After 5 (and a half) 12 hour days, 6 fantastic keynote addresses, 14 panel/presentation sessions, and field trips to four distinct areas of the island, “Time and a Place” is over. Each day pointed to something that makes islands, especially Prince Edward Island, special spaces to study the environment and the history of the human relationship with the environment. It left me with a lot of ideas to mull over while I finish up comps and keep in mind as I pursue my own research.
What stands out for me in the intellectual sphere are the talks by Finis Dunaway, Donald Worster, the panel on sustainability, the day focused on fisheries, and the discussion that flowed freely throughout the week. As mentioned in a previous post, Worster was one of the main reasons I applied to attend the conference and his talk did not disappoint. Though not part of the talk proper, Alan MacEachern’s introduction of Worster was also great – a play on words much like the intro of Finis Dunaway where MacEachern stated we were starting at the end in reference to Dunaway’s first name. From Worster I took the idea we need to consider the public and scientific levels of consciousness simultaneously when confronting the human-environment relationship in the Age of Limits. From Dunaway I take a re-invigorated interest in the poetry of images, the hermeneutics of images, the centrality of the visual to modern North American culture, and a free copy of his book Natural Visions in the book draw at the end of the conference. My argument that I should get that book because “I used it in my MA, I will be citing it in my PhD, and I’m pretty sure the library wants their one copy back before 2012” was the most persuasive.
It was not just Dunaway’s talk that I enjoyed immensely, it was the opportunity to ask him questions many days afterwards and discuss the different levels of visual images used by the late twentieth-century environmental movement. During his talk I was struck by how the demographic creating the visual images was targeting itself by relying heavily on rhetoric around children and the future to frame issues of environmental crisis. This is a ploy that works when you want parents to take up a cause but would fail to engage youth, university students, people who do not have or want children in the same way. University students in particular create a different set of images, a different visual rhetoric, to present their activism and advocacy which is one of the things I plan to unpack in my own work.
The fisheries themed day was great because it was an example of the excellent planning that went into the entire conference. Every aspect, the presentations and subsequent panel discussions, the field trips, the evening keynote, the location of the lobster dinner in the fishing town of Souris, the prevalence of sea food in every meal we had, encouraged us to confront the sea and the food harvested from it in a variety of ways.
Lastly, the discussion of sustainability for me really began with the panel on PEI as a model of sustainability in the 1970s and maybe today. It featured a short history of the Institute of Man and Resources by Alan MacEachern, an overview of the Back to the Land movement in PEI from Ryan O’Connor, commentary on the experience of working with experiments in sustainability from George McRobie, and a comparison of 3 islands energy use by Kathy Stuart. At the end of the panel, Graeme Wynn asked if we should move away from using the term sustainability and refer to the process instead of resilience. This seemingly semantic distinction really stuck with people at the panel and for the rest of the conference the question of sustainability or resilience came up over and over again.
I’ve tried to find a way to summarize the experience of “Time and Place” but keep finding it to be a conference so rich in every way that words don’t seem to do it justice. So in closing I will say it was everything I’d hoped for and more. New friends and contacts were made from across Canada and around the world. And I return to the west with a better understanding and appreciation of the maritimes, or at the very least the smallest province with the longest name. Can’t wait for the CHESS 2011 call for attendees to come out so I can maybe see another corner of what just might be the friendliest region in the country.
Now to get back to comps reading…