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. It is not just a simple reflection of attributes that are already out there, pre-formed, waiting to be measured. Instead it is a way of accounting for the world that draws on traditions of imperial natural history. Biodiversity discourse subtly draws on golden age myths, Edenic depictions of “wild” places, the idea of a tree of life, and the idea of the island paradise to define biodiversity as something that exists solely in the Global South. The threats to biodiversity are treated as similarly stemming from an inherently dangerous Global South rather than from asymmetrical globalization practices and specific, contingent histories. On the other hand, solutions to the biodiversity crisis often portray the problem as one of information storage, eliding the material body of organisms in favor of treating them as disembodied information consisting of either useful genes or evolutionary history, which is then stored safely in repositories in the Global North.
In this project I examine a wide range of biodiversity media – including novels as well as nonprofit reports, birder memoirs, natural history journals, scientific visualizations, and biodiversity databases. 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. The term creates a domain where discourse and the lively organisms that make up the living world can negotiate both meaning and mattering.
In addition to using topic modeling and 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.