Biodiverse Anthropocenes nominated as host of the next World Congress of Environmental History
The congress is one of the most significant environmentally themed events in the world. The proposed overarching theme of the conference is Transitions, Transformations and Transdisciplinarity: Histories beyond History. Held every five years, the event is attended by leading researchers of environmental history and social and natural sciences from around the world to discuss and to propose solutions for current environmental issues.
The University of Oulu has been elected organizer of the World Congress of Environmental History (WCEH) in August 2024. The congress will be co-convened by Biodiverse Anthropocenes and the Faculty of Humanities.
The congress is one of the most significant environmentally themed events in the world. The proposed overarching theme of the conference is Transitions, Transformations and Transdisciplinarity: Histories beyond History. Held every five years, the event is attended by leading researchers of environmental history and social and natural sciences from around the world to discuss and propose solutions for current environmental issues. The winning bid was led by a team of Oulu-based historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and environmental humanities scholars: Dmitry Arzyutov, Vesa-Pekka Herva, Roger Norum, Esa Ruuskanen and Laura Siragusa.
Oulu’s Northern location gives it a particular responsibility for addressing pressing environmental issues. According to Biodiverse Anthropocenes vice-director, “WCEH is a unique opportunity to present to the world Oulu’s groundbreaking research in the field of energy transitions, biodiversity and sustainability.” Indeed, the congress is one of the premier academic conferences on environmental topics in the world. "WCEH is well known among environmental scholars as one week in August when everybody who's anybody in critical environmental work comes together to share their ideas, discuss cutting-edge research, network, and socialize," he says. Norum notes the honour of hosting such an event as well as the challenge of doing so. "The congress is only held twice a decade, which makes being named hosts quite a responsibility. WCEH in Oulu will both show off our great city and university and draw important attention to the work being done in the Oulu region and in Finland on energy transitions, biodiversity and sustainability and – both in both scientific and public realms."
The World Congress is overseen by the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations (ICEHO), which works to promote open access and public outreach in the field of environmental history. In the selection announcement, Graeme Wynn, ICEHO President and professor of historical geography at the University of British Columbia, notes that “Oulu and its university offer an excellent locale for our important international gathering: the city is attractive, diverse, lively, and yet manageable in size; the university has fine modern facilities.” Oulu's bid to host drew particular attention to its excellence in scientific work, its scholars’ broad international networks, and its unique position at the gateway to the Arctic”. Wynn further explains, "As President of ICEHO and a veteran of preceding WCEH gatherings, I am delighted at this choice of venue. The local organizing committee has a firm and inclusive understanding of environmental history, environmental humanities, and the value of interdisciplinary scholarship and of the importance of developing perspective on, and understanding, the environmental challenges of our times."
The initial proposed overarching theme of the conference is "Transitions, Transformations and Transdisciplinarity: Histories beyond History". According to Esa Ruuskanen, the brainchild behind the theme and co-leader of Oulu’s Environmental Humanities and Social Sciences Minor degree programme, the idea is to bring historians and other scholars to think collaboratively and across fields to help strategically address environmental challenges. “This congress will encourage historians and other scholars in the humanities and social and natural sciences to work together in addressing pressing environmental questions of today,” he says. “History matters, if we try to understand ongoing transitions. Organizing the event in the Arctic environment allows participants to explore an area important for environmental change at regional and global levels.”
For linguistic anthropologist and Biodiverse Anthropocenes coordinator Laura Siragusa, diversity is crucial in this endeavour. “When addressing pressing environmental issues and looking for solutions, it is important to pay careful attention to different views and opinions,” she says. “The world congress proves an excellent forum to convene scholars of a diverse background, stakeholders, Indigenous and local representatives, to critically think through urgent questions together.”.
The organizing team at Oulu, which will comprise historians, anthropologists, archeologists and geographers and biologists, is keen for the conference to push the envelope on what is possible with big academic events. They intend to put on a hybrid event which can be attended by people both in person and remotely. The pandemic up-ended academic conferencing, making researchers hyper-conscious of the effects of global travel on the planet while also making them recognize the immense value of in-person sociality. Moreover, global inequalities mean that many scholars, both in the Global South and North, are often unable to travel to big international events, which further perpetuates such inequalities. As host of WCEH, Oulu aims to make use of the latest in remote conferencing technologies so that those unable to travel far can still play an active role in, and benefit from, the conference.
Norum says that "WCEH is known as a unique chance for scholars from across distinct disciplines and fields to situate environmental history in a planetary perspective – to engage in conversation with people outside one's own field – and comfort zones." Oulu-based environmental historian and anthropologist Dmitry Arzyutov stresses here the importance of creativity in such conversation. “Given the rapid growth in our knowledge about the vibrant life of the environment as both a zone of human concern and an academic concept, this congress aims to shine light on multiple histories beyond the boundaries of discipline of history itself. The environment we all live in is not only what unites us but also what fires our imaginations by offering unpredictable paths to our futures.”
As host of WCEH 2024, Oulu’s transdisciplinary academic leaders will be able to encourage this type of thinking and discussion among conference delegates. Furthermore, he explains, "This will not just be an event for historians, it will be open to all academics who work across the environmental humanities, social and natural sciences who are interested in thinking outside the box for better understanding and solving environmental problems. Broadening a global conference on the environment to a diverse group of thinkers and researchers is essential for making the event impactful, both in and outside the academic world.”