08.07.2019 Echoing Ecologies - a summary

Conference Echoing Ecologies – Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Canadian Studies / Les écologies canadiennes et leurs enjeux interdisciplinaires a big success

Carmen Birkle am Rednerpult im historischen Rathaussaal von Marburg
Foto: Isabelle Wientzek

The "Echoing Ecologies" conference of the Marburg Centre for Canadian Studies dealt with the versatility of the term "ecology" over three days and examined it from the point of view of various scientific disciplines. The conference was opened in the Historical Town Hall of the City of Marburg, where Mayor Dr. Thomas Spies emphasized that Marburg, due to the traditional efforts in relation to the ecological design of the city, is an extremely suitable place for a conference with a topic with such relevance for the future. Following the words of Dean Prof. Dr. Carmen Birkle and the organisation team, the Canadian poet Henry Beissel continued these thoughts in a poetic discourse on the current situation of the world and thus set a worthy conclusion of the first day. Already during the reception, which followed Beissel's lecture, it became clear that he had aroused interest in the scientific discussions of the next few days.

S.E. Botschafter Stéphane Dion redet mit erklärender Geste
Foto: Martin Kuester

On Thursday morning the Ambassador of Canada, H.E. Stéphane Dion, who was of course a specialist for the topic of the conference as former Canadian Minister of the Environment, welcomed the participants and stressed in his lecture the global importance of ecological efforts and the improvement of our environmental balance.

The scientific part of the conference began with a panel on "Challenging Stereotypes - First Nations Literary Ecologies." In his recapitulation of the importance of the concept of the Anthropocene for the analysis of ecological relations, Moritz Ingwersen (Konstanz) emphasized the importance of contemporary indigenous literature. He underlined how the Eurocentric discourse defined indigenous peoples more as artifacts through assimilation and repression policies. Martin Kuester (Marburg), for his part, pointed out parallels between Mennonite and Canadian indigenous attitudes and the influence of religion and spirituality on these perspectives. In the ensuing discussion it became obvious that the problem of appropriation on the one hand and the wish to benefit from indigenous knowledge for the good of all is an important issue that cannot be solved with simple answers.

Panel II, "Atwoodian Ecologies and Eco-Feminism" dealt with the works of Margaret Atwood and offered insights into different ecofeminist perspectives. In a detailed analysis of The Handmaid's Tale, Carmen Birkle (Marburg) showed, for example, connections between Handmaids and slaves and between Underground Railroad and Atwood's 'Femaleroad'. Starting from the demand for a new, reflective and inclusive form of ecofeminism, Alessandra Boller discussed the potential of linking ecological concepts (such as ecofeminism and 'Ecological Democracy') using Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy. In her lecture, Ying Wang (Marburg) explained the philosophy of ecofeminism and analyzed the connections between the exploitation of the environment and women, also with regard to the role of science and technology, in Atwood's work Handmaid's Tale.

In the first keynote speech of the conference Adrian Ivakhiv (Vermont) explained in his brilliant lecture "Image Ecologies from Altamira to YouTube" his understanding of the ontology of images and their different modes of action, interrelations and functions, which can also be defined by the term "ecologies", be they scientific, social or perceptive.

Maria Löschnigg (Graz) discussed in the following panel "Literary and Cultural Ecologies" to what extent intertextual literary texts make use of a meaningful form of recycling. She particularly addressed a number of Canadian poems that offer alternative ways of dealing with ecological crises. Diana Wagner (Marburg) focused in her lecture on the critical examination of nature and the female body in the short stories of Canadian authors such as Lisa Moore and Mark Anthony Jarman.

In the fourth panel "The Dynamics of Resilience, Representation, and Recognition", Paul Murphy, connected via Skype from Quebec, explained with many visual examples that a long tradition of linking dinosaur representations with fossil fuels was practiced in Canada. Based on the original names of certain places, such as 'the Dish with One Spoon,' Claire Omhovère (Montpellier) discussed (symbolic) connections between physicality, naming, indigenous knowledge, transcendence, and responsibility with particular reference to Daniel Colemans Yardwork. In the last lecture of the day, Frederik Bleiber (Marburg) spoke about the potential and limits of a new 'green' partnership based on ecocriticism that brings together literature and reconciliation in the Canadian indigenous context.

Eine Frau steht an einem Redepult, hinter ihr ein großes Bild einer Biene auf einer Blüte
Foto: Klaus-Peter Profus

Before this second day of the conference ended with a conference dinner at the Marburg Technology and Conference Centre, the thematic presentations ended with a science slam interlude by Klaus-Peter Profus (Marburg) and the illustrated lecture "The Life of Bees" by Nancy Holmes (UBC Okanagan), in which she informed the audience about the diversity of the Canadian and indigenous bee world and explained which initiatives she is using to stop bee mortality in her home country.

In the first panel of the last day of the conference, entitled "Linguistic and Didactic Perspectives", Rolf Kreyer (Marburg) spoke about structural differences between spoken and written language and discussed a short story by the author Thomas King with regard to orality and the deviation from familiar norms. Together with the student Tim Oefner and the student Annalena Jung, Matthias Dickert (Gelnhausen) presented a project from school lessons to show how Canadian topics can be taught profitably and what challenges and opportunities are associated with them. In addition, Mr. Dickert's pupils, as well as Benjamin Battenberg's group of pupils from Gelnhausen, contributed posters to the conference, which could be viewed during the coffee breaks and discussed with the pupils present.

Panel VI had the topic "Media Ecologies" and was opened by Angela Krewani (Marburg), who showed how ecologies are presented in Canadian documentaries. Martin Speer (Dortmund/Marburg) then argued why he found the term "Canadian Media Ecologies" problematic and explained some of the concepts that Marshall McLuhan has developed in relation to media. Sophia Gräfe (Berlin) provided insight into the early work of Berlin naturalists who systematically categorized and analyzed the sounds of foxes in order to identify correlations with their behavior. Tina Kaiser (Marburg) then presented examples from another field of media studies, showing excerpts from the "slow cinema" that contradict conventional viewing habits, and explaining how and why a certain feeling arises when watching these films.

In his keynote lecture, Robert Boschman (Calgary) took the attendees to Uranium City, a former uranium mining town in the north of Canada. His pictures and explanations impressively documented the decay and danger to the environment. He not only spoke about the history and current state of the city, but also approached the subject from a posthumanist and ecological perspective.

Henry Beissel sitzt an einem Tisch im historischen Rathaussaal von Marburg
Foto: Walaa Said

The conference was concluded with short statements and topical poems by Nancy Holmes and Henry Beissel as well as a concluding summary by Angela Krewani.

The Marburg Centre for Canadian Studies is grateful for the support by the Philipps-Universität Marburg, the Universitätsstiftung der Philipps-Universität, the Ursula-Kuhlmann-Fonds, the town of Marburg, the Association of Canadian Studies in German-speaking Countries (GKS), the Kulturelle Aktion Strömungen, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Embassy of Canada to Germany.