The fourth panel session of the conference will complete a circle by looking at how early modern and medieval ideas of science and nonhuman causation can speak to discourses of the environmental humanities as well as to ideas from modern scientists we will have been introduced to the day before. In premodern cultures, boundaries we assume to be clear between the spiritual and the scientific blurred. This panel explores those blurry in-between spaces and ideas.
The chair of this session is Art Historian (and soon-to-be Dean) Anne Harris, who explores ecomateriality in medieval art and is the person in the world in whose response to the Notre Dame fire I’m most interested. (Her amazing essay on the ecologies of fire, “Pyromena, Fire’s Doing” appears in Jeffrey Cohen and Lowell Duckert’s Elemental Ecocriticism. And I remember when those ideas started as a dazzling talk in Tuscaloosa!) I wonder if she’ll splice in a few quite comments on fire, stained glass, and historical memory into her presiding over this panel.
One special feature of the last of these four sessions will be a collaborative paper jointly presented by the artist Nancy Nowacek, inventor of New York harbor’s amazing “Citizen Bridge” project, and literary ecocritic Lowell Duckert. These two have collaborated in the past, in my open-source collection Oceanic New York, and I look forward to hearing them think together about environmental questions and forms of knowledge.
They will be joined on the panel by maritime environmental historian Christopher Pastore, who does fantastic work on marine science and knowledge practices, and by Liza Blake, a literary scholar who works across the discourses of poetics and physics, with special interest in the wonderfully elaborate poetic physics of seventeenth-century writer Margaret Cavendish, of some of whose poems she’s produced a great online edition that I’ve used in the classroom.
As we wind our way toward the final sessions of “Creating Nature,” we will be combining our shared lexicons, thinking about how we can best speak to each other and to our shared concerns with the nonhuman environment. How might the discourses of spiritualism and religion speak to and with the sciences, both in historical research and in today’s world of skepticism and denialism? What shared projects of meaning-making seem possible, both in the past and today?