Kiitos and Mosquitoes: Cameron reports from the 6th ESEH Conference in Turku, Finland

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The 2011 European Society for Environmental History conference, “Encounters of Sea and Land” is missing a word in its title: “Sun.” 24 hours of daylight and it’s a heatwave. Today is Saturday, the day after Canada Day, and the conference in Turku, Finland’s oldest city, has been ‘illuminating’ in every sense. Environmental history in Europe seems to spring from a different tradition than its North American counterparts. As a few American and Canadian delegates agreed, here the subject is more broadly envisaged and though the organizers form a “Scientific Committee,” the rich blend of disciplines interacting here —often in the same session— include, amongst many other subjects, history, geography, literature, anthropology, biology, economics and history of science. For example, the two sessions organized by Kirsten Greer and Jan-Henrik Meyer on the politics of transnational bird protection, not only included researchers from Germany, Denmark, the United States, Finland and Canada but also represented various cultures of geography, history, biology and environmental governance. The remarkable and often surprising intersections of interest fuel the conversations that have continued throughout the conference.

It is exciting to feel part of a “real international cast,” as Craig Colten puts it. English is the language of presentation but it is accented in diverse lyrical ways and we are surrounded constantly by conversations in Portuguese, Dutch, Finnish, Spanish, French, Russian, Hindi, German….The quality of papers tends to be high, perhaps because the meeting is on a two year cycle: “discussion is lively and adequate time is provided for it.” NiCHE was present at the scheduled meeting of the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations, ICEHO (pronounced “Ice – ho”) and helped to elect Jane Carruthers (South Africa) as the new President and Libby Robin (Australia) as Vice President. Jane stated that in terms of disciplinary breadth, she envisioned ICEHO as open and welcoming, inclusive of anyone working in areas of environment and history. The next WCEH, it was decided, will be in Guimarâes, Portugal.

Though hot and humid this week, Turku—the European Capital of Culture 2011—is lush and green. It is also the home of former Montreal Canadiens captain, Saku Koivu, the composer Sibelius, a medieval cathedral (currently exhibiting works of Andy Warhol) and a castle. The conference has coincided with the Turku Medieval Market, and by the River Aura where you can see Arctic Terns, we mingle with knights, paupers and jesters. Finnish for “thank you” is “kiitos.” It rhymes with “mosquitoes,” and a few of those join the crowd too.

In hopes that gathering together some other voices can help convey better the flavour of all this international activity, here are a few comments from the field. Laura Hollsten, one of the key Finnish organizers, reflects that: “Tämä konferenssi alkoi Sverker Sörlinin todella hienolla yleisesitelmällä ja loppui yhtä upeasti Susan Fladerin ajatuksia herättävällä esitelmällä. Siinä välissä oli niin paljon hienoja esityksiä ja mukavia ihmisiä että joka päivälle löytyy monia kohokohtia.” [Translation: This conference began with a really excellent keynote lecture by Sverker Sörlin and ended with Susan Flader’s fine and thought provoking speech at the final banquet. In between were so many great presentations and nice people that each day had many highlights.]

Robin Doughty from Texas has his eyes on the non-humans too: “It is amazing to see chaffinches literally at one’s feet, pied flycatchers at arm’s length and spotted flycatchers dallying on nearby fenceposts. Fieldfares are the “robins” of Turku. They bound about on the grass grabbing beakfuls of worms, while hooded crows stare at them balefully.”

Adriann de Kraker from the Netherlands notes that “This has been a well-organized, very Finnish and friendly conference in such a warm atmosphere that this completely underlines present global warming. So hot and humid in Turku and such long days. No wonder our colleagues at Turku have been working so hard. Er was hÿna geen tÿd voor hen om te slapen, want de nachten waren gewoon te kort [Translation: There was hardly any night time to sleep.]

Jan-Henrik Meyer, a member of NiCHE’s Transnational Ecologies group based in Denmark, sends greetings to Canada: “Auf der Konferenz konnte man unglaublich viel lernen – durch transnationalen Austausch und vor allem weil man so viele Verbindungen ziehen konnte zwischen unserer ARbeit und der Arbeit der Kolleginnen und Kollegen.” [Translation: The conference has been an excellent place for transnational exchanges and it has been a great learning experience, allowing us to make all sorts of connections between our own work and the work of others.]

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Laura Jean Cameron is a Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s University, Kingston, and coordinates the Sonic Arts of Place Lab. As a Canada Research Chair in Historical Geographies of Nature (2003-2012), her work has investigated a range of field sciences as place-based practices and as cultural encounters. Before arriving at Queen’s, she held a Junior Research Fellowship in Historical Geography at Churchill College, Cambridge (1999-2002). She is the author of Openings: A Meditation on History, Method and Sumas Lake, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997 and co-author with John Forrester of Freud in Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017. She also co-edited Emotion, Place and Culture, Ashgate, 2009 and Rethinking the Great White North: Race, Nature and the Historical Geographies of Whiteness, UBC Press, 2011. Currently she enjoys writing in various genres about fieldwork, emotions and nature, collaborating on sound installations, and hosting the Fireplace Series: Interdisciplinary Conversations, a podcast series you can listen to here:

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