Wednesday, December 30, 2015


AWU-CER Lunchtime Lectures 2016


By Dr. Kevin M. Anderson, AW Center for Environmental Research
 

The Unity of Nature: The Creation, Discovery, and End of Nature

In 1798, Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was appointed by the King of Spain to make the first extensive scientific exploration of Spanish America. “I shall collect plants and fossils and make astronomic observations. But that’s not the main purpose of my expedition – I shall try to find out how the forces of nature interact upon one another and how the geographic environment influences plant and animal life. In other words, I must find out about the unity of nature.” Equipped with the most sophisticated scientific field instruments of his time, Von Humboldt traveled through the New World mapping the biogeography of the Americas from 1799-1804. At the end of his journey, he had a new vision of nature – of isotherms, ecosystems, food webs, watersheds, climate change, and complex interconnectivity – and he had invented the concept of nature that we have today.

Before returning to Europe, at the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson, he stopped in the new United States and met with Jefferson and others. Through that meeting and his subsequent writings, he opened American culture to his vision of nature. On his return to the Old World, he became the most celebrated and influential scientist of his age. No one had a greater impact on the modern concept of the earth as a “natural whole” - a biogeochemical system open to rational explanation yet charged with imaginative potential and threatened by human mismanagement. This idea of nature - as an ordered unity, as a globally complex system of interconnections, as a cosmos open to imagination and wonder, as a subject for exacting scientific study, and as an object of human mismanagement – is now a familiar concept, however, in America, Von Humboldt is largely forgotten.

The 2016 CER Lunchtime Lectures will explore the concept of nature and Von Humboldt’s legacy. We will begin by examining the creation of our Western ideas of and the study of nature which laid the foundations for Von Humboldt’s ideas. From there, we will trace the influence of Von Humboldt on science, literature, and environmental management. In Europe, his influence ranged from shaping the ideas of nature for Goethe and the Romantic poets to inspiring scientists like Darwin, Agassiz, Haeckel, and others. Moreover, no other European had as great an impact on 19th century American intellectual culture from the sciences (Agassiz, Gray, Bache, Maury) to literature (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Muir) and painting (Church, Catlin). In 1869, the centennial of his birth was celebrated across the globe, from Moscow to Mexico City and, in the United States, most cities hosted celebrations, with 10,000 people joining President Grant in Pittsburgh while 15,000 attended the festivities in New York City. One hundred years later, Von Humboldt was hardly remembered, but through our beliefs about nature his legacy persists. The year will end by seeing how his legacy emerges in contemporary environmentalism, environmental science, and the idea of the Anthropocene.
 
Each talk begins AT NOON
 

Locations and Day of the Month –

Every 3rd Tuesday - Austin Water Center for Environmental Research (CER) at Hornsby Bend
Austin Water – The University of Texas – Texas A&M University
A Partnership for Urban Ecology and Sustainability: Community, Ecology, Research
located at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant
2210 South FM 973, Austin, Texas 78725

Every 3rd Wednesday - One Texas Center (OTC) at 505 Barton Springs Road and South First Street, Austin, Texas -  Room 325
 

Free and Open to the Public – bring a lunch and learn

Time: Noon to 1pm


The Creation of Nature [January – March]

We begin the year by looking at the two dominant ideas of American nature: wilderness and pastoral nature. Wilderness as pure nature and spiritual solace has a unique hold on the American mind, but it lives in tension with the American agrarian ideal of family farm and ranch landscapes and culture. We will explore the origins, implications, and contradictions of these two ideas of nature, and then we will turn to the origins of life sciences and the study of nature beginning with the ancient Greeks and moving to the Enlightenment.


January 19 CER – First Nature: The Pristine Myth and Wilderness

January 20 OTC – First Nature: The Pristine Myth and Wilderness


February 16 CER – Second Nature: Pastoral Landscapes and the Cultivation of Nature

February 17 OTC – Second Nature: Pastoral Landscapes and the Cultivation of Nature


March 15 CER – The Study of Nature: Natural History and the Creation of Nature 

March 16 OTC – The Study of Nature: Natural History and the Creation of Nature 


The Discovery of Nature [April - September]

Over these six lectures, we will see how Alexander Von Humboldt transformed the practice of natural history and collecting nature into the science of nature. We will look at how he balanced imagination with scientific exactitude, thereby inspiring both poets and scientists to study nature in the 19th century. In particular, his influence on Darwin was profound both in setting Darwin’s life course and in fostering his idea of evolution. As the 19th century ended, new sciences of nature emerged and Von Humboldt’s ideas to shape in 20th century science and culture.


April 19 CER – The Nature Collectors: New Lands, New Nature, and Ecological Imperialism

April 20 OTC – The Nature Collectors: New Lands, New Nature, and Ecological Imperialism


May 17 CER – The Scientist of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt and the Physical Description of the Earth

May 18 OTC – The Scientist of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt and the Physical Description of the Earth


June 15 OTC – The Invention of Modern Nature: The Earth as a “Natural Whole”

June 21 CER  – The Invention of Modern Nature: The Earth as a “Natural Whole”

(NOTE THE REVERSED DAYS)


July 19 CER – The Romance of Nature: Science, Imagination, and the Poets of Nature

July 20 OTC – The Romance of Nature: Science, Imagination, and the Poets of Nature


August 16 CER – The Evolution of Nature: Von Humboldt, Darwin, and the Systematic Universe

August 17 OTC – The Evolution of Nature: Von Humboldt, Darwin, and the Systematic Universe


September 20 CER – The Economy of Nature: Ecology, Earth Science, and Biotic Navigation

September 21 OTC – The Economy of Nature: Ecology, Earth Science, and Biotic Navigation


The End of Nature [October – December]

Today Von Humboldt is largely forgotten in America, but his legacy persists in environmentalism, science, and natural resource management. The final three lectures will explore how his ideas persist in contemporary culture and how relevant his writings and ideas are to contemporary debates about climate change and human impacts on the Earth.


October 18 CER – The Great Disruptors: Environmentalism and the Idea of American Nature

October 19 OTC – The Great Disruptors: Environmentalism and the Idea of American Nature


November 15 CER – The Earth Managers: Balance, Resilience, and Environmental Science

November 16 OTC – The Earth Managers: Balance, Resilience, and Environmental Science


December 20 CER – The End of Nature: Permanence, Change, and the Anthropocene

December 21 OTC – The End of Nature: Permanence, Change, and the Anthropocene

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Where They Lived


Thomas Hardy, 1840 - 1928
 

       Dishevelled leaves creep down
       Upon that bank to-day,
Some green, some yellow, and some pale brown;
       The wet bents bob and sway;
The once warm slippery turf is sodden
        Where we laughingly sat or lay.

        The summerhouse is gone,
        Leaving a weedy space;
The bushes that veiled it once have grown
        Gaunt trees that interlace,
Through whose lank limbs I see too clearly
         The nakedness of the place.

        And where were hills of blue,
        Blind drifts of vapour blow,
And the names of former dwellers few,
         If any, people know,
And instead of a voice that called, “Come in, Dears,”
         Time calls, “Pass below!”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New post on the Nature of Cities about "vacant land"

Having worked on marginal nature for twenty years, I have grown used to the seemingly semiannual "discovery" by a new crop of academics and professionals of marginal nature and wasteland in cities. Below is a link to a recent example of a post on the Nature of Cities blog "Vacant Land in Cities Could Provide Important Social and Ecological Benefits" which is a reprise of a 2012 post. I am glad to see the interest in the topic, but better research on work done over the last 40 years would save time and energy on this kind of rediscovery of the reality of urban space and nonhuman habitat in cities. And, of course, the presumption that we must improve these "degraded" sites frustrates me...

Okay, enough curmudgeon grumbles, it is well worth reading and seeing enthusiastic engagement with vacant land.

http://www.thenatureofcities.com/2014/07/28/tnoc-encore-vacant-land-in-cities-could-provide-important-social-and-ecological-benefits/#comment-12854

Where the Trolls Live: Marginal Nature Under the Bridge

Underneath bridges are where the trolls live in mythology, but they are marginal places in reality as well.

One such site in Austin is on the east side underneath the 183 and Montopolis bridges which I have explored and monitored since 1988. A heavily used site for access to the river, up to a few years ago, users had open access to drive to the river bank...and into the river which led to vehicles in the water all the time with pollution and damage. Now a barrier designates a parking area and vehicles are kept out of the river. However, other official meddling is limited since TexDOT will tear up the site at some point to finish work on 183 and control this right-of-way under the bridge.


In the meantime, this place is heavily used for legal and illegal recreation, and nonhumans have claimed and reclaimed the marginal space as home. Below are some images of one of my favorite places in Austin.