In the afternoon of the first day of “Creating Nature” (May 23) we’ll dig into probably the knottiest communication problem of the conference: how do environmental humanists speak with the paleoclimatologists whose work has been so crucial in understanding global climate change past, present, and future? What shared language spans ice cores and poetry, tree rings and Shakespeare? I’m looking forward to hearing some possible answers from our second panel.
When I first had the idea to try to bring a climate scientist to our party, I reached out to Noah Diffenbaugh, who teaches at Stanford and whose work appears everywhere from the IPCC report to the New York Times. I’ve known Noah for a long time because he’s married to my wife’s cousin. Based on decades of family vacations, I suspected that long discussions with humanists might not be his sort of thing, but he suggested I contact Valerie Trouet, a climatologist from the University of Arizona who works with historical shipwreck data in the Little Ice Age. To my great pleasure, she’ll be joining us in May — which leaves open the question that Noah, who knows a little bit about my work, was setting up: how might my own work with early modern shipwrecks as semi-allegories of ecological disaster connect to her use of shipwrecks as climatological markers in the Little Ice Age? I’m not sure I have a clear answer yet, which was one reason to recruit the rest of this fantastic panel.
The chair will be Joe Campana, poet and eco-Shakespearean whose work always arrives at just the right phrasing. He’ll be joined, in addition to Valerie Trouet, by medievalist Kellie Robertson, whose work has been dazzling me since we were grad students together in the former millennium, and by Shakespearean Henry Turner, who to my mind is one of our most acute and deft scholarly analysts of the terrain between early modern science and poetics.
This panel will work to bridge numbers and ideas and seek connections between computer models of climate and literary depictions of storm-threatened bodies. I often think about these questions through modes of orientation and disorientation, and also through the capacities of systems to accommodate error, in measurement and in calculation. I look forward to hearing what these four brilliant scholars will say to each other, and to us!