Interested in Current Global Environmental Crises?--Take Ruth Mostern's Spring 2019 Common Seminar: The Sense of Place in an Epoch of Loss


Common Seminar (CLST 2050 Wed., 6:00-8:30 PM): This seminar explores the ethical, epistemological, and artistic challenges of doing theory and history in times of profound global loss. Through the activity of the seminar, we aim to develop languages and frameworks for communicating about the Anthropocene as an epoch of loss. At present, discussion about the catastrophic and rapid changes now underway in the earth system -- transformations that include the mass extinction of species, the inundation of cities, and the collapse of entire ecosystems -- focuses largely upon concepts like sustainability, mitigation, and resilience. However, irrevocable loss has already begun, and it will accelerate even under the most optimistic scenarios for human ingenuity and investment. We need new modalities of thinking about loss and commemoration. To an extent that is rare in academia, the issues are largely uncharted. The questions are existential and profound. They include: What are the limits of hopefulness? Is it morally appropriate to pause for elegy when there is so much to be done? Is it morally defensible not to do so? What can we learn from historical cases of civilizational collapse? Does speculative fiction help us envision what may be coming? How can we take stock of what exactly it is that we are losing? 

     This seminar will explore these questions in part by theorizing the concept of place, the lens through which humans name and make meaning about the world.  People name the locations of homes, from which some of us may be displaced forever. Place is a key concept for non-human species as well. Fish return to ancestral spawning grounds, and when they are blocked by dams, entire populations are destroyed.  We will contemplate how to use place as a way to understand the scope and impact of loss, and how to use place as a focus for remembrance. 

     The seminar should appeal to two overlapping groups of students.  Some may wish to focus primarily on the conceptual tools that spatial theory can bring to bear on a wide range of research questions. Others may wish to read works that offer strategies for how to pause and contemplate the nature and degree of the upheaval that is now coming clearly into view. This seminar is intended to offer frameworks for both of those intertwined areas of inquiry.