HomeEcocriticism And Race Theory in the Humanities, 16th-18th centuries

HomeEcocriticism And Race Theory in the Humanities, 16th-18th centuries

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Published on Monday, July 03, 2023


This two-day academic symposium on ecology and race from the 16th to the 18th century will apply both ecocriticism and race theory that period. We hope to historicize the interconnectedness of human beings and the natural world in the early modern and modern age before looking at the impact and repercussions of early modern racial and ecological theories in our contemporary world in an Ecology and Race Campus” on the 5th of July 2024, the 3rd day of activities.



The recent crises the contemporary world faces have implications for individuals, the environment and societies, as we are living an unprecedented human-made, planetary environmental crisis which may affect hundreds of millions of humans, animals and plants over the next century and is already showing its impact on many. Some prominent examples are the threat posed by rising waters in Venice, the growing problem of climate refugees, the conditions of places where colonial legacies (Bangladesh) or racial inequality (Florida) make the matter even worse or the contribution of environmental racism to persistent inequalities. In “Racial Ecologies: A View from Ethnic Studies”, Curtis Marez argues, for instance, that “[h]istorically, all sorts of racialized and gendered workers—slaves, indentured servants, farm workers, prisoners, and factory workers—have been exposed to toxins and subjected to environmental degradations” (Marez 2018, xii). The intrusion of so-called natural phenomena into human activities makes it impossible to ignore the link between human and non-human entities or to pretend that the environmental, geopolitical and human emergencies are not connected.

Although Ecocriticism (which focuses on the relationship between environment, nature, animals and humans), and CRT (Critical Race Theory) and PCRS (Premodern Critical Race Studies) (which are based on the study of how bodies are defined by power relations) have developed extensively in the Humanities since the 1990s[1], very little critical attention has been devoted to the overlapping of these two approaches in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. We believe, however, that it is precisely through the intermingling of these two critical methodologies that the Anthropocene[2] -- the impact of humans on the environment – can be best observed, as human activity has reached such intensity that it has been described as a “geological driver” (Baldacci et al., 9). Although the very concept of “Anthropocene” has only recently become acceptable among hard scientists, the Humanities can contribute to its theorization and will do so during this symposium. We believe it is important to think about the human when we think about the environment and vice versa. Moreover, given what we are learning about both the contribution of environmental and climate change towards social and racial injustice, it is only through an increasing awareness of these interactions that we can develop and activate environmental change.

This two-day academic symposium (3-4 July 2024) on ecology and race from the 16th to the 18th century will apply both ecocriticism and race theory that period. We hope to historicize the interconnectedness of human beings and the natural world in the early modern and modern age before looking at the impact and repercussions of early modern racial and ecological theories in our contemporary world in an Ecology and Race Campus on the 5th of July 2024, the 3rd day of activities.

The critical approaches themselves (Ecocriticism, CRT, PCRS) have changed between the moment they emerged in the last decades of the 20th century and today, and a reflection on that epistemological and critical evolution will be helpful. Ecocriticism gradually acknowledged human depredations on natural environments. First-wave ecocriticism[3] focused on the separation between humanity and wilderness and celebrated the wild and the sublime. Second-wave ecocriticism, which developed in the second part of the 1990s, promoted a more comparative and transcultural approach, and third-wave Ecocriticism was theorized by Scott Slovic and Joni Adamson in their introduction to the Summer 2009 special issue of MELUS: Multiethnic Literature of the United States when they further integrated cultural background and ethnic identity in their methodology, thus promoting more diversity in the field of ecocriticism. This evolution makes it possible to connect third-wave Ecocriticism with Critical Race Theory.

Although we particularly welcome paper proposals whose methodologies are situated at the intersection of Critical Race Theory and Ecocriticism or which adopt an intersectional approach, we are happy to receive papers on any aspect of literature, race, culture, and environment in the early modern and modern periods in francophone or anglophone literatures. Questions proposers might consider include: How does Ecocriticism attend to the link between aesthetics and ethics? How does third-wave Ecocriticism transcend boundaries to explore how our perception of nature is mediated by race, class, gender and geography? How might a transcultural approach to the environment help explore new ways of thinking about animals, humans, ethnicities, plants, and the environment? This symposium intends to bring together scholars of different disciplines, working on different centuries and different corpuses to raise questions and engage critically with race and ecology. We hope that it will encourage people to think more in terms of diversity, inclusivity, biodiversity and interdependent ecosystems.

Suggested Critical Conversations about Ecology and Race

Hierarchy, Human and Non-Human: Power, Othering and Disposability 

From early modernity to modernity, different hierarchical taxonomies of humans emerged and gave way to axiological systems to define identity and alterity. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, racial markers were based on heredity and physical traits deemed as natural, such as phenotype and skin color, but also on cultural differences such as religion and nationality (Loomba & Burton, 2007).

In the symposium, we invite participants to lay the emphasis on human mastery over nature and the ways human beings have othered the environment, the “more-than-human,” as a whole – the more-than-human including animals, the plant kingdom, minerals and landscapes. How can we understand the othering process when applied to nature, to human beings and to both? How and why might humans view nature and other beings as intrinsically different and alien to themselves? Papers dealing with how minoritized/oppressed humans attempt to empower themselves by controlling and exploiting the environment and papers dealing with how humans seize power by controlling and exploiting nature will be appreciated.

In the case of settler colonialism, both indigenous human beings and their environment are regarded as disposable matter, i.e. to be used and abused. The land becomes a “plantation” while the inhabitants lose their political autonomy and often end up internalizing the ideological discourse of the colonizers. We encourage participants to raise the question of place and space to study the colonizers’ appropriation of the colony’s environment and of the colonized themselves.  

Environmental Determinism, or Nature Shaping Humanity 

If humans attempted to prove their mastery over nature, nature itself exerted a deep influence over human beings according to ethnological theories which date back to Antiquity. In English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama (2003), Mary Floyd-Wilson coined the term “geohumoralism” to refer to climate theories according to which the climate (for example temperature, wind, humidity and sunlight...) affects the physiology as well as the psychology of human beings. This concept reveals the power that nature has on human beings, by defining them through the environment they come from.

How did early modern thinkers and writers read the climate theories of Antiquity? How did they appropriate them to serve their own ideological agenda? To what extent were climate theories tools used to construct nascent nationalism in the Renaissance and beyond? How does the physical environment predispose societies and states towards particular development trajectories? How were these theories used as a tool to legitimize colonialism, racism and imperialism in Africa, Asia and the Americas? How is the concept of race shaped and constructed by the relations between non-human living entities (such as plant life, weather phenomena, climate)? How is climate a racial marker? How do narratives and myths about nature account for the genesis of Blackness?

Environmental determinism cropped up in early modern and modern travel literature. Papers addressing the role of the foreign gaze will be more than welcome, in particular those emphasizing the different strategies used to construct otherness – the other environment, the other people, and above all how the environment is othered through a portrait of the inhabitants. How does travel have an impact on both physical human bodies and natural landscapes? What consequences did the movement and circulation of peoples, vegetal and animal species and commodities have on the environment?

Racial terminologies deploy the symbolism of nature to discuss human embodiment, mainly but not only, through the use of stylistic devices such as metaphors and metonymies which are “demonizing, commodifying, excluding, animalizing, infantilizing, associative and sexualizing” (Ndiaye 2022, 236). The racialized imagery of nature makes race-making more tangible. To what extent is nature racialized through anthropocentric devices such as personification?  How is race associated with the plant kingdom, namely earth, soil, roots, seeds, springs and stocks, among others? How is the tree metaphor central both to a reflection on non-human nature and human nature? Can we speak of the poetics of racial nature, or of the racialized environment?  

Epistemologies of Ecology and White Supremacy

The priority? Importance? that humans assume influence our worldview as well as their perception of the natural world and the discourse we use to make sense of everything we experience. Yet what is considered “human” has varied historically. How is seeing nature through the prism of Christianity, Whiteness and heteronormative patriarchy different from the Muslim, Jewish – as well as other lesser-known indigenous belief systems – queer and women’s perception of nature? Do religion and gender shape the way we understand our relationship to the environment? To what extent can being racially privileged, or underprivileged – as in the case of the enslaved and the colonized – explain our relationship to the natural world?

The way human beings write about themselves and about the natural world seems to be influenced by their own racial positionality. The very knowledge human beings gather about the natural world is connected to the impact they have on the environment. To what extent does race change the way we experience nature and write about it? Papers addressing the specificity of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), Afro-descendant, postcolonial, or BAME (Black And Multi-Ethnic) experience of nature in fiction, non-fiction or the visual arts, will be appreciated as well as those challenging White epistemologies to point out other ways of conceptualizing nature.

Moreover, might early modernity and modernity historical periods in which human beings go beyond the master/slave dialectic with nature? How can decolonial practices of unlearning open up critical conversations about race and nature to renew the way we look at the past, to raise awareness and to promote environmental and social justice? How can understanding the past be a strategy to prepare for the future?

Non-exhaustive list of suggested topics

- Ecology, race and axiological systems

- Human mastery over nature and nature’s mastery over humanity

- Non-Human, human and disposability

- Travel literature, ecology and race

- Early modern drama, landscapes and race

- Climate theories and “geohumoralism”

- Environmental racism and environmental justice

- Metaphors, metonymies, topoi and tropes

- Environmental and racial awareness

- Evolution of critical and scholarly approaches to ecology and race

Suggested Critical and Scholarly Approaches 

Ecocriticism (first, second and third waves), Ecomaterialism, Ecofeminism, Animal Studies, Critical Race Theory and Premodern Critical Race Studies, Critical Whiteness Studies, Queer of Color Critique, Queer Studies, Cultural Materialism, Gender Studies, Intersectionality, Indigenous Studies, Disability studies, History of emotions...

Deadline and Expected Formats for the Presentations

Please send your proposals for individual papers of 20 minutes in French or in English (title, 300-word abstract, and 150-word bio), or for pre-formed roundtable discussion panels whose participants will give 5-minute presentations (title, 100-word abstract and 150-word bio) to Prof. Emmanuelle Peraldo (emmanuelle.peraldo@univ-cotedazur.fr) and Dr. Nora Galland (nora.galland@univ-cotedazur.fr)

 by 15 September 2023.

Selection Committee

  • Emmanuelle Peraldo (PR), CTELA UPR 6307, Université Côte d’Azur, emmanuelle.peraldo@univ-cotedazur.fr
  • Nora Galland (ATER), CTELA UPR 6307, Université Côte d’Azur, nora.galland@univ-cotedazur.fr


[1] Kerridge (1998), Garrard (2014) among others for ecocriticism and Hall (1995), Loomba (1998) and Iyengar (2004) for PCRS. Myers (2005) focuses on both race and ecology. Some critics, like Huggan and Tiffin eds (2015) or DeLoughrey and Hanley eds (2011), also focused on the convergence between ecology and race in studies on postcolonial ecocriticism.

[2] The Anthropocene has received many definitions over the past decades. See W. Steffen, P.J. and J.R. McNeill, “The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature”, Ambio, 36, 2007, 614-621; Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene”, Nature, 519, 2015, 171-180.

[3] The term “Ecocriticism” was first coined in William Rueckert’s 1978 article “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism.”

Non-exhaustive Bibliography

Adamson, Toni and Scott Slovic. “Guest Editors’ Introduction, The Swallows We Stand On: An Introduction to Ethnicity and Ecocriticism”, MELUS, 2009, 34, 2, 5-24.

Aravamudan, Srinivas. Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804. Durham and London, 1999.

Baldacci Cristina and Shaul Bassi, Lucio De Capitani, Pietro Daniel Omodeo (eds.). Venice and the Anthropocene: An Ecocritical Guide. Venice: Wetlands, 2022.  

Besson, Françoise (ed.). Travel Writing and Environmental Awareness. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, forthcoming.

Bodin, Jean. Method for the Easy Comprehension of History [1566]. Trans. Beatrice Reynolds, New-York: Norton, 1969. 

Borlik, Todd A. Ecocriticism and Early Modern Literature: Green Pastures. London and New-York: Routledge, 2011. 

Bruckner, Lynne and Dan Brayton eds. Ecocritical Shakespeare. London and New York: Routledge, 2016.

Campana, Joseph and Scott Maisano (eds). Renaissance Posthumanism. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.

Cooke, Stuart and Peter Denney (eds.). Transcultural Ecocriticism: Global, Romantic and Decolonial Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury, 2021.  

Crane, Kylie. “Ecocriticism and Travel”, in Nandini Das and Tim Youngs (eds.), The Cambridge History of Travel Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019, 535-549.

Das, Nandini. Keywords of Identity, Race and Human Mobility in Early Modern England. Amsterdam:  Amsterdam University Press, 2021.

-----------------. Lives in Transit in Early Modern England: Identity and Belonging. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022.

Dawson, Mark. Bodies Complexioned: Human Variation and Racism in Early Modern English Culture c. 1600-1750. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019.  

DeLoughrey, Elizabeth and George B Hanley (eds.). Postcolonial Ecologies. Literatures of the Environment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Egan, Gabriel. Shakespeare and Ecocritical Theory. London and New York: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2015.

Feldman, Mark B and Hsuan L. Hsu. “Introduction: Race, Environment and Representation”, Discourse, 29, 2/3, Special Issue on Race, Environment and Representation, 2007, 199-214.

Floyd Wilson, Mary. “Climatic Culture: The Transmissions and Transmutations of Ethnographic Knowledge”, in Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 23-88.  

Garrard, Greg (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.  

Goul, Pauline and Phillip John Usher. Early Modern Ecologies: Beyond English Ecocriticism. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020.  

Gruber, Elizabeth. The Eco-Self in Early Modern English Literature. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023.

Haraway, Donna. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chtulucene: Makin Kin”, Environmental Humanities, Vol. 6, 2015, 159-165.

Hawthorne, Camilla. “Black matters are spatial matters: Black geographies for the twenty‐first century”, Geography Compass, 13, 11, 2019, e12468, https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12468, accessed 12 June 2023.

Hendricks, Margo. “Coloring the Past, Considerations on our Future: RaceB4Race”, New Literary History, Vol. 52, N°3/4, 2021, 365-389.

Iyengar, Sujata. Shades of Difference: Mythologies of Skin Color. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. 

Kerridge, Richard. Writing the Environment: Ecocriticism and Literature. London and New York: Zed Books, 1998. 

Lethabo King, Tiffany. The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019.

Lewis, Simon L. and Mark A. Maslin. “Defining the Anthropocene”, in Nature, 519, 2015, 171-180.

Little Jr, Arthur. White People in Shakespeare: Essays on Race, Culture and the Elite. London: Bloomsbury, 2023.

Loomba, Ania and Jonathan Burton (eds.).  Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion. New-York: Palgrave, 2007.

Marez, Curtis. “Racial Ecologies: A View from Ethnic Studies”, in Leilani Nishime and Kim D. Hester Williams (eds.), Racial Ecologies. Washington: University of Washington Press, 2018, ix-xiv.

McKittrick, Katherine. “Introduction: Geographic Stories”, in Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006, ix-xxxi.

Montesquieu, Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brède et de. L’Esprit des lois [1748], tomes 1 et 2. Paris: Flammarion, 1993. 

Myers, Jeffrey. Converging Stories: Race, Ecology and Environmental Justice in American Literature. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005. 

Ndiaye, Noémie. Scripts of Blackness: Early Modern Performance Culture and the Making of Race. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022.

Peraldo, Emmanuelle. “Ecocriticism”, in Aurélie Choné, Isabelle Hajek, Philippe Hamman (eds.), Rethinking Nature, Challenging Disciplinary Boundaries. New-York: Routledge, 2017, 75-82.

Sarkar, Debapriya. “Ecocriticism and the Geographies of Race” in The Sundial, March 2021, URL: https://medium.com/the-sundial-acmrs/ecocriticism-and-the-geographies-of-race-951611f6ca3b, accessed 12 June 2023.

Steffen, W., P.J. and J.R. McNeill. “The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature”, Ambio, 36, 2007, 614-621.

Thompson, Ayanna (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Race. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Wheeler, Roxann. “The Empire of Climate: Categories of Race in Eighteenth-Century Britain”, in The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, 1-48.

Yusoff, Kathryn. “Geology, Race and Matter”, in A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018, 1-22.


  • 98 Boulevard Edouard Herriot
    Nice, France (06)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Friday, September 15, 2023


  • écocritique, race, XVIe sièce, XVIIIe siècle, littérature, géographie, représentation, environnement


  • Emmanuelle Peraldo
    courriel : emmanuelle [dot] peraldo [at] univ-cotedazur [dot] fr
  • Nora Galland
    courriel : nora [dot] galland [at] univ-cotedazur [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Nora Galland
    courriel : nora [dot] galland [at] univ-cotedazur [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Ecocriticism And Race Theory in the Humanities, 16th-18th centuries », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, July 03, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1bi6

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