New Scholars Community Reading Club: Raccoon

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The New Scholars Community serves as a network for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and recent graduates who are interested in environmental history and the environmental humanities to meet once a month to connect and collaborate on different aspects of environmental scholarship. One of the ways Community members connect is through reading clubs where we read and discuss books that cover different aspects of the environmental humanities. Check our Twitter account (@NiCHE_NS) for updates on upcoming events and blog posts from the New Scholars.

The first book selection for the New Scholars Community Reading Club was Raccoon, by Dr. Daniel Heath Justice. Dr. Justice is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Professor of Critical Indigenous Studies and English Language and Literatures and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture at the University of British Columbia. 

Raccoon Cover Image

Raccoon dives into the animal that many of us are familiar with by sight but perhaps don’t know as well as we think we do. With their distinctive masked appearance, raccoons occupy a liminal space in our imagination: pests who always seem to find ways into our trash or adorable animals known to have been kept as pets and studied for their intelligence.  

“This is increasingly the raccoon’s world – we just live in it.”

As Justice explained to the New Scholars in November, raccoons are one of the few animals whose numbers are increasing despite human-induced changes to landscapes and urbanization. Unlike other animals who are often fearful or avoidant of humans, raccoons are considered neophilic in their inclination to explore the novelty that can be found in our human-made environments. Curious, intelligent, and dexterous, raccoons have adapted to thrive alongside us.  

In Raccoon, Justice weaves together a detailed assemblage of cultural and historical representations that raccoons have held across time. For Justice, raccoons are “clever, opportunistic animals, living beings with their own sense-worlds, motivations and histories, and as boundary-breaching beasts in human imaginations, customs, relations, ideologies and economies” (15). Reading through Justice’s research, it is clear that the history of raccoons is deeply intertwined with our own.

In discussion with Justice, we explored how thinking about living alongside raccoons can help us to reflect deeply about approaching our co-existence with more-than-human lives with kindness and understanding. As he writes in the close of Raccoon, “there is certainly much we can learn from them about how to survive, even thrive, in a swiftly changing world, and there is much we can do to make their own struggle less difficult. That possibility, however, depends entirely on whether we continue to regard them as unwanted vermin and despised outlaws, or if we instead approach them with humility and generosity as other-than-human kin with as much right to flourish in this world as we have” (188). 

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Heather Rogers

I am a graduate student in the Digital Humanities program at McGill University. My research focuses on digital environmental humanities (DEH), new materialism, critical plant studies, and botanical history.

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