Secret Places of Eco-memory

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Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series on Arts-Based Research in the Anthropocene edited by Amrita DasGupta 

Author’s note: For this series on Arts-based Research in the Anthropocene, I propose a short comics-based contribution which explores the idea of places of eco-memory. Taking the concept of lieux de mémoire as a starting point, the following short comic will explore ecological places of memory by confronting Pierre Nora’s French national monuments with Donna Haraway’s Terrapolis. My focus will be on a very humble place of eco-memory, as compared to well-known places of eco-memory like Chernobyl.  

Digging into places of eco-memory,1 it became clear that academic and artistic research was drawn to iconic places of ecological disaster, like Chernobyl or Fukushima, which humanity will still have to struggle with during the decades to come.2 Those places call on our duty to uphold the memory of what happened in order not to repeat the same mistakes. They tie themselves into well-established concepts of memory cultures in Europe and their highly symbolic places of memory, or, in Pierre Nora’s words, lieux de mémoire (places of memory).3 These places have produced a strong imprint onto collective memory and by the sole evocation of their names they trigger memories and images. 

I clearly remember not being allowed to go out when Chernobyl happened in April 1986. I was five years old  and living with my mother in the countryside in a small Austrian village. While I don’t have many memories from this time, I do remember that my mother and I no longer went to the woods to search for mushrooms after the nuclear accident. My clearer memories from that time seem to be entangled with more global anxieties about a potential World War III. In primary school, we had exercises where we had to go to a fallout shelter or learn to recognize the alarm signal in case of a major nuclear incident. 

Comic of forest
Figure 1: Eco-memory. Comic drawn by author

On the other hand, there are names of places of eco-memory which call on those many battles fought for saving natural places – some won, others lost. One of the most iconic ones in Austria is, for sure, Zwentendorf, the name of the nuclear power plant which was built, but never taken into service: in 1978, the population decided via a referendum to refrain from using atomic power. But what about all those humble places without any name which are nevertheless part of collective memory? Tiny, local, not important, not stable, not mediated – they are many second-order places tied to eco-memory which do not enter any records or archives. Even Donna J. Haraway’s Terrapolis seems too vast a concept to grasp those many seemingly insignificant places.4 Caught between sometimes vivid memories tied to them and oblivion, often a no-name place, these are fragile spaces which nevertheless shape our imagination and our relationship to the environment. One of those places is a wee ‘cabin’ in the woods made of branches and moose. A place which somebody has built. Now it belongs to no one and to everyone, to see and to remember. I remember building such little spots in the woods near to our home, when I was a kid. Those places too have their importance. 


1 Following Rosanne Kennedy, eco-memory can be defined as encompassing memory of place, but differing from collective memory in so far as it is “grounded in a deep memory of a habitat, conceived as an ecological assemblage in which all elements, human and nonhuman, are mobile, connected and interactive.” (Kennedy 2017: 269)  

2 Rosanne Kennedy,“Multidirectional Eco-Memory in an Era of Extinction. Colonial Whaling and Indigenous Dispossession” In Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance”. The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities, eds. Ursula K. Heise, Jon Christensen, and Michelle Niemann ( London and New York: Routledge, 2017)

3 Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,” Representations, no. 26 (1989): 7–24.

4 Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016) 

Feature image: Eco-memory comic drawn by author.

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Bettina Egger

Researcher, comics author, illustrator Currently I'm working as a Senior Scientist at the Paris-Lodron University of Salzburg. Prior to that, in 2021-22, I've been working as an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. As a scholar and practitioner, I’m working at the various intersections of comic art and comics-based research. My main fields of investigation are the mediation and representation of memory and ecology in the comics form. My work is strongly anchored in the field of independent publishing and draws inspiration from travels in Europe, Asia and Northern America. Up to now, I have published nine comics in French. I have a major interest for nonfiction. My last published work is 'Aramus', a documentary comic about an archaeological field survey in Armenia.

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