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New Environmental History

New Environmental History: Promise and Pitfalls

Sponsored by the Society for Late Antiquity. Organized by Alex Petkas, California State University, Fresno, and Mark Letteney, Princeton University.

At the meeting of the Society for Classical Studies in Chicago, Illinois (January 7–10, 2021) the Society for Late Antiquity will sponsor a session on method and environmental history.

Historians of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages have written environmental histories of the period for many years. Yet the approach has received increased interest of late due to technological advances that render carbon analysis and DNA sequencing both relatively inexpensive and widely available. These new methods are not without their flaws, however; work like Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome has been criticized both interpretatively (Mordechai and Eisenberg, “Rejecting Catastrophe: The Case of the Justinianic Plague.” Past & Present 244.1) and epistemologically (Kristina Sessa, “The New Environmental Fall of Rome: A Methodological Consideration.” Journal of Late Antiquity 12.1).

The discipline of late ancient history is at a crossroads regarding newly available methods that promise a closer connection between environmental and social history, but whose pitfalls are only beginning to be critically examined. We invite papers that argue on either side of this debate. We are particularly interested in case studies that will help society members think through the issues and possibilities of new environmental historical methods, as well as broader methodological discussions that have the potential to push the debate forward.

We also welcome abstracts which take a more cultural or literary perspective, informed by recent trends in other fields of the environmental humanities which have begun to take root in the discipline of classics.  See for instance the essays in Schliephake (ed.) 2016 Ecocriticism, Ecology and the Cultures of Antiquity.  Especially welcome are any attempts to bridge the methodological divides between environmental history and cultural criticism.

Papers may last no longer than twenty minutes, and will be followed by five minutes for discussion. The session will conclude with an extended period of discussion between panelists and audience members. Please send questions and abstracts to Mark Masterson ( Abstracts should be sent as an email attachment no later than February 16, 2020. All submissions will be judged anonymously by two referees. Prospective panelists must be members in good standing of the SCS at the time of submission and must include their membership number in the cover letter accompanying their abstract. Please follow the SCS instructions for the format of individual abstracts:  Submitting an abstract represents a commitment to attend the 2021 meeting if the paper is accepted. No papers will be read in absentia, and the Society for Late Antiquity is unable to provide funding for travel to Chicago.

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