Conference speakers and abstracts
- Harriet Ritvo is the Arthur J Connor Professor of History at MIT. She has research interests in British history, environmental history, the history of human-animal relations, and the history of natural history. She is the author of The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism (Chicago UP, 2009), The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Harvard UP, 1997), The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Harvard UP, 1987), and Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras: Essays on Animals and History (Virginia, 2010); she is also the co-editor of Macropolitics of Nineteenth-Century Literature: Nationalism, Imperialism, Exoticism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), and the editor of Charles Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).
- Libby Robin is an historian of science and environmental ideas. She is Professor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University and Senior Research Fellow at the National Museum of Australia's Centre for Historical Research. She is Guest Professor at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm in the Division of History of Science and Technology (2011-2014). Libby has published widely in the history of science, international and comparative environmental history and the ecological humanities. She has won national prizes in History (How a Continent Created a Nation), in Zoology (Boom and Bust), and in literature (Flight of the Emu).
- Haripriya Rangan is Associate Professor of Geography at Monash University. She is interested in issues that address regional sustainability and resilience from the perspectives of economic geography, development, and political ecology. Her current project focuses on Movements of plants across the Indian Ocean into northern Australia prior to British occupation and settlement: This is a collaborative research project with Associate Professor Christian Kull (Monash) and Dr. Daniel Murphy at the Melbourne Royal Botanic Garden. She is investigating how the baobab and mimosa bush may have been brought across the Indian Ocean into northern Australia. In this project the team are drawing on three different sources of information - Portuguese, Spanish, and Arab records; phylogenetic analysis of plant specimens from the Indian Ocean littoral, and folklore about the two plants around the Indian Ocean Rim - to reconstruct possible connections and ways through which these trees may have arrived in northern Australia before British occupation and settlement of this region.
- Eric Pawson is Professor of Geography at the University of Cantebury, New Zealand. He is co-author, with Tom Brooking of Seeds of Empire, The Environmental Transformation of New Zealand (2011) and is preparing a second edition of Environmental Histories of New Zealand. He was awarded the Distinguished New Zealand Geographer Medal in 2007 and a National Tertiary Teaching Award in 2009.
- Simon Pooley is a Junior Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and an AHRC Research Fellow at Imperial College London. In his current research he is applying historical analysis to conservation science and practice, as part of an AHRC-funded interdisciplinary project at Imperial College London, working with the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and the Conservation Science centre. The aim is to enable genuinely interdisciplinary dialogue on some major problems of the environment. In Oxford he is continuing his research interests in the environmental history and ecology of wildfire, and biological invasions, work so far published in Environment and History, Environmental History, Journal of Southern African Studies and as book chapters for Earthscan and Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
- Jodi Frawley is an environmental historian with research interests in transnationalism and history of science and technology as they relate to environmental change. She is interested in the transnational networks that formed through the global movement of plants and their consequent impacts in local environments. Her current research project is called Environments of Fear and Hope: Overabundance, scarcity and the circulation of botanical knowledges through intercolonial networks 1850-1950.
- Christina Alt is postdoctoral research fellow in the English department at University of Sydney. Her research focuses on historical intersections between literature and science. Her current project examines the discourse surrounding ecology as it emerged as a scientific discipline in the early twentieth century and the impact of this discourse on modernist representations of nature. This expands on her earlier work which traced late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century developments in the life sciences and popular perceptions of these developments as a basis for understanding Virginia Woolf's responses to established and emergent approaches to the study of nature
- Alison Bashford is Professor of Modern History, University of Sydney. In 2009/10 she was chair of Australian Studies, Harvard University, with the Department of the History of Science. She is completing Life on Earth: Geopolitics and the World Population Problem (Columbia UP). Other current projects include the 2 volume Cambridge History of Australia, co-edited with Stuart Macintyre, and an edited book on Pacific histories, with David Armitage.
- Gilbert Caluya is Postdoctoral Research Fellow of The International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, Hawke Research Institute in the University of South Australia. His research explores the ways in which intimacy has become a primary site for the management of racial, ethnic and religious populations via the differential distribution of civil rights, responsibilities and duties.
- Matthew K. [Matt] Chew is an Assistant Research Professor in Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, where he teaches courses contextualizing science in society. An ecologist and historian, his cross-disciplinary research focuses primarily on the history, philosophy, practices and intellectual structure of invasion biology. Matt’s interest in the field stems from practical experience coordinating conservation programs for Arizona State Parks during the 1990s, and led to his receiving ASU’s first "Biology and Society" themed Ph.D. in 2006. Matt’s work has appeared in journals including Science and Nature, and in several edited anthologies. He is currently reworking his dissertation "Ending with Elton: Preludes to Invasion Biology" into a major monograph. Many of his publications are available for download at http://asu.academia.edu/MattChew/Papers
- Heather Goodall is a Professor of History at UTS and has researched and published in three major areas: indigenous histories and relationships in Australia; environmental history, focused on water, rivers and oceans and tracing in particular the ways environmental issues are used in social conflicts and inter-cultural social relations and intercolonial networks, particularly those between Australia and India and around the Indian Ocean, and including the decolonization conflicts of the mid 20th century in India, Indonesia and Australia.
- Lesley Head is an ARC Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research at the University of Wollongong. She has researched human-plant relations in diverse contexts including Aboriginal land management, backyard gardens, wheat farms and invasive plants.
- Peter Hobbins is a Doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Sydney. He trained initially in literature and pharmacology - focusing his research on snake venoms - before working as a medical writer. Returning to study, he pursued his lifelong passion for history via a Master of Medical Humanities degree. As a historian of science and medicine, Peter's publications to date have largely centred on the structures and projects of twentieth-century Australian medical research. Currently undertaking a PhD at Sydney University, his project explores the dynamics between lay, medical and scientific knowledges in constructing the identities of venomous animals in nineteenth-century Australasia.
- Peter Marks teaches in the Department of English at the University of Sydney. He has published on surveillance and utopia, film, social realism in the 1930s, literary periodicals and Margaret Atwood. He is the author of British Film Makers: Terry Gilliam (2009) and George Orwell the Essayist (2011).
- Cameron Muir is an environmental historian at The Australian National University, whose main research interest is in Australian places changed by agriculture. He is interested in the history of agricultural societies and the environments in which they are embedded could be viewed as the struggle to take advantage of the benefits of agriculture while contending with the vulnerabilities that are inherent in agricultural systems. He explores how nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about biology, race and population – at once productive and generative, but often dark and unstable – played a role in shaping modern agriculture and food production.
- Emily O’Gorman is an Associate Research Fellow in the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research at the University of Wollongong. Her forthcoming book is Flood Country: An Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin (CSIRO Publishing, mid-2012).
- Kirstie Ross is a graduate of the University of Auckland, and currently works at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa as a history curator. Exhibitions she has curated include Te Papa’s permanent environmental history exhibition, Blood Earth Fire: Whangai, Whenua, Ahi Ka, which opened in 2006. Her book, Going Bush: New Zealanders and Nature in the Twentieth Century, was published in 2008 as part of Auckland University Press' 'Studies in Cultural and Social History' series.
Christina Alt, Prickly Pears and Martian Weeds: Ecological Invasion Narratives in History and Fiction
It has long been recognised that in writing his classic work of science fiction, The War of the Worlds (1898), H.G. Wells drew on contemporary scientific thinking. Scholars have examined Wells's allusions to evolution theory, the concept of entropy, astronomical accounts of the features visible on the surface of Mars, and scientific speculation regarding the possibility of life on the red planet. My paper will argue that in constructing his tale of alien invasion, Wells also drew on another emerging field of scientific work: the study of the impact of species introduced into an environment to which they are not native, a discipline that would later be consolidated under the name invasion ecology. By the late nineteenth century, there was a growing recognition of the fact that the introduction of non-native species could have unforeseen, disruptive effects upon environments. The red weed brought to Earth by the Martian invaders in Wells's narrative bears a striking physical resemblance to the prickly pear, a plant species native to the Americas which when introduced to Australia became a pest species that had by the late nineteenth century rendered large tracts of land unsuitable for agriculture or human habitation. Wells's description of the red weed's rapid and inexorable spread reads like a heightened account of the prickly pear’s spread through Queensland and New South Wales. My paper will examine the possibility that the spread of the prickly pear through Australia provided a historical model for Wells’s tale of alien invasion.
My paper will also use a later work of Wellsian science fiction to illustrate the development of the field of invasion ecology and the related field of pest control in the early twentieth century. Wells's 1923 novel, Men Like Gods, imagines a futuristic Utopia in which human beings have achieved complete dominance over the natural world and can cultivate, modify, or eradicate species as they see fit. Whereas The War of the Worlds reflects an awareness of the devastation that invasive species could cause, Men Like Gods suggests that, through science, total control over nature will one day be possible. Although this scientific confidence may strike us today as an implausible fiction, my paper will demonstrate that the optimism evident in Wells's novel also pervades to a surprising extent the rhetoric of those engaged in combatting the prickly pear in Australia in the early twentieth century. It is my contention that Wells's novels serve as surprisingly accurate indicators of scientific knowledge and attitudes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Alison Bashford, Human Invasion Ecology: Huxley, Wells, and the Science of Life.
In the magnificent encyclopedia of life on earth, The Science of Life, biologist Julian Huxley tried to communicate plainly to an everyman reader, what was at stake in the ecology then bursting onto the intellectual scene. Not yet the accomplished science communicator he was to become, this was an apprenticeship, of sorts, with the great author of science fiction and fact, H.G. Wells. This paper explores how invasion ecology figured in The Science of Life. Charles Elton had not yet written Invasion Ecology, but his early ideas certainly made an appearance (as did Australia's prickly pear). Animal ecology was of particular interest to Huxley and Wells because of its explanatory relation to human population growth and distribution, just then being problematized as world-scale.
Gilbert Caluya, Fragmentary Notes to a Postcolonial Critique of the Anthropocene
Despite the tenuous status of the concept of the 'Anthropocene' within the field of geology, the concept has nevertheless garnered growing interest from the humanities. The anthropocene is used to mark a period of time when human activity has drastically changed the face of the world such that it approaches a geological force. As a concept it helps us to grasp the immensity of the problem of climate change – to grapple with its global nature – and it acts as a banner to rally us into responsibility. Some argue that this instantiates a new humanities, others that the humanities must now undo much of their prior thinking to meet the call for responsibility. Yet the humanities have long argued for a more environmentally conscious approach to life and living. Anthropologists in particular have enabled us to see that others live in more harmonious existence with the world around them. So what precisely do we gain from the concept of the 'Anthropocene'? Or, more importantly, what gets left out of the picture when we use this lens?
This paper traces the emergence of the concept of the Anthropocene in geology, paying particular attention to its historical imagination. Geologists locate the beginning of the anthropocene firmly in the Western European Industrial Revolution. If we take Western European culture as an 'invasive ecology', as evidenced by the colonial expansion of Europe across the globe, how might this affect the way we see the anthropocene? How would recognising the colonial enterprise or empire help us grasp the difficulty of establishing a 'universal' agreement between nations? And what would this tell us of the status of the human, the anthrōpos, in Anthropocene?
Matt Chew, Adopting and adapting a father: Charles Elton's meaning to invasion biology.
Charles S. Elton's 1958 The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants is often called the beginning of an era, but several decades passed between its publication and its recognition –or co-opting – as invasion biology’s "bible". Who was Elton? What was he trying to accomplish? How were his ideas and his book structured, and how were they received at the time? This presentation sketches Elton’s biography in relation to developments in his attitude toward species introductions. It looks at examples of his rhetorical strategy from The Ecology of Invasions and lesser-known publications, then provides a summary analysis of 23 reviews of the book published between 1958 and 1962, showing the wide range of reactions it provoked at the time. It closes with thoughts on what recommended Elton as a father figure[head] for the nascent sub-discipline of invasion biology after his death in 1991.
Jodi Frawley, Containing Prickly Pear
By 1923, the introduced prickly pear (Opuntia and Nopalea spp.) covered up to 60,000,000 acres of Queensland and New South Wales that was perceived as prime agricultural and pastoral land. After forty years of experiments with legislation, science, poisons, and sheer brute force, all had failed. Faced with this failure and a diminishing expectation that the land would ever be conquered, the Queensland government established Royal Commission appointed to inquire into certain matters pertaining to the prickly-pear problem to conduct a review. From a close reading of the witness evidence it is apparent that settler anxieties about who could or should occupy the land shaped the kinds of strategies recommended and adopted in relation to these species. In this paper I argue that physical and cultural techniques were used to manage the uneasy co-existence between prickly pear, on one hand, and farmers and graziers on the other. Furthermore, these techniques were directly related to the racial formations under the White Australia Policy.
Heather Goodall, Mangrove Bush Battlers: mangrove actors in the conflicts to save bushland on the Georges River, 1945 to 1985
This paper will trace the shifts in attitudes to mangroves in local, working class conservation campaigns along the Georges River in the 1970s. Mangroves (predominantly Avicennia marina) are a native species endemic on the shores of the estuarine lower Georges River. They have become invasive in the conditions generated by European settlement, most noticeably since the early 20th century. This mangrove expansion prompted widely divergent responses which led to rising political conflict over environmental and public planning. Local governments were struggling with the mounting waste produced by a population explosion in a new, high consumption economy. They identified the expanding mangroves as a health risk and proposed a win-win solution by choping out the mangroves and filling swampy areas with garbage to turn the area into golf course, sports ground or park. Local working class residents had welcomed the first isolated projects for land ‘reclamation’ in the 1950s, because although they were trying to conserve native bushland, they also remembered the open beaches and sandy shores along the rivers before the recent mangrove expansion. But by the mid 1960s, this welcome had soured. Garbage had kept accumulating, rubbish tips seemed to be proliferating, and more and more areas of bushland appeared to be threatened with ‘reclamation’ to provide more dumps for garbage. Rising public protest occurred in the later 1960s and burst into the open in the early 1970s, with many petitions, much press and TV coverage and eventually State parliamentary support for conservation and an end to land fill. A key ally in generating public sympathy turned out – ironically – to be that embodiment of disturbance, the expanding mangroves. Without the tough and invasive hardiness of the mangroves, which had allowed the species not only to survive but to expand, it would have been harder for the 1970s conservationists to mount their case to save any of the bushland at all. Although ecology was developing as a science at the same time, influencing a widening of interest among conservationists, their public campaigns were demonstrating instead a sequential narrowing from diversity to a focus on a single, 'iconic' species – even though iconic in this case not because it was loved but because, even though inconvenient, it was so visible and well known.
Lesley Head, Bodies and mobility in invasive plant management.
Taking plants seriously requires respect for their shared material differences (plantiness); differences which give them lives of their own, but also entangle them in human worlds. These entanglements – and the agency of plants - are particularly visible in the field of invasive species management. A dual focus on the body (including its rhythms and temporalities) and mobility enables us to unpack questions of agency in some detail. In this paper we focus on the embodied relations between invasive plants and the people who manage them. Using the examples of Rubber Vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora), Gamba Grass (Andropogon gayanus), Neem (Azadirachta indica) and Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) from our ethnographic research in central and north-western Australia, we examine how these particular plant bodies and human bodies come together in the context of invasive plant identification, location, removal and surveillance. We also examine the multiple mobilities involved, highlighting challenges for effective weed management.
Peter Hobbins, Invasion ontologies: venom, visibility and the imagined histories of arthropods
Biotic invasion is typically a narrative of ecological novelty – of exotic species patently 'out of place'. Thus a putative 'invader' must be rendered both newly visible and historically alien to a locale. These discontinuities are in turn predicated on constructs of speciation that encompass hereditary, morphological, ecological and behavioural stability across time and space. They furthermore operate, in Lorraine Daston's usage, via a culturally consensual process of 'objectivity'. Such has been the case for the morphologically similar Latrodectus spiders currently known as the katipo in New Zealand and the redback in Australia. Once Europeans arrived in New Zealand in the 1830s, painful pākeha experiences confirmed enduring Māori tapus surrounding the katipo's venomous bite. Indeed, in a century when spiders were rarely noted – let alone feared – the katipo rapidly invaded global literatures as the world's deadliest species. In Australia, however, spiders per se remained absent from medical, scientific, ethnographic and exploration literatures until redback bite reports emerged in the 1860s. This sudden visibility spurred both a rapid expansion in its reported biogeography and trans-Tasman negotiations over the redback's identity that endure to the present. By 1870, similarities between these Latrodectus congeners raised uncertainties over their relative toxicity, biological synonymy and thus their historical indigenity: which was the original, and which the invader? The rhetoric of 'invasion' thus encompasses more than novel visibility against an absence of Indigenous, historical, zooarchaeological or palaeontological records. Also at stake are anthrozoological frames of ecology and the ontological instability of 'dangerous' arthropods as transhistorical actants.
Peter Marks, 'The Borders Between Heaven and Hell: Environmental Threats and Possibilities in Utopias and Dystopias'.From at least as far back as the Garden of Eden and the blighted land East of Eden, utopian spaces have often between bordered by dystopias. Ecocritics have considered the environment through what might be seen as utopian and dystopian tropes such as the pastoral, the wilderness and the apocalypse. Environmental disasters, however, often break down the barriers between these spaces – temporarily or permanently – generating and requiring new ways of understanding the relationships between humans and the spaces they inhabit. 'Invasion' can come from both side of the border. Surveying an array of recent novels and films, this paper aims to explore the ways in which recent utopias and dystopias have represented and analysed the increasingly fraught interaction between humans and the environment. It will investigate how these creative texts offer critical warnings of the potential disasters that await but also hopeful and pragmatic visions of worlds that are, if not quite utopian, far from apocalyptic. Utopias and dystopias offer provocative thought experiments for thinking about threats and possibilities, both for humans and for the environment.
Cameron Muir, Natives and invasives in experiments in the rangelands
In 1898 the New South Wales Colonial Government sent a young man named Robert Peacock to a place 'where every prospect displeases, and all but man is vile'. His mission was to transform the 'forbidding wilderness' and 'wastelands' of the Bogan Scrub into wheatlands. Peacock arrived to find the native grasses and shrubs overgrazed – some of the never to return – and the soils compacted and bare. Spiny, hard and unpalatable plants had 'taken complete possession', invading millions of acres that were then abandoned.
The self-taught experimentalist rejected his official mission and began learning about the native vegetation. He gave nature a voice. Peacock believed the plants had something to teach the settlers about the semi-arid environment. He used Darwinian terms to advocate for their supreme adaptability to the dry, the heat, and the poor soils.
Agriculturalists at the time did not see their role as transformers paving the way for industrial agriculture. They saw their role as one of repair. It is a history worth exploring as the semi-arid woodlands of the Bogan River country continue to confound and resist in the war on weeds.
Emily O’Gorman, Remaking wetlands: rice fields and ducks in the Murrumbidgee River region, New South Wales, Australia, 1924 to 2010.
In 1924-25 the first commercial rice crop was grown in the New South Wales State Government’s Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA). The success of the crop was celebrated by farmers in the Area – which began operation in 1912 – who were eager to find a suitable product to grow in what had proved to be challenging farming conditions. This crop changed the fortunes of farmers and the MIA, and the area under cultivation increased rapidly. Rice, a semi-aquatic plant, also changed the water landscape of the Murrumbidgee River. The river experiences both intermittent drying and flooding, which the MIA and associated dams were intended to alter to make river flow more consistent. One of a range of changes brought by river regulation was the additional aquatic environments created by rice fields, which have also sometimes diverted water from existing wetlands. These new bodies of water attracted several species of native Australian ducks, water birds whose breeding is dependant on the occurrence of floods. Since its first cultivation, ducks have been blamed for damaging rice crops by some farmers (but not all), quickly becoming controversial figures in the region. To this day, one of the major issues remains whether ducks actually damage crops; another has been whether they should be conserved in these environments and for what purpose. This paper examines the changing water landscapes of the Murrumbidgee River together with some of these controversies, which involve ducks, plants, farmers, hunters, conservationists, Aboriginal traditional owners, government ecologists and others. It focuses on a number of key questions: What do these events reveal about broader understandings of rivers, wetlands and ecology? How have the different interests of all those involved come together? What has counted as a wetland for whom and with what consequences?
Eric Pawson, Narrating an unstable landscape: improvement, adaptation, alignment on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
What has been the nature of relations over time between native forest and introduced grasses in 'improved' landscapes? The standard narrative of change in places like Banks Peninsula focused on deforestation, invasion and cultural assertion. This address argues that it is also beneficial to employ a networked narrative, locating such places as global as well as local: in which they not only represented adaptations to international agricultural trading systems but in turn exported biotic materials to remake landscapes elsewhere. Today however a 'destabilising narrative' seems more appropriate, as forest/grassland margins become, along with human/nature values, more messily aligned. This suggests, as has recently been said of Guthrie-Smith's writing, that we should see things 'in terms of processes and tendencies that resist reduction to the cartoon binaries of colonist or invader, improvement or ruination'.
Simon Pooley, No tears for Crocodiles
Perhaps we should rethink biological invasions in such a way as to escape the ideas that they involve the intrusion of exotic biota from foreign places, and are essentially human-driven. After all, the central problem is concern about harmful changes to local ecosystems when they come to be dominated by previously absent or apparently stable species. Such changes can just as well be caused by indigenous biota. Questions of scale and agency are key: how far must a crocodile swim before it is invading a new territory? What lengths of time are we using to decide what is native and natural? Has the invasive species been assisted (or not) by humans in some unsporting, 'unnatural' way?
I will use a case study, the alleged invasion of parts of Lake St Lucia in South Africa by crocodiles in the 1950s, to reflect on the kinds of questions we should ask when confronted by an apparent 'invasion'. We are told that defining a biological invasion should not be left to natural scientists, but in practice it seldom is. Statements about dispersal and concentration of invasive species are often matters of perception, or rhetoric, at least in the framing of 'the problem'. The underlying causes of the 'crocodile furore' in this case were complex, including prejudice and ignorance about crocodiles, disputes over land use, landscape engineering, high-profile incidents (attacks), local environmental conditions, crocodile hunters, and the agency of individual crocodiles.
Haripriya Rangan, "Doing Right by Country": The Pastoral Industry and Prickle Bush Management in Northwest Queensland, Australia
This paper explores the debates centred on the control of introduced species and pastoral land management in northwest Queensland. The pastoral industry in this part of the Australian 'Outback' developed over the latter half of the 19th century, an era of settlement expansion into the northern 'frontier' and a time when ideas of 'improvement' and 'acclimatisation' were promoted by colonial governments and embraced by European settlers. The prickly acacia (Acacia nilotica) was introduced to northwest Queensland during this epic period to assist the process of pastoral expansion. Today, the prickly acacia (along with other introduced prickle bushes) is no longer regarded as a saviour of the pastoral economy, but as an invasive species that is harmful to the pastoral industry and native biodiversity. State and national government agencies responsible for primary industry, natural resources and water, and national parks advocate control by physical uprooting, biological control, or application of herbicides. These methods have evoked a great deal of argument and differing responses from pastoralists regarding prickle bush control and the broader goals of pastoral land management commonly expressed as 'doing right by country'.
Harriet Ritvo, Back Story: Migration, Assimilation, and Invasion in the 19th Century
The nineteenth century saw numerous transfers and attempted transfers of animal populations, mostly as the result of the spread of European agriculture. The exchange of animal populations facilitated by the acclimatization societies that were established in Europe, North America, Australia, among other places, had more complicated meanings. Introduced aliens were often appreciated or deplored in the same terms that were applied to human migrants. Some animal acclimatizations were part of ambitious attempts to transform entire landscapes. Such transfers also broached or blurred the distinction between the domesticated and the wild. The intentional enhancement of the fauna of a region is a forceful assertion of human power. But most planned acclimatizations failed, if they moved beyond the drawing board. And those that succeeded also tended to undermine complacent assumptions about human control.
Libby Robin, Resilience in the Anthropocene: A Global Concept with local origins
Resilience is a powerful concept for natures, cultures and societies in the era of the Anthropocene. This paper traces its role as both a metaphor and a tool that transcends its origins in post-war ecology. Under C.S. Holling's 1973 definition, resilience was defined as a measure of 'the persistence of systems and their ability to absorb change and disturbance'. Its value in ecology was that it enabled ecologists to think about systems shifting from one state to another, adapting to change and circumstance, without necessarily returning to an equilibrium state. As ecology moved away from the idea of 'natural balance', an assumption of earlier natural history, it needed new tools that described the interactions between dynamic systems, including interactions between nature and anthropogenic landscape change. Sustainability of production and persistence of ecological systems have become interwoven in a conceptual paradigm for an interdisciplinary endeavour that is more than ecological, and is global in scope. Nevertheless the idea of resilience developed through work on specific local ecosystems, particularly the closed, finite ecosystems of north American freshwater lakes, and the heterogeneous landscapes of the arid Australian rangelands, which challenged the mathematical rigour of the concept in different ways. This 'biography of an idea' explores the history and geography of resilience and the factors that supported its transition to the global policy area: specifically, the shift to treat the 'social ecological system' (SES) holistically, the rise of economics in ecology (including the notion of ecological services), the definition of the geological era of the Anthropocene and the scientific institution of the Resilience Alliance.
Kirstie Ross, 'Blood sweat and tears: the making of Blood Earth Fire, an environmental history exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa'
In April 2006, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa opened Blood Earth Fire, a new permanent exhibition dedicated to Mäori and Pakeha interactions with and understandings of the landscape. The exhibition takes as one of its major themes, the ecological invasions of Aotearoa New Zealand.
The gestation for this exhibition was particularly long. Its first version, known as 'Human Impact', was drafted in 1993, but the concept was not progressed for the re-opening of the museum in 1998. In 2001, former Te Papa exhibition concept leader Geoff Hicks, blamed 'institutional timidity' for this 'Day One' omission. But what factors made this narrative too risky for the museum in 1998, and non-negotiable for inclusion eight years later? This paper will consider the shifting institutional and museological contexts and concerns that saw 'Human Impacts' eventually transformed into Blood Earth Fire. With the national story of nature, cultures and society in place, this paper also asks whether Te Papa, as Hicks thinks it ought, now engages visitors 'in a way that advances environmental consciousness'?