The Environmental Humanities Initiative (EHI) networks faculty and students from across 22 units at ASU and is rapidly expanding its international partnerships.
This was evident at the recent Conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment held in Detroit, Michigan. ASU alumni who have studied with EHI faculty traveled to the conference to participate in the launch of the newest observatory in the global Humanities for the Environment network.
Since 2013, ASU has served as the headquarters of the North American (NA) Observatory. Funded in its first phase by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and ASU’s Office of the President, the NA Observatory is in a second phase in which it is supporting the expansion of the network to Latin America, Africa and the Circumpolar North.
Through its EHI faculty, the NA Observatory is also involving ASU students in this work. Three recent ASU graduates – Vera Coleman (PhD Spanish, 2017), Abigail Pérez Aguilera (PhD Justice Studies, 2016) and Leonardo Figueroa-Helland (PhD Political Science, 2012) – have been crucial to this organizational activity. It is being led by Juan Carlos Galeano, a well-known poet, filmmaker and professor of Spanish at Florida State University.
Pérez Aguilera and Coleman began working with Galeano, who took the position of Convener of the Latin American (LA) Observatory in 2016. Each of these scholars have common interests in Latin American indigenous studies in Mexico and the Amazon River Basin. They research traditional indigenous story cycles and spiritual beliefs that provide explanatory frameworks through which people in Latin America interpret globalization, climate change and ecology.
These themes are guiding the projects and programming of the new observatory. They are also prominent in Galeano’s most recent documentary film The River (El Río), which premiered at the Detroit Conference. The film, the first collaborative project of the LA Observatory, beautifully represents how people in Latin America navigate the everyday ethics of living with increasingly disturbed ecological systems.
Coleman, who provided the English subtitles for The River, studied Latin American culture and cinema with ASU’s Cynthia Tompkins (Spanish) and environmental literary criticism with Joni Adamson (English). In a dissertation chapter focused on Galeano’s poetry and films, Coleman argues for the importance of the environmental humanities in illuminating Latin American and indigenous literature and multimedia arts.
Since graduation, Coleman has taken a job as a continuing lecturer in Spanish at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and Pérez Aguilera has taken a job as a lecturer at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. They are affiliated with the LA Observatory as key researchers. Their fellow ASU alum, Figueroa-Helland, who is Chair of Politics, Justice and Global Studies at Westminster College, has joined them in the role of co-convener of the observatory.
The LA Observatory will be headquartered at the Universidad de Amazonia in Colombia, the country where Galeano was born. Because of its location, the Observatory will foster peace in a region that has only recently emerged from thirty years of civil war. The Rector of Universidad de Amazonia, Gerardo Antonio Castrillón Artunduaga, has established an Office of Peace that will be coordinated by Jorge Reinel Pulecio Yate, long recognized as a key negotiator for peace in Colombia.
Both Castrillón Artunduaga and Pulecio Yate have signed on as key researchers with the observatory. At the premier of The River in Detroit, Adamson and Galeano presented them with the Seres Puentes (bridge beings/builders) Award to honor their ongoing work for peace and environmental justice. Coleman and Pérez Aguilera provided Spanish/English translation at the ceremony.
Additional researchers continue to be added to the LA Observatory to provide scientific, cultural and institutional support for countries wishing to comply with the 2015 Paris commitment to zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2020. Along with their colleagues in the NA Observatory, LA Observatory researchers will be working to identify, explore and demonstrate the contributions that humanistic and artistic disciplines make toward solving complex social and environmental challenges.