Skip over navigation

“From Ark to Narrative, Database, and Endangered Species”, Ursula Heise

Ursula Heise, Professor of English, UCLA

The current mass extinction of species has generated an abundance of books, photographs, paintings, documentaries, and websites about individual endangered species and the global panorama of biodiversity loss. My presentation will focus on a related expression of concern over endangered species, global biodiversity databases that have been created on the Internet over the last 25 years, to argue that they should be considered as a form of contemporary nature writing, specifically as a kind of ecological epic. Drawing on the digital humanities and the work of media theorists and historians of science, the talk will analyze the interplay of narrative and catalogue in these databases: in the justifications for their creation, in the structure of their metadata, in the taxa of organisms that receive preferential coverage, and in the entries on particular species. It will focus in particular on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, one of the most frequently used databases in global conservation efforts. The Red List is indebted to elegiac narrative and to tragedy, but it also reaches beyond the usual environmental narrative of the decline of nature to inventory the entirety of biological life on Earth in a genuinely encyclopedic project. At the same time, the "database aesthetic" of enumerating endangered species has made its way back into fiction, photography, and painting, transforming the way writers and artists seek to express a sense of global ecological crisis.

Location: East Pyne, Room 10

Date/Time: 04/24/14 at 4:30 pm - 04/24/14 at 6:00 pm

Ursula K. Heise is Professor in the Department of English and at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, and a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow. She served as President of ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) in 2011 and currently serves as Managing Editor of the 2015 ACLA Report on the State of the Discipline. Her research and teaching focuses on contemporary literature, environmental culture in the Americas, Western Europe, and Japan, literature and science, globalization theory, and media theory. Her books include Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (Oxford University Press, 2008), and Nach der Natur: Das Artensterben und die moderne Kultur (After Nature: Species Extinction and Modern Culture, Suhrkamp, 2010). She is editor of the bookseries, Literatures, Cultures, and the Environment with Palgrave-Macmillan and co-editor of the series Literature and Contemporary Thought with Routledge. She is currently finishing a book called Where the Wild Things Used to Be: Narrative, Database, and Endangered Species.

Category: Sponsored & Affiliated Events

Department: Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI)