2011-2012 Theme: Water

The COE Think Tank for 2011-12 is examing the ways in which the human relationship to water, as both resource and environment, has changed over the long term. In the context of fresh water, it is questioning the relationships between past patterns of water use and water management and present patterns of water use and management. By extension, the think tank is considering the ways in which understanding the evolution of those patterns help us to formulate better ideas of how the world's water can or should be used in the future to meet the needs of humanity in the face of shrinking fresh water resources. In terms of salt water ecosystems, related questions emerge: how have societies evolved in the context of marine environments; what social, cultural, economic, and political factors influence the exploitation and conservation of marine resources (most notably, fisheries and their habitats); how do the evoloution of water-based transport technologies and public policy debates inform as well as reveal human perceptions of the oceans and the values we associate with them?

2011-2012 Scholars' Research:

  • Clark Maines, Professor of Art History and Kenan Professor of the Humanities
  • William R. Pinch, Professor of History and Chair of the History Department
  • Elise Springer, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
  • Johan C. Varekamp, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science
  • James G. Workman, Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies

Research resulting from this "think tank" can be expected to produce articles in the respective fields of the individual faculty fellows. William R. Pinch will be working on a theoretically oriented assessment of the literature pertaining to the intersections of world history (particularly the oceanic frameworks that are increasingly deployed therein), marine environmental history, and maritime history. Johan C. Varekamp will make assessments of current water pollutants and evaluate emerging pollutants and their potential impact on human health. Elise Springer's project explores the ways in which moral theorgy is not only relevant to water issues, but is in turn reshaped by an appreciation of water both as a cognitively powerful metaphor and as the locus of new practical challenges. This project will bring some systematic tools of normative reflection to the think tank conversation, and will in turn benefit from the empirically and historically oriented work undertaken by other fellows. Clark Maines' current project focuses on the Cistercian Abbey of Notre-Dame d'Ourscamp (Oise) and in particular on the religious community's active role in transforming a wetlands environment into first, a water management system serving ritual and functional purposes, second one serving decorative and functional purposes, and finally, after the French Revolution, an hydraulic system that powered two factories in succession on the site. Maines and Varekamp are currently discussing the feasibilitu of a joint earth sciences - archaeology approach to studying the impact of these varied uses on the original wetlands environment. While results of a yearlong process of reading, thinking and discussing are difficult to predict, it is hoped that jointly authored, trans-disciplinary articles may also result.