ASEH Call for Proposals
2022 Annual Conference in Eugene, Oregon
March 23-27, 2022
Disaster and Renewal
The American Society for Environmental History invites proposals for its annual conference March 23–27, 2022, in Eugene, Oregon. That month will mark two years since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, a public health disaster that has claimed millions of lives, intensified existing social inequities, tested the legitimacy and emergency capacity of governments worldwide, and impacted almost the entire planet. The past year has also seen the emergence of major new civil-rights activism in opposition to systemic racism as well as an escalation of climate catastrophe, with ever-worsening wildfires and tropical storms. All of these events have been inflamed and exacerbated by a series of political conflicts and crises.
Eugene’s own history is marked by many of these same forces. Located on Kalupuya Ilihi, it is the traditional indigenous homeland of the Kalupuya people, many of whom died during a deadly wave of epidemic disease in the early 1800s and were dispossessed of their indigenous homeland by the United States government and forcibly removed to the Coast Reservation in Western Oregon. In the last century, Oregon has been the site of some of the world’s most extensive forest clearcuts, and in 2020, the McKenzie River valley, just a few miles from Eugene, was devastated by wildfires, part of a trend of escalating fire intensity in western North America. But renewal is visible too. Today, Kalupuya descendants are primarily citizens of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, and they continue to make important contributions to their communities, to Oregon, and to the world. Eugene has been the birthplace of new forms of environmentalist action and environmental justice. Novel ecosystems are emerging in the wake of clearcut logging and fires. This history provides a foundation for us to consider the long intersecting and overlapping genealogies of disaster: how our contemporary challenges are shaped by historic disasters, and how current crises are themselves the products of decades, if not centuries, of complex developments. Disasters are often the result of social inequalities but also shape and compound these inequalities far into the future. The committee encourages submissions that consider disasters in these wider temporal and social contexts.
Conversely, because they rewrite relationships between people, societies, and species, disasters as moments of disjuncture also offer new possibilities. Therefore we also encourage submissions that consider the concept of renewal. How have societies in the past imagined and remade their worlds in the aftermath of a disaster? What were the paths chosen and dismissed, and how might interactions between humans and non-humans have shaped the opportunities for and realities of renewal? Do these histories provide models of how to repair our worlds in the aftermath of destructive events and processes? How are discourses on disaster remediation embedded in power imbalances, and, how does disaster recovery exacerbate existing social inequities? We also look to consider disaster and renewal in tandem, as new futures are often only imagined in the crucible of a crisis.