It sometimes surprises our community partners when they learn how “non-placed” much of University scholarship is. Many of our faculty have their most important professional relationships enacted through a network of scholars working on similar projects; the community represented by their department or college is important, but not really where their primary allegiances are. In a similar manner, many scholars, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, study broad theoretical frameworks that are not explicitly “placed,” even though the impacts or applications of the ideas are all around us. For many reasons, places like the U of M tend to reward scholars for the original ideas rather than the application of ideas.
I’m not writing this to complain or start an argument–I know there are many generalizations in the previous paragraph. But I want to highlight two projects that I ran across recently, both of which provide potentially valuable complementary perspectives to traditional scholarly work. In Vancouver, the Wikiupedia project offers an augmented reality access to indigenous stories of that place. The app has potential to “unsettle” or “decolonize’ stories of a place that are more commonly seen through the lenses of settler stories and occupation. Project developers hope that it can preserve indigenous cultures, capturing stories and language, vetted by indigenous cultural-knowledge keepers before the relations to land and place that are expressed through that language are lost.
The other innovative project that offers new connections between knowledge and place originates closer to home. The Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities and other partners are collaborating on a series of art installations and research projects known as “Date/um: Ecological Temporalities of the Lower Schuylkill River.” The project’s lead curator, Patricia E. Kim, explains in an online essay that the sharp juxtaposition of diverse kinds of information serves both to illuminate how science and art can speak together, and also to advocate for continued collection of rich scientific data. Toward that end, the PPEH project has been a leader in the national DataRefuge project, which seeks to “build refuge for federal climate and environmental data.”
Art, science, and place: key components for the next generation of water programs. The work that needs doing requires an aesthetic and ethic of “both/and”: engagement and science, both grounded in place; scholarship and community perspectives, mutually reinforcing each other.
Bethany Wiggin, the Founding Director at the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities, will present a talk on the PPEH work on the Schuylkill River this Thursday, March 9, at Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus. Further information is on the Institute for Advanced Study web site.
Graduate students from the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Culture, History, and the Environment produce a digital magazine called Edge Effects. The most recent issue features recommendations by editorial staff members and provides a good point of entry to a resource that offers much of value. You really should read this.
None of us can really concentrate on one “subject” any more and hope to speak to important issues outside a limited specialty. Edge Effects makes a virtue of this necessity, offering a variety of essay forms addressing a wealth of particular topics. There’s something here for the subject that you know you’re interested in, as well as something that will spark a previously-unimagined connection.
The writing is accessible to nonspecialists, and arises from learning and reflection rather than always responding to the latest “issue of the day.” For me, work such as Edge Effects offers the highest promise of the land grant university: writing that addresses the interested and reflective public and that offers new perspectives, ideas, and connections among seemingly-disconnected subjects.