CfP: ESEH 2021 Conference – Same planet, different worlds: environmental histories imagining anew
The European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) is pleased to invite proposals for our upcoming conference at the University of Bristol, UK. We want to host a conference for a post-plague world. Right now, our old ways of living have been interrupted, disrupted and ruptured by the COVID-19 outbreak. This devastating global pandemic carries an undeniable message of our entanglement across continents, species, societies, and bodies. Yet the virus hits us differently. We are all on the same planet but we are experiencing radically and divergently altered worlds. We thus draw inspiration for our conference theme from Arundhati Roy’s observation: ‘But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next’. The conference will provoke questions and conversations that can help us through the gateway. After all, our conferences have always been meaningful reactions to global conditions. Twenty years ago, at St Andrews we held the first ESEH Conference on ‘Environmental History: Problems and Potential’. Two decades later, we are now long past ‘potential’ – we need urgent intervention from historians in the crises of our times.
We embrace history that matters and our discipline’s ability to create ‘useable pasts’ for unusual times. This conference moves from the premise of an entangled world: first and foremost enmeshed in a global pandemic, a shared ecological crisis and climate catastrophe, as well as cultural connections from past colonial and postcolonial histories. Understanding entanglements and challenging boundaries has been important in bringing us together over the years. In Prague, we considered the boundaries of ‘diversity’. In Zagreb, we tackled boundaries as ‘contact zones’. In Tallin, we explored the boundaries ‘in/of environmental history’. In Bristol, we cross the boundaries into a new world.
Thus this conference resists a ‘return to normality’. These are extraordinary times and this will be an extraordinary conference. At this critical moment, as historians we need to look without and within. Certainly, we need to engage with the wider world: environmental historians are vital in today’s biggest planetary emergencies. Yet at the same time, we need to engage within our own discipline to rethink our academic practices in terms of environmental realities. This means thinking about writing ethical history, sustainable history and history that matters.
We want to use this opportunity to imagine anew: both how we have conversations (the conference format) and what the conversations are about (the possibilities of our discipline). This conference thus will be engaging in experimental new ways of sharing and generating knowledge, including a blended and collaborative co-learning environment.
Possible topics to be discussed under the umbrella concept of ‘Same planet, different world’, include, but are not limited to the following:
- Pandemics: Politics, panics and panaceas
- Environmental histories of public health and public policy
- Industrial and agricultural impact on disease
- Resisting the return to normality: the activist historian and strategies for sustainable research
- Environmental histories of ‘wicked problems’
- Edge effects: the uneven fallout of climate change
- Other knowledges: vernacular histories and indigenous knowledge systems
- Burning issue: fire histories
- Justice and the past: writing history in the time of Black Lives Matter
- Technology and envirotechnical systems in natural resource protection and conservation
- Environmental justice: the legacies of colonialism and post-colonialism
- Writing more-than-human histories
- Creativity and the historical discipline
- The possibilities and pitfalls of interdisciplinary research
- Imagining other futures
We also welcome papers/provocations/presentations on environmental history outside the conference theme.
We acknowledge the uncertainty of our times and the sustainability issues relating to international conferences. The ESEH believes in the value of a physical conference. Post-COVID, being in place together will hold new significance. But we also recognise that it may not prove possible – or desirable for some – to meet face-to-face. Our conference will therefore offer some online possibilities for those delegates who cannot make it in person, including keynote and plenary livestreams, poster sessions, and opportunities to connect with each other online. Planning a large international conference in these COVID-19 times is a difficult business. While acknowledging our gratitude to the Local Arrangement Committee in Bristol as they on the uncertainties of this situation, the ESEH is also making preparations for a fully digital conference in case major disruptions in international travelling will impede the materialization of the in-person conference.
An Inclusive and Diverse Conference
Commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion is at the heart of ESEH. We recognise the unique contributions of every member of our society and seek ways of ensuring that people of all identities and in all circumstances can contribute to our biennial conference and to the wider life of our society. We strive to promote equality and diversity at our conference, in relation to conference participation, and the composition of topics comprising the conference program. We also endeavour to create a platform to encourage active and sustained debate on issues of marginalisation and accessibility amongst our members.
We want to create a set of inclusive conference practices and ‘resist the normality’ of hierarchies and silos. In this different world, new conference practices are available to us. We will consider all historical periods, all geographical areas and all disciplines. To bolster diversity at the event and promote new forms of networking, we are hoping for panels/interventions where the presenters come from different regions, generations, genders, different institutions or different disciplines. We also encourage demographic balance and the use of emergent scholars as facilitators/session chairs. Graduate students will be offered a special reduced fee.
We are looking for session suggestions, individual papers, roundtables, posters and other, more experimental sessions. Of course, panels and roundtables are indispensable and constitute much of the conference, but we need new modes of conversation. So we encourage submissions that introduce a productive conflict of views, interpretations, or methodologies:
- Panel sessions
Sessions are 3 papers of 20 minutes each or 4 papers of 15 minutes each. Other formats (debate panels, roundtables) should be submitted under the Roundtable or ‘Different World’ session categories. Session proposals will include a session title and session abstract of 200-300 words; list of contributors and a chair; and individual paper titles and abstracts of around 200 words each. Session proposals may also include a commentator/discussant in place of the fourth paper – or not. Please remember, all sessions should include sufficient time for general discussion.
- Individual papers
Contributors may also submit individual papers of max. 20 minutes, which will be combined into sessions of three to four papers in case of acceptance. However, the scientific committee prefers session submissions, and cannot guarantee thematic coherence for the combined sessions. Paper proposals are to consist of an abstract of 200-300 words.
Scholars can also propose 90-minute roundtables, consisting of panels ranging from 3-6 people and a chair who speak to a common question or theme. Successful roundtables involve interaction between the panelists, an active chair who shaping the conversation, and time for the audience to interact with the panel. Roundtable proposals are to consist of an abstract of 200-300 words.
- Posters and Virtual Posters
Poster proposals will include an abstract of 200-300 words. There will be a designated display area, and a special plenary session for all poster authors to present their research in 5 minutes time per poster. The Environment & History Poster Prize sponsored by The White Horse Press is awarded to the best poster (€100 award) and the 2nd place poster (€50 award). We will also permit short videos in lieu of posters, to enable digital dissemination of research. For ideas on presentation see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RwJbhkCA58
“Different World” Sessions
In the spirit of rethinking the conventional, we welcome proposals for unorthodox sessions with creative formats. To submit a proposal for a special session, please provide a 200 word abstract, describing the activity, including any special logistics you might need. Ideas include:
– Workshops and new research tool demonstrations
Teach others your skills at GIS, writing, offer mentorship or field-work tips.
– “Difficult conversations”
Presenters address sensitive issues within environmental history within a safe space. We use what we call Chatham House Rule 2.0: The discussion is not tweeted and remains within the confines of the room.
– “Flipping the panels”
Papers will be made available in advance as draft papers or even short video presentations. Rather than just summarize their paper, presenters come to the panel with questions they need answered to improve their research. Instead of just listening to presentations, audience members come with their own questions/suggestions. The panels become conversations between presenters and the audience in collaborative research eﬀorts. This is also an inclusive way of extending the peer-review process.
– History Cafes
A facilitator provides a question on a pre-determined topic or proposes a problem that needs solving. The group divides into smaller groups, discusses, and submits feedback for the larger group at the end. Conversation and participation are the key processes and collaborative projects are stimulated.
– PechaKucha presentations.
In this rapid “chit chat” format invented in Tokyo, speakers show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and speakers talk along with the images. It is like an “elevator pitch meets karaoke!”
– Soundclash debates
We import this idea from the music industry too. Soundclashes normally occur when two different bands or djs play against each other on either side of the stage. The conference encourages intellectual frisson by debating opposing points of view over contentious issues (methodology, theory, historiographical model) in environmental history.
– Book lounge
We encourage authors to offer a reading from their recent book. Also welcome are shared discussions of a single book, major paper, movie or even primary source is the subject on which other presenters are focused.
– The Historian in the Mirror
Reflective roundtables that examine our own academic practices, activism and ourselves.
Each person can be a primary presenter in only one session proposal, but can also serve as a chair/commentator in a second session proposal. The conference language is English; no submissions in other languages will be accepted. All proposals will be reviewed by the ESEH Program Committee. All proposals should be submitted through our online submission system:
The submission deadline is 31st October 2020.
Those who have secured a place on the programme will be advised of this by the end of the calendar year. They will be asked to pay a non-refundable deposit of 50 Euros (which will be subtracted from the overall conference registration fee) by mid-February 2021 to secure their place on the programme. In light of the financial damage that can be wrought on scholarly societies in these unprecedented global circumstances, we hope that you understand why we need to ask for this.
Questions about proposals should be directed to the Programme Committee, Professor Sandra Swart, through the email email@example.com.
For more information about the conference and the venue, visit https://eseh2021.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/