ASEH Call for Proposals
2023 Annual Conference in Boston
March 22-26, 2023
Transformations: Reckoning, Resistance, and Reparations
Change is at the heart of environmental history scholarship and a powerful force in our shared present, as we live and work through climate change, energy transitions, and demands for equality and justice. The task of the historian is to reckon with what has come before and how it shaped the world; for the environmental historian that is to reckon with our past relations with the rest of nature. The American Society for Environmental History invites proposals to its annual conference, to be held March 22 – 26, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts, that explore the theme of transformation, with attention to resistance and disruption and the possibilities for repair of past relations.
The city of Boston was carved out of Ninnimissinuok territory on a peninsula called Shawmut on the lands of the Massachusett. This place was shaped by climatic shifts, seasonal variation, and social and political change in the centuries before the violent transformations wrought by the arrival of English colonizers. From 1630, Boston became a market and cultural center, oriented towards the sea and its resources, as the lands and local climate offered fewer opportunities for growth. The city expanded onto lands reclaimed from the marshlands and estuaries at the ocean’s edge. This is just one geographic vulnerability that Boston, like so many coastal, urban centers, is grappling with, amidst the threat of rising seas and the change that is to come. The city was shaped by dispossession, violence, inequity, and revolution. Boston’s docks and waterfront, built on these lands, connected the city to global markets and migration, serving as a node in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Later, the city’s airport was also constructed on reclaimed lands, producing new ties between the city’s growing role as a center of higher education, research, and finance and the global economy. The physical transformation of 20th century Boston was predicated on the erasure of the longer Indigenous history of the land, and then on the removal of predominantly Black and working class families through urban renewal that turned on contested environmental discourses. From this history of dispossession have come generations of local Black and Indigenous activism that seek reparations and justice for the future. More broadly, social justice advocacy and urban environmental restoration have begun the work of repairing disruptions to the land and community relations, including expanding public access to the waterfront – unfinished work that continues.
Transformation rarely proceeds smoothly, evenly, or easily and can bring with it great injustice. While there are forces that support and enable such change, there are others that resist and disrupt. These histories can call on us, into the present, to undertake the work of reparations. The Program Committee welcomes submissions from any area of environmental history. This theme may resonate with scholars working on Indigenous histories, food histories, energy histories, infrastructures, animal studies, environmental justice, and environmental activism.