My research brings together contemporary literature, environmental media studies, and digital humanities to interrogate the media and discourses through which the meanings of environmental concepts are negotiated.
I am currently working on a book manuscript about biodiversity, narrative, and the digital.
Eden’s Endemics: Narratives of Biodiversity on Earth and Beyond
My current book project argues that biodiversity is not merely a metric by which we assess the health of ecosystems. Instead it is a way of accounting for the world that simultaneously draws on traditions of imperial natural history and tropes of science fiction. Biodiversity discourse subtly deploys golden age myths, Edenic depictions of “wild” places, and the “island paradise: at the same time as it invokes apocalypse, time travel, terraforming, and the idea of preservation as a mere question of information storage (a twist on the sci fi dream of the downloadable consciousness). The consequences of this combination of registers is twofold. First, biodiversity discourse tends to disembody the organisms that make up biodiversity, instead treating them as containers of information (genetic or evolutionary). Second, the media I look at present the threats to biodiversity as stemming from, what they depict as, an inherently dangerous global South.
In this project I examine a wide range of biodiversity media – novels, nonprofit reports, birder memoirs, natural history journals, scientific visualizations, biodiversity databases, and popular science books. In each case of archival selection I explicitly choose media that engage with as many individuals, species, classes, and types of organisms as possible rather than choosing from the multitude of examples that are typically concerned with single (threatened) species or last individuals before extinction. Therefore this project is also concerned with the practices and depiction of “big data.” The book both uses and comments upon different strategies of “distance reading” even looking at biodiversity visualizations as attempts to read an object that may be too vast for comprehension.
Finally, Eden’s Endemics also seeks to change what is possible by resuscitating the more just futures that the biodiversity concept enables. A new materialist reading of the term fosters an openness to the agency of the organisms that make up the living world .
In addition to using digital humanities techniques like network visualizations for my current book project, I am continually exploring digital approaches to literary analysis, public activism, and humanities outreach. For me these experiments, like writing, are a mode of thinking, and although many of them may never feature in a publication or a monograph are integral to the way I work through humanities questions. For more see Digital Experiments.