Grad Conference 2017

Rethinking Nature: Literary Studies in an Age of Ecological Crisis
Department of English Eleventh Graduate Student Conference
University of Ottawa
9-11 March 2018

The increasing frequency and visibility of dire ecological events, including this year’s record-breaking storms and floods, have raised awareness that humans are a primary force in widespread and possibly irreversible environmental damage and destruction. The decline of bee populations due to pesticide, the practice of deforestation for farming, grazing, and logging, and the recent cleaving of the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica due to climate change all lead to a questioning of human relationship with the fauna, flora, and weather. What is the place of literary studies in this unprecedented context?

This conference will consider how writers in different historical periods have used literary form to respond to changing environmental realities and the ways literary texts in different times and places have both recorded and shaped the non-human world and our perceptions of it. We hope to explore how literary studies should respond to the current renewed sense of ecological crisis, to challenge the binary opposition between the so-called human and natural worlds, and to consider how literary studies can help foster alternative frameworks and more environmentally conscious epistemologies.

From the recurring medieval allegories of Nature to the Romantics’ idealization of the pastoral to the rise of ecocriticism, the relationship between humans and the rest of the more-than-human world has been an ongoing site of debate and conflict. For instance, in his apocalyptic poem “Darkness” (1816), Lord Byron responds to the Year Without a Summer and imagines a world that is “Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless— /A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay,” suggesting that a collapse of the ecosystem can only result in the destruction of human relations. In recent discussions about the Anthropocene era, questions of our own place in the natural world seem evasive, and the once held promise of modernity based on technological progress and human exceptionalism has become unsustainable. Responding to current ecocriticism, Timothy Clark asks, “how far a change in knowledge and imagination entail[s] a change in environmentally destructive modes of life” (18). What are we missing when we segregate ecological concerns from our pursuit of human development and technology? How has this segregation influenced the ways we understand and interact with nature? How have our interactions with the more-than-human world been shaped through innovative thinking and sensibilities throughout history?

We welcome submissions from students, professors, and independent scholars in all disciplines. We also invite submissions for academic posters, creative writings, and performances.

Please submit proposals of 250-350 words along with a brief (150 words) bio to by December 15th, 2017. We will notify applicants of our decisions by January 8th, 2018. 

Possible topics include:

  • Ecocriticism
  • The Anthropocene 
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Natural & Divine Law
  • Rural & Urban Spaces
  • The Local & The Global
  • Imperialism, Colonialism & Land Exploitation
  • Modern Fantasy & Sentient Nature
  • Animals, Animality & Animal Theory 


  • Nature & Technology
  • Indigenous Epistemologies and Land Practices
  • Climate Change & Global Warming
  • Bucolic and Pastoral Literature
  • Romanticism and Nature
  • The Enlightenment and the Scientific 
  • Rationalization of Nature
  • Ecofeminism
  • Queer Ecologies



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