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Raymond Williams famously called “nature” the most complicated word in the English language. This complexity stems, in part, from the notion of a non-human “nature” that is separate from human culture: in American Transcendentalist R. Waldo Emerson’s shorthand, nature is the other, all that is “NOT ME.” This dichotomous epistemology has had devastating consequences for the more-than- human world from the era of European colonial contact to the present.

The “Multispecies Stories” Research Area aims to incubate ground-breaking research that both historicizes these human-nonhuman interactions and reshapes them for our Anthropocenic present and future. It consolidates research across wide-ranging topics and approaches—from the neurobiology of plant sentience to geopolitical readings of ticks to “trash species” in urban environments—all having to do with history, narrative, and imagination of our more-than-human world(s). In particular, the projects in this research area attend to historical, material, and cultural approaches that consider the interplay between our past and current imaginaries.

 

Overarching Research Questions:

  • How are plants, animals, and other nonhuman creatures imagined in the past, and what implications do these imaginaries have for the future? How do our old taxonomies of nature—from the Great Chain of Being to Linnaeus to Peterson Field Guides—structure our natural-cultural epistemologies and ontologies?
  • How can we re-imagine the plants, animals, and other nonhuman creatures that share the planet with us? What can global indigenous ways of knowing this more-than-human world teach non-indigenous thinkers about a more ethical way of being and knowing the world?
  • How can we transcend anthropocentric views while, in Thoreau’s words, “speak[ing] a word for nature” when it cannot speak for itself?
  • How are non-human planetary “resources” imagined as such, and what impacts do these imaginaries have? For example, when we name a forest “timber,” we ignore its status as an ecological habitat; when we value it for the “ecological services” it provides, we insert it into another capitalist way of knowing the world. How do we transcend these ways of thinking so as to include the more-than-human world on its own terms rather than our own, particularly when we do so primarily through the medium of human languages, cultures, and (hi)stories?
  • How is our history of racial formation in the human world always-already dependent upon our histories of classifications of “species,” “families,” and “races” in the plant- and animal worlds?
  • What can historical methodologies, sources, and approaches contribute to current understandings of environmental crises? How can history aid our examinations of the present so that we can create a more just and more sustainable future?

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