At the German Studies Association Conference in Denver in October 2013, the network will sponsor its first set of conference panels under the theme of “Nature Writing/Writing Nature”:
Nature Writing/Writing Nature (I): Methods
Nature Writing/Writing Nature (II): Contexts
Nature Writing/Writing Nature (III): Example I: Pests and Pollution
Nature Writing/Writing Nature (IV): Example II: Biosphere—Bioethics
The Environmental Studies Network, founded in 2012, is an interdisciplinary effort within the German Studies Association to promote eco-critical approaches to environmental issues through literary, historical, sociological, visual, and cultural perspectives. German-speaking culture has a long and complex relationship with questions pertaining to the natural environment. Scholars of German literature, history, and cultural studies have analyzed the long and rich adoration of “nature” in the German Romantic tradition, historians of science have investigated the origins of modern ecological thought in the work of Ernst Haeckel, and political scientists have produced a voluminous literature on the origins and significance of Germany’s Green Party and the “post-material” values of the post-1968 generation. Germany is also emerging today as one of the leaders in sustainable industrial development.
Yet “environmental studies” and “environmental humanities” as they have emerged in North America are just beginning to be developed as fields of inquiry within German Studies. Scholars within the Environmental Studies Network are keenly interested in examining how these areas of study, which include political and philosophical questions drawn from deep ecology, eco-feminism, environmental justice, “new materialism,” and the Anthropocene, might inform our understanding of German culture and society. Yet they are also re-discovering and re-interpreting “environmental studies” in light of German-speaking Europe’s own philosophical and theoretical engagement with Umwelt in the work of Jakob Johann von Uexküll, the phenomenological ruminations on being in nature from Martin Heidegger, and the principles of Nachhaltigkeit found in the applied forestry of Hans Carl von Carlowitz.
The German Studies Environmental Studies Network welcomes debate and dialogue with the natural sciences and policy studies. Indeed, it is also our goal to show that environmental problems are always already cultural and scientific, ethical and technological. In our view, “ecological thinking” encompasses scientific, aesthetic, ethical, and historical thinking, and all of these modes of inquiry can and should inform our understanding of the causes of and possible solutions to our most pressing environmental concerns today—climate change, species extinction, and water shortages, just to name a few.