“Shifting Grounds: Visualizing, Materializing, and Embodying Environmental Change in the Early Modern European World, ca. 1400–1700”

Co - Chair for this Panel (February 13, 2021) at the College Art Association Annual Conference

During the early modern period (ca. 1400–1700), European communities conceptualized environmental change in new ways. As the so-called “Little Ice Age” increased the frequency of tempests and floods, among other catastrophic hydraulic events, and while slower cycles of erosion, ruination, and pollution continued their gradual and perpetual menace, humans yearned to understand the causes of these natural calamities, and to interpret what they might have meant about their place in the temporal world and the spiritual realm.

While literary scholars have long been interested in cultural responses to ecological phenomena, historians of art and architecture have only begun to scratch the surface on these issues. This panel therefore solicits papers that examine how early modern environmental change was visualized, materialized, and embodied in the form of images, objects, monuments, and landscapes. Recognizing the radical entanglements among human and nonhuman agents (both natural and divine) in processes of environmental transformation, we welcome diverse topics from across Europe and its varied global contact zones that draw from and expand upon approaches in ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. We especially invite contributions exploring the viability of a longer history of the Anthropocene. In engaging environmental change within histories of early modern European art and architecture, our objectives are twofold: to reconfigure a subfield traditionally delimited by the anthropocentric, individualist narratives of Renaissance humanist and Christian historiographies, and to confront the origins of ideological assumptions that landed us in our current global climatic crisis—but may also suggest ways out of it.