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Current Projects

Cultivating Sustainability in Language and Literature Pedagogy - Steps to an Educational Ecology

Edited by Roman Bartosch

Drawing on scholarship in the environmental humanities and practice-oriented research in education and literature pedagogy, this book introduces the notion of ‘educational ecology’ as a necessary and promising pedagogic principle for the teaching of Anglophone literatures and cultures in a time of climate change. Its seven chapters address the challenges of climate change and the demand for sustainability and environmental pedagogy from the specific perspective of literary and cultural studies and education, arguing that these perspectives constitute a crucial element of the transdisciplinary effort of ‘cultivating sustainability.’ The notion of an ‘educational ecology’ takes full advantage of the necessarily dialogic and co-constitutive nature of sustainability-related pedagogical philosophy and practice  while it retains the subject-specific focus of research and education in the humanities, focused on and excelling in critical thinking, perspective diversity, language and discourse awareness, and the literary and cultural constructions of meaning.

Website: Routledge

 

Atmosfears

PhD Project, Natalie Dederichs

In many ways, popular narrative of environmental crisis has (re-)constructed and commodified cultural fears regarding the more-than-human world, turning climate change into one of the most misinterpreted and misunderstood phenomena in the twentieth-first century. In my dissertation, I elaborate on what has most recently been termed the ‘atmospheric turn’ (Welton & Woods 2017) by exploring uncanny figurations of atmosphere in contemporary literary fiction. While in the meantime there is quite a boom of studies in literary meteorology, only few have engaged in pointing out the ecocritical potential of the aesthetic-affective experiences provided by narrative texts. Even fewer have had their say on the aesthetics and the ethics of uncanny reading atmospheres. My dissertation fills this vacuum and provides theoretical ground for a conceptualisation of literary atmosphere as an affective agency that interacts with the reader. The introduction of what I term Atmosfears helps me approach this somewhat ‘ghostly’ presence in literary fiction. It is also of use in my interrogation of literature’s role in re-creating and making experienceable the uncanny interrelatedness of matter and text, reader and world. My dissertation is an excursion, too, into the growing subdiscipline of the “Ecogothic”, which applies ecocritical theory to Gothic modes of writing the environment.

 

The Animal West: Animality, Human-Animal Relations, and the Zooanthropological Imaginary in the Era of American Westward Expansion

PhD Project, Dominik Ohrem

This research project engages with the significance of animality and human-animal relations in the context of nineteenth-century American westward expansion. It argues that, beginning in the antebellum decades, Western environments increasingly served not only as spaces of exploration and adventure or for projections of a future continental empire, but, often intersecting with these functions, also constituted a domain of ontological speculation and experimentation that influenced contemporary notions of animality and humanity in an era in which both concepts were undergoing substantial transformation. The project develops the concept of the ‘zooanthropological imaginary’ as an analytical lens in order to make sense of the plethora of writing by literati, journalists, (amateur) historians, explorers, travelers and others in the context of an emerging antebellum print culture that engages with widely debated issues like the supposed bifurcation of human and animal worlds, the fixity or malleability of ‘human nature,’ the uniqueness of human sociality or the implications of human-animal kinship. ‘The West’ – a place that was as elusive as it was concrete, as much an imagined as it was a physical geography – and the liminal spaces of the frontier in particular played a key role in these debates: perceived as lying beyond the pale of civilized society, Western environments seemed to bring humans “back to the wants and resources of their original natures” (Francis Parkman), thus supposedly affording unique and authentic zooanthropological insights. The often commented on presence of, and encounters with, Western indigenous people(s) also throws into sharp relief the inherently political nature of nineteenth-century zooanthropological imaginings, informed as they were by the intersectional dynamics between animality and other vectors of difference such as gender and race.

Besides the ‘savage’ lifeways of Western indigenes, it was in particular the ambivalent figure of the white frontiersman that captured the attention of many contemporary Americans. Supposedly walking the line between ‘savagery’ and ‘civilization,’ this figure occupied a contradictory and precarious dual role: widely recognized as authorities of knowledge about Western life and heralds of the promises of the West, especially in the antebellum decades the men of the frontier – their altered bodies, peculiar habits and speech, and troubling associations with supposedly inferior, ‘animal-like’ types of humanity – also became subjects of anxious zooanthropological inquiry. How, many contemporaries wondered, would the unpredictable forms of environmental and animal agency and the relations between civilized Americans and savage indigenes and wild animals in the sociospatial arrangements of the West affect those individuals (and, by extension, the nation as a whole) who worked there for extended periods of time or even lived there permanently? Did Western environments reinforce or subvert the hierarchical ordering of human and animal ways of being? Did they encourage, or even impose, modes of life beyond the normative framework of civilized manhood and humanity, which had served to legitimize American expansionism in the first place? More than merely an inhabitant of liminal Western frontier environments, the figure of the frontiersman seemingly represented a living embodiment of the boundaries between savagery and civilization, animality and humanity, and the limits of whiteness.

My project argues that contemporary sources testify to a widespread perception of Western environments as ‘animal geographies’ that were characterized by distinctive forms of animal presence and agency and modes of human-animal relations that differed significantly from those in the more anthropogenic rural or built environments of the East with their strongly regulated forms and spaces of human-animal encounter. Westering Americans who commented on the ‘wild liberty’ of the mustang, the thundering immensity of bison herds, or even the curious subterranean ‘republics’ of prairie dogs acknowledged the relative autonomy of animal bodies, movements, and lifeways in expressly more-than-human environments that implicitly questioned Manifest Destiny’s fantasies of white anthro- and androsupremacy – even as they also provided the very setting for the kind of masculinist performances of Western ‘conquest’ at the heart of what Richard Slotkin has termed the ‘myth-history’ of the frontier. While Western environments, imagined as a domain of human and animal ‘savagery’ in need of ‘domestication,’ thus fueled American expansionist endeavors, the material conditions and necessities, the proximity and co-presence of human and animal bodies, and the forceful experience of the (vulnerability of the) human animal body in the West posed challenges not only to the strict separation of human and animal life but also to the violent ontology of ‘Man’ through which animality – understood in terms of inferiority or retrogression – was displaced onto the bodies of racialized others.

 

Classes / Lectures (selection)

Keynote Lecture: "Teaching Animality in the Face of Extinction" (Winter 2019/20, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Roman Bartosch)

Seminar: "American Beasts: Animals and Animality in American Culture and Literature" (Winter 2019/20, University of Cologne, Dominik Ohrem)

Seminar: "Fellow Creatures? Animals and Human-Animal Relations in the 19th-Century United States" (Summer 2018, University of Cologne, Dominik Ohrem)

Guest Lecture: "Animals in Academia: Teaching Literature in the Environmental Humanities" (Winter 2017/18, Bath Spa University, Roman Bartosch).

Keynote Lecture: "Identity and Interdependence: Relationality, Animality, and the Teaching(s) of Literature" (Summer 2017, University of Santiago de Compostela, Roman Bartosch).

Seminar: "Animal Communication" (Summer 2017, University of Cologne, Roman Bartosch & Andreas Rohde)

Seminar: "Teaching | Sustainability" (Winter 2016/17, University of Cologne, Roman Bartosch)

Keynote Lecture: "Creatural Fictions and Aesthetic Relationalities: Making Kin in a More-than-Human World" (Summer 2016, Mid-Sweden University, Roman Bartosch)

"Creatural Fictions and Aesthetic Relationalities: Making Kin in a More-than-Human World"