Researchers of Early America Consider How to Respond to the Climate Crisis at Upcoming Conference

By EHAC Steering Committee

On June 16 and 17, 33 scholars will come together in “The Climate Crisis: Early Americanists Respond,” a workshop organized by EHAC (an EDGI working group), the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Early Modern Studies Institute, and the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities. Why is the Environmental Historians Action Collaborative helping to organize an academic conference? As a working group of EDGI, what are we trying to accomplish?

First, we’re hoping to help support scholars who are developing new lines of inquiry in researching the climate crisis. We want to promote scholarship tracing the deeper past of the crisis and showing how that past still matters in the present in many different ways. Scholars presenting at the conference show how plantation geographies both served as engines of carbon emission and continue to shape the landscape of oil refining and environmental justice. They help us see what early histories of mining and the appropriation of Indigenous land and knowledge can tell us about fossil fuel development, resistance to it, and the impending rush for “critical metals.” Others show how seemingly dead theories of climate’s relationship to health and the body are still deployed to make harm to Black people seem natural.

By bringing these different researchers together and amplifying their work, we hope to create a community that raises complex questions about climate and power and brings them to classrooms and to public debates.  Early Americanists have considerable experience contributing to public debates about race and racism, memorialization, genocide and the appropriation of land, and the rise of new ideas about gender and sexuality. The climate crisis is not yet a standard feature of Early American studies—we aim to make it one.          

If our first goal is to shift what we talk about as scholars, our second is to shift how we talk. The organizers and sponsors want the event to embody the conviction that the problem of climate change is real. Consuming massive amounts of fossil fuel to attend academic conferences that address environmental issues is beginning to look tone deaf, if not hypocritical. Video conferencing technology is perfectly effective for most academic meetings, whether those take place entirely online or else in a hybrid format. This conference is a hybrid event. People who attend in person are encouraged to use low carbon forms of travel (not cars or airplanes) and program participants may only request reimbursement if they don’t use cars or planes (with exceptions for people who may have disabilities that affect mobility). Otherwise, people are extremely welcome to participate through video conferencing—they are participants equal to those who come in person. We use this hybrid format so that we can share knowledge about climate in the past, but in a way that acknowledges our current climate crisis and may provide a model for other such events.

For more information and to register, please see the conference web page