Schuylkill Corps Questionnaire: Kate Farquhar

Formed in 2016, The Schuylkill River and Urban Waters Research Corps is a public, cooperative research project organized by Peter DeCarlo (Drexel), Danielle Redden (Bartram's Garden), and Bethany Wiggin (Penn). Since its inception the Schuylkill Corps has brought together artists, historians, community organizers, students and scholars together in a bi-weekly seminar to discuss their research and creative practices revolving around one central focal point, the Schuylkill River.

We put together a brief questionnaire for each of our previous seminar participants that summons us back to the river – to share their perspectives, projects, and experiences on urban waters.

Schuylkill Corps Questionnaire: Charles Haas

Schuylkill Corps Questionnaire: Charles Haas

Formed in 2016, The Schuylkill River and Urban Waters Research Corps is a public, cooperative research project organized by Peter DeCarlo (Drexel), Danielle Redden (Bartram's Garden), and Bethany Wiggin (Penn). Since its inception the Schuylkill Corps has brought together artists, historians, community organizers, students and scholars together in a bi-weekly seminar to discuss their research and creative practices revolving around one central focal point, the Schuylkill River.

Charles Haas is the head of Drexel's Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental engineeringHis presentation at the Schuylkill River & Urban Waters Research Corps Seminar focused on the microbiology, health and the rivers of Philadelphia prompting discussion on health risks for those who engage recreationally with the rivers and the importance of green infrastructure to mitigate those risks and improve water quality.  

PPEH Announces New Mellon Artist-In-Residence and Call for "Ecotopian Toolkit" Contributors

PPEH Announces New Mellon Artist-In-Residence and Call for "Ecotopian Toolkit" Contributors

The Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH) fosters interdisciplinary environmental collaboration and scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, and beyond. Among our core commitments is arts-driven inquiry into place: our campus, the City of Philadelphia, the Delaware River watershed, and beyond. Since 2015, when the Program began, we have worked with artists, alongside scientists, humanists, and civic organizations, to engage a variety of publics around environmental and climate concerns.

Schuylkill Corps Questionnaire: Danielle Kreeger

Schuylkill Corps Questionnaire: Danielle Kreeger

The Schuylkill River and Urban Waters Research Corps is a public, cooperative research project organized by Peter DeCarlo (Drexel), Danielle Redden (Bartram's Garden), and Bethany Wiggin (Penn). Formed in 2016, the Schuylkill Corps brings together artists, historians, community organizers, students and scholars together in a bi-weekly seminar to discuss their research and creative practices revolving around one central focal point, the Schuylkill River.

We compiled a brief questionnaire with each of our previous seminar participants that summons us back to the river – to share their perspectives, projects, and experiences on urban waters.

Science and Ice: The Changing Sublime in the Frozen North

The Sea of Ice, Caspar David Friedrich, 1832         The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, 2008

The Sea of Ice, Caspar David Friedrich, 1832         The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, 2008

It’s rather strange, the romance of ice. Strange that a material so hard and cold should seem so alive: so vital and dynamic, so noisy, so busy. Strange and romantic, too, that this lively ice is the pulse of the earth: that the ebb and flow of ice caps dictate the scope of planetary life. In 1818, when Mary Shelley sent Frankenstein’s monster fleeing into the Arctic waste, she had no conception that the poles played such a role in the life of the rest of the globe, but she—like other Romantics—saw something uncannily lively about the frozen region. The uncanny and strange are essential facets of the sublime: the sensation that something terrible is also pleasurable, an overwhelming awe at nature. Despite scientific explanation, this bewildering sublimity persists today—just stand on the shore of a glacier and listen to the ice groan and bubble, crackle and pop.

Looking specifically to the frozen north, my project for PPEH traces the resonance of nineteenth-century Romantic conceptions of the Arctic with twentieth-century scientific conceptions of the region: I historicize the sublime as it changes, but doesn’t fade, over time. My work thus explores how doing science in the Arctic--specifically by northern European meteorologists, oceanographers, and glaciologists--develops over the long twentieth century. When the Arctic emerged as a dynamic region whose changeability, both spatially and temporally, is crucial to understanding the natural history of the earth as a whole. Growing and shrinking ice caps reify the changes of ocean and atmosphere, and through ice cores and ice mapping, the past of the planet is laid bare. But despite an increasingly mechanistic understanding of nature, what kind of nature is found amongst the ice is, I argue, inescapably inflected by these earlier conceptions of the Arctic as sublime. By the twentieth century, monsters may have faded from Arctic imaginaries, but ice retained its sublime capacity to bend space and time, and to dictate life.

Thin-section micrograph of a matrix of             Ice core showing the eruption of the Toba individual ice crystals from the 250-m              supervolcano ~ 700 years ago. depth ~ 800 years old.

Thin-section micrograph of a matrix of             Ice core showing the eruption of the Toba individual ice crystals from the 250-m              supervolcano ~ 700 years ago.
depth ~ 800 years old.

Changing scientific representations of ice, and different uses of ice as a scientific instrument, anchor my work, linking the Arctic as a region across a long timeframe: 1883, when the first International Polar Year (IPY) was held, to 2007, the most recent IPY. I look at scientific illustrations of the Arctic from 1883, aerial photographs of the ice pack from 1931, ice atlases from 1957, ice cores from the 1970s, and seed banking in 2008 to explore how ways of seeing and knowing the Arctic result in a spatially and temporally dynamic “scientific sublime.”

   Illustration of Aurora and landscape of Svalbard,          Aerial photograph of icepack taken first     International Polar Year expedition, 1882-3                    during the polar flight of the Graf                                                                                                        Zeppelin, 1932

   Illustration of Aurora and landscape of Svalbard,          Aerial photograph of icepack taken first     International Polar Year expedition, 1882-3                    during the polar flight of the Graf                                                                                                        Zeppelin, 1932

Ice is vital and lively, and I want my work to be so, too. PPEH provides a space where I can do more than write this project, it is a space where I can experiment with ways of producing it. By engaging with people beyond my discipline and beyond academia, I hope to make my history-heavy research relevant to a wider community. Central to this effort will be engagement with the concept of the anthropocene—the argument that we’ve entered a new geologic era, created by man—in which the poles loom large. The icy bookends of the planet are the harbingers of climate change, places where the effects of a warming planet are brought into sharp relief. How we can see, communicate, and understand climate change is all about how we understand and see nature—a question that lies at the core of my research. Through PPEH, I hope to think beyond scientific representations of climate change, to engage with art and embodiment, with experience and affect. Sound in particular matters in the Arctic (remember that glacier, bubbling and groaning?), and I want to have people hear the sublime Arctic in the anthropocene, too.