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Visual Approaches to Environmental History

Sat, April 1, 8:30 to 10:00am, The Drake Hotel, French

Session Submission Type: Panel

Abstract

This panel assumes that images are “active rhetorical agents” (Dunaway 2015) and thus fashion particular arguments about the environment. Spanning a range of spatial and temporal contexts, the four selected papers examine how certain individuals—whether they be scientists, naturalists, artists, missionaries, or governmental officials—deploy images to galvanize certain conceptions of the environment and, subsequently, certain forms of environmentalism. Through attention to four overlapping themes—light pollution, plant extinction, flora and fauna identification, and forest stewardship—this panel will explore the following questions: How do images frame both environmental time and space? From whence do they garner authority? How exactly do they make assertions and attempt persuasion? Who are their primary audiences? What do they highlight and obscure?

Each paper operates according its own specific definition of “environmentalism,” resulting in varied prescribed interfaces with the environment. Sara B. Pritchard demonstrates how visualizations of light pollution assist in making the case against the loss of night. Kelly Enright examines a 1969 postage stamp of the extinct plant Franklinia alatamaha and asks how cultural production addresses landscapes in decline. Thomas J. Anderson suggests that the illustration of Madagascar’s flora and fauna helped to cultivate a perception of the “exotic” island as domesticated and therefore ripe for cash cropping. Catherine Peters shows that, although the iconography of Smokey Bear has changed dramatically over the last seventy years, it continues to (re)produce a white middle class version of environmentalism.

This panel approaches the visual as a kind of epistemology in its own right and implicitly argues for the centrality of images in histories of environmentalism.

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