Conservation Humanities Café at the ESEH 2022 in Bristol

How can the humanities contribute to conservation practice? This was the overarching question that the Corridor Talk team members Jonathan Carruthers-Jones, Pavla Šimková, and Eveline de Smalen probed with the participants of their panel at the European Society of Environmental History (ESEH) conference in Bristol in early July. At the “Conservation Humanities Café,” chaired by Katie Ritson, the team opened with a presentation of the work currently underway at the three study sites in Europe.

Corridor Talk presentation, ESEH Bristol 2022. Photo by Eline Tabak.

In the following café part of the session we broke into three groups, each exploring and assessing the merits, opportunities, and limitations of humanities disciplines in informing and developing sustainable conservation practices in national parks in Europe. One group discussed, among other topics, the potential dangers of using a single landscape or species to symbolize a larger issue, concluding that certain conservation imageries can in fact be counterproductive. Participants also pointed out that even though humanities interventions into conservation debates oftentimes fail to produce an immediate practical effect on the ground, it is still meaningful to keep taking part in the conversation.

The group discussing participatory audio-visual methods highlighted the importance of storytelling in sustainability and conservation. Documenting the stories told by diverse communities, both local and non-local, as they share experiences and perspectives on challenging conservation issues, is a critical first step. Finding ways to then share these stories and the accompanying research insights more widely was considered a key contribution from audio-visual methods to address conservation challenges. Looking forward, ‘gently capturing’ and sharing these stories was also considered critical to both learning lessons from history and building alternative landscape imaginaries going forward.

Corridor Talk group discussion, ESEH Bristol 2022

The final group discussed the challenges for the humanities in bridging the gap between humanities research and conservation practices and policy. Participants suggested that the first key to approaching practitioners and policymakers is a place-based approach with a geographically defined region at its basis on which researchers, practitioners and policymakers can find common ground. The second requirement is long-term research that provides time for researchers to build and maintain networks. In the current academic and funding landscape, this is difficult as much research is done through third-party funding which is often short-term and sometimes very short-term. Especially for early-career researchers, this makes this kind of work next to impossible.

As one of the opening sessions of the conference, covering environmental history as well as a wider set of disciplinary lenses, the café itself was also considered a story worth sharing: two members of the Corridor Talk team, Katie and Jonathan, were interviewed for the ESEH radio blog, which will be online soon!

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