Twitter Activism

These are my notes for a presentation in a roundtable discussion on “The Twitterati: Using Twitter in Medieval Scholarship and Pedagogy” organized by Carla Thomas at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, which took place yesterday.


I became an environmentalist when my mother loaned me her copy of Diet for a Small Planet somewhere around 1983, and I learned that Argentinian subsistence farming was under threat from beef grazing for the US hamburger market. And after  spending the past year writing a book about the Anglo-Saxons’ ideas about the environments they lived in, I’ve come to an increasingly strong conviction that a global capitalism predicated on constantly increasing consumption and production is a major contributor to global warming. I’ve long been a believer in the old green mantra, “reduce, reuse, recycle,” to which environmentalists have recently added “refuse,” i.e. refuse to buy, reject consumption. As a result of concentrated thinking about the issues while writing a book over the past year it has become clearer to me that capitalist economies are pushing consumption and growth, while pushing governments (especially that of the US) to enable them to maximize production growth, for instance through the recently passed trans-pacific partnership (TPP) trade agreement. We are long past the point of “sustainable” development.

In writing and speaking in academic contexts about my work, whether scholarly or pedagogical, I make it clear that my work on ecotheory and the Anglo-Saxon world comes with environmental commitments. Writing about attitudes toward the environment in a scholarly forum or teaching students about the environment is based on the assumption that information can lead to change. But for me, environmentalism involves the further commitment to activism. I tell my students that in my courses we assume that climate science is valid, and that I am convinced that climate change is the greatest crisis of our time. We all need to stop consuming. Meat, clothing, water, gasoline, whatever it is, we all need to reduce consumption. Drastically.

But in a scholarly or pedagogical forum, the main goal is to educate. If I push an activist message too hard in a conference paper or in the classroom, I risk alienating the audience or the students. My audience on Twitter, however, is self-selected. If they don’t want to hear my exhortations about climate change, they can un-follow me, and regularly, they do. But if they’re willing to listen in, I will try to educate them as well, in more activist manner.

I’ve been blogging since 2007 and, more recently, tweeting, to try to reach a broader audience and to write in a forum where I don’t feel I have to self-censor. Friends, family, and complete strangers can choose to read my blog or follow my tweets, and can unfollow me if they find them too extreme. I have developed my Twitter account and my blog without reference to friends or family, but rather as a digital space in which I can connect with other people with similar ranges of interest: environmentalism, feminist and queer and anti-racist politics, and issues around disability and chronic illness.

I also participate in Twitter as a follower of other activists. I often hear about demonstrations and protests and, yes, on-line petitions, via twitter. These are the Big Twitterers, with thousands if not millions of followers. But we Little Twitterers have a role to play in Big Twitter Activism: we can boost signal and get the word out to people who might not be following the big accounts. Most of the well-know twitter activist activity has taken place in physical places where I’m not present: Ferguson, Arab Spring, Charleston, and more. Following the twitterstream allows me to know, faster than from the news media, what’s going on. And again, I can retweet in solidarity and support. When demonstrations are happening near me, I often find out on Twitter.

As HuffPo writer 2morrowknight writes in an article on twitter activism, “What is a great activist, you ask? I'll tell you: one who informs you of the issues, inspires you to take action, and empowers you to make a difference.” I can count on one hand people I know I’ve made a difference to, whether writing about vegan cooking or living with chronic illness or moving farther away from consumption and toward a minimalist life. But that’s still a handful of people I’ve made a difference to. And in ripple effect, they’ll have an impact on other people they know. It’s not huge, but Ama Yawson, another HuffPo writer, points to the millions of people using social media and the importance of posting about stories. “Spreading articles about police brutality and intelligent commentary on the subject has led to new highs with respect to awareness and action. Moreover, as news stories relating to the police brutality gain attention, news organizations are encouraged to continue to devote resources to covering cases of police brutality.”

I also live-tweet conferences, which may seem to be very different from hashtag activism. But tweeting, for instance, ecocritical sessions from this conference allows me to let a wider audience – academic and non-academic – know about the fact that people are doing ecologically based work in a variety of humanities disciplines. It also brings my identity as an academic into play with my identity as environmentalist and activist. And it lets non-academics in on a secret: English professors are regular people, too.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Eco Sessions at IMC, Leeds

For those interested in ecocriticism in/and the medieval, here's a list of sessions that may be of interest. If I've missed any, please let me know.

Monday 6 July

14:15 to 15:54

206 Animals and Humans, Humans and Animals: Reflections through Reaction

208 Cultural and Socio-Economic Responses to Extreme Weather and Weather-Related Natural Hazards in the Middle Ages, I

16:30 to 18:00

308 Cultural and Socio-Economic Responses to Extreme Weather and Weather-Related Natural Hazards in the Middle Ages, II

309 Being Led Astray by Medieval Animals: Pharmaceutical Badgers, Hairy Bears, and Vanishing Elephants in Late Medieval Europe

325 Byzantium in Context, II: Environment, Economy, and Power - Crisis and Renewal in the Byzantine World

Tuesday 7 July

16:30 to 18:00

838 Economic Innovation and Environmental Concerns in Late Medieval England: Papers in Honour of Richard Britnell and John Munro, IV

Wednesday 8 July 

09:00 to 10:30

1005 New Approaches to Medical History, with a newly added paper on "Galen and the Horse-Doctors"

14:15 to 15:45

1201 Heaven, Hell, and Heorot: Environments in Anglo-Saxon Literature

1227 Destruction, Desertion, Revival: Medieval Military Invasions and Their Long-Term Socio-Economic and Ecological Effects, I

16:30 to 18:00

1327 Destruction, Desertion, Revival: Medieval Military Invasions and Their Long-Term Socio-Economic and Ecologic Effects, II

19:00 to 20:00

1401 Climate, Land, and Environment at Late Medieval Herstmonceux: A Round Table Discussion

Thursday 9 July

9:00 to 10:30

1505 Landscapes/Seascapes, I: Shaping Territorial Identities

1507 The Anglo-Welsh Frontier in the Middle Ages, I

11:15 to 12:45

1601 Riddling in Anglo-Saxon England and Beyond, II: Eco-Criticism and Animal Studies

14:15 to 15:45

1706 Water: The Control of Nature and the Nature of Control