Digital lecture by Prof. Marek Oziewicz on «Creating Universal Climate Literacy with Children’s Literature and Media»

This talk suggests that narrative fiction is good for thinking with, and that we need to think our way out of the challenges facing us in the Anthropocene. The notion of climate literacy is introduced as a narrative competence, and the argument is that the achievement of universal climate literacy is necessary for our world to transition to an ecological civilization. Climate literacy presents us with multiple pedagogical and conceptual challenges but it may also be the greatest opportunity for our education systems. How do we go about building grassroots climate awareness that will change the world? How can English arts teachers and literature scholars be part of this global shift? What tools can we use and where do we begin? This talk suggests that one good place to start is narrative fiction and that young people’s literature and media are ground zero for building a climate literate society.

When: February 23, 2022, 18.00 (CET)

If you are interested in taking part in the lecture, please contact Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak by email by 21 February at the following address:

Suzanne Simard: Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest (2021)

Suzanne Simard, a Canadian, is one of the most influential forest ecologists of the past thirty years. Her discoveries about the mycorrhizal network connecting the root systems of forests, for which she coined the term the “wood wide web,” have inspired several popular science books, including Peter Wohlleben’s well-known The Hidden Life of Trees. She was also the inspiration for a character in Richard Powers’ arboreal novel The Overstory (2018). Rob Nixon (2021) speculates that her discoveries about the interconnected nature of forests have been so resonant because, in the face of the climate crisis, many people are ready to let go of individualistic and competitive notions of self and meaning, and are seeking new ways of imagining and embodying community. The intricately enlaced roots of forests provide precisely this.

Finding the Mother Tree is an autobiography that puts Simard’s scientific discoveries in the context of her life and family history. Her attitudes towards trees are an intriguing mix of the pragmatic, the scientific, the intuitive, and the mystical. Born into a family that has been logging for generations, Simard is at ease with the fact that humans use trees to build livelihoods. She explains that as a child she chewed the rich humus of the forest floor, a trait for which her siblings never teased her. She writes: “I can’t tell if my blood is in the trees or if the trees are in my blood” (Simard 2021, p. 25). As a young female ecologist in the male-dominated forestry industry, Simard is eager to prove herself as competent and trustworthy as “one of the boys,” but she is disturbed by the devastation caused by clear-cut plantations, and troubled by the fact that the roots of newly-planted saplings seem reluctant to connect with the earth.

The book is fascinating for a number of reasons: the insights into mid to late-twentieth-century logging culture, the descriptions of the mycorrhizal fungi that attach to roots of trees and assist the exchange of nutrients, and the accounts of Simard’s detailed and decades-long experiments that demonstrated the integral role the mycorrhizal fungi plays in sustaining communities of multi-species forests, in direct contrast to the assumptions of the logging industry that “competing” species should be removed. The book also addresses the issue of gender. In addition to describing the challenges Simard faced in establishing herself in—and questioning the foundations of—a male-dominated industry, the book reflects on Simard’s relationship with her mother and her own two daughters, including her decision to spend significant stretches of time away from them as they grow up, in order to devote herself to her research on forests.

The “mother tree” of the title refers to the enormous, ancient trees of the forest whose roots support the development of the saplings and the younger trees around them. Simard discovers that old and young trees communicate with chemical signals passed through fungal networks—similar in many ways to the neural pathways in our own brains. She writes: “the old trees nurture the young ones and provide them food and water just as we do with our own children” (Simard 2021, p. 5). Simard decides to call these trees “mother trees” despite the fact that that they aren’t exactly female because the word “mother” speaks to her own experiences of care and nurture: “The hubs were Mother Trees. Well, mother and father trees, since each Douglas-fir has male pollen cones and female seed cones. But … it felt like mothering to me” (Simard 2021, p. 228). In 2013, Simard gave a talk on Mother Trees to a group of fourteen-year-olds. It was posted on YouTube, and was successful enough that she was invited onto TED Talks’ main stage two years later. She writes: “I struggled with anthropomorphisms that I knew would be criticized by scientists, but I chose to use terms such as ‘mother’ and ‘her’ and ‘children’ anyway to help the kids understand the concepts” (Simard 2021, p. 274). Her choice to anthropomorphize the trees contributed to the popular dissemination of her research and struck a chord with viewers and readers around the world.

17.01.2022 by Melanie Duckworth, Associate Professor, Østfold University College, Norway.

Two publications by Roberta Grandi – both on Watership Down

I. “Anyway, What’s a Doe More or Less?” Androcentrism in Watership Down (1972) and Tales from Watership Down (1996) by Richard Adams

Abstract: When Adams’s Watership Down reached the US market, it came under strong criticism for “its anti-feminist bias” (Resh Thomas 1974: 311). Several years later, Le Guin reiterated the censure of its “egregious sexism” (2009: 82), taxing the novel with falsifying animal behaviour. However, through the comparison of Lockley’s The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964) and Adams’ text, it is possible to prove that the latter’s representation of rabbits’ society is actually strongly indebted to his source text for its blatant androcentrism. The sequel, Tales from Watership Down, published in 1996, ostensibly tries to give the does more “floodlight” (Adams in Monaghan 2011: 14) and make amends for some of the accusations received. However, as the paper highlights, while the novel undeniably conveys a strong ecological message, its point of view remains strenuously patriarchal.

II. «Animals don’t behave like men… They have dignity and animality». Richard Adams’s Watership Down and Interspecies Relationships in the Anthropocene

Abstract: When thinking of animals in children’s literature, the pictures that usually come to mind are those of anthropomorphized beasts “merely embodying human tropes» (Jaques 2015: 45), talking creatures that mirror human behaviour and oftentimes interact with men. However, in Watership Down (1972), thanks to the accurate study of rabbits’ social organization as described in Lockley’s The Private Life of The Rabbit (1964), Adams manages to offer the reader a full “immersion in lapine natural history» (Buell 2014: 411). In this anthropocenic world, the “contact zones» (Haraway 2008:4) between men and animals are configured as conflict regions where the rabbits fight their daily battle against their predators. Yet, while all other non-human animals “do what they have to do» driven by fundamental needs, human beings are the only creatures whose attitude is both gratuitous and catastrophic. The article focuses on the way in which Adams, by allowing the reader to adopt a defamiliarized point of view on human behaviour “gives agency to the earth» (Battista 2011: 159). Moreover, the study also analyses the relevance and consequence of the fact that in Watership Down animals are capable of fostering fruitful interspecies relationships and even forming alliances with other creatures. Hence, “humanity» becomes a derogative term effectively replaced by “animality» as the byword for a new, eco-centric non-exploitative attitude towards other fellow creatures.

Thor Hanson: The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History

In The Triumph of Seeds, conservation biologist Thor Hanson guides the reader through a fascinating exploration of the evolution of different types of seeds, from spores to coffee beans. Taking Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as his point of departure, he argues that “natural selection, like commerce, rewards a good product” (xxiii); a mechanism which ensures that successful evolutionary adaptations become the norm.

Hanson combines his biological expertise with a genuine enthusiasm for the subject of seed evolution, allowing the reader to discover the multifaceted organisms that seeds are, as well as how deeply they are entwined with human lives: “We live in a world of seeds. From our morning coffee and bagel to the cotton in our clothes and the cup of cocoa we might drink before bed, seeds surround us all day long” (xxiv). Hanson’s accessible style makes his expertise available to the reader, who may find him or herself similarly enthused by the intricate mechanisms of seed evolution and survival.

The book is subdivided into five sections, each focusing on a different quality pertaining to seeds: Seeds Nourish, Seeds Unite, Seeds Endure, Seeds Defend, and Seeds Travel. In each section a few species of plant are discussed more in depth, to exemplify the overarching quality. Under “Seeds Nourish” for instance, Hanson discusses grasses, several of which are significant food crops, and links them to early human civilisations.

In a pedagogical move, he compares seeds to “babies” that usually come packed with their own “lunch”, and manages to make the specificities of plant biology accessible to a lay audience:

In terms of lunch, most seeds use a nutritious product of pollination called endosperm, but various other tissues will do the job, including perisperm (yucca, coffee), hypocotyl (Brazil nut), or the megagametophyte preferred by conifers. Orchids don’t pack a lunch at all – their seeds simply pilfer the food they need from the fungi found in the soil. (Hanson 17)

Noting how all seeds share the common goal of “protecting, dispersing and feeding baby plants” he goes on to demonstrate how “the food in seeds gets eaten by a lot more things than baby plants” (ibid) – and not least by humans. In this rich volume, Hanson also discusses the survival strategies of seeds, seed banks, and seed longevity in relation to climate change. Thus, his book certainly provides food for thought.

30.12.2021 by Lykke Guanio-Uluru, Professor, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Bergen

Plants in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Edited By Melanie Duckworth and Lykke Guanio-Uluru

From the forests of the tales of the Brothers Grimm to Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree, from the flowers of Cicely May Barker’s fairies to the treehouse in Andy Griffith and Terry Denton’s popular 13-Storey Treehouse series, trees and other plants have been enduring features of stories for children and young adults. Plants act as gateways to other worlds, as liminal spaces, as markers of permanence and change, and as metonyms of childhood and adolescence. This anthology is the first compilation devoted entirely to analysis of the representation of plants in children’s and young adult literatures, reflecting the recent surge of interest in cultural plant studies within the environmental humanities.

Mapping out and presenting an internationally inclusive view of plant representation in texts for children and young adults, the volume includes contributions examining European, American, Australian, and Asian literatures and contributes to the research fields of ecocriticism, critical plant studies, and the study of children’s and young adult literatures.

Read chapters by

Nina Goga and Lykke Guanio-Uluru

Analysing Plant Representation in Children’s Literature: The Phyto‑Analysis Map

By Lykke Guanio-Uluru

Recent biological research (Trewavas, 2003; Mancuso & Viola, 2013; Gagliano, 2018) has (re)demonstrated the variety and complexity of the adaptive behaviour of plants. In parallel with these findings, and in acknowledgement of the important role played by plants in the biosphere and climate of the planet, the representation of plants in philosophy, arts and literature has become an object of study within the environmental humanities. In response to the rapidly developing field of critical plant studies, the representation of plants in literatures for children and young adults are now accumulating. Even as the number of studies is increasing, there is as yet no cohesive framework for the analysis of plant representation in children’s literature. This article addresses this gap. Inspired by the Nature-in-Culture Matrix, an analytical figure that provides an overarching schema for ecocritical analysis of children’s texts and cultures (see Goga et al., 2018), this article presents an analytical framework for plant-oriented analysis, the Phyto-Analysis Map. This map has been developed with reference to central concepts from the field of critical plant studies, and its usefulness is elucidated through literary examples. Developed with children’s fiction in mind, the map also has potential application with children’s non-fiction, which often employs fictional textual techniques.

Read article here.


By Lykke Guanio-Uluru

Departing from Jane Suzanne Carroll’s contention that “Landscapes are at once geographical and historical, natural and cultural, experienced and represented, and present a spatial interface between human culture and physical terrain” (2), this article draws on game studies (Aarseth; Sicart; Yee; Isbister) and on discussions of game design (Schell; Chen; Sahlin) to analyse the landscape and avatar design of Journey and Unravel. Developing the term semiotic register as an analytical lens, the article seeks to pin-point the means by which the two games move the player to adopt distinctly different attitudes and relationships to the games’ natural scenes. The article starts by positioning the study in relation to previous ecocritical analyses of games (Backe; Bianchi; Bohunicky; Chang; Lehner; Parham) and by discussing some aspects of indirect player management before analysing and comparing the two games in more detail.

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