Environmental Humanities Project Seminar on Drought: “Migration, Farming, Labor, and Livelihoods”

Environmental Humanities Project Seminar on Drought: “Migration, Farming, Labor, and Livelihoods”


“Migration, Farming, Labor, and Livelihoods”

With distinguished participant Héctor Hoyos, Assistant Professor of Latin American Literature and Culture, Stanford University

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

6:00 to 8:00pm

Margaret Jacks Hall (Bldg. 460)

Terrace Room (4th Floor)

Next Tuesday, the Environmental Humanities Project’s Winter Seminar on Drought will continue to explore the history, present, and future of California’s freshwater resources. Each quarter, EHP has selected one focus text (corresponding to a theme) along with suggested supplementary texts and film recommendations such that participants in the seminar will have at least one common text to discuss. EHP anticipates that each participant will also bring background knowledge to bear on this subject and thus help create a vibrant cross-disciplinary dialogue.

The Fall Seminar (Nov 17) focused thematically on land claims, colonial settlement, and California’s irrigation economy with distinguished participant Gary Libecap visiting from UC Santa Barbara. It was a lively discussion about telling and retelling the stories, with truth as intermittently apparent. Libecap addressed the challenges of holding land as property and water as a right, advocating for an ownership model with good and fair pricing (water markets). Questions about “leaving it in the ground” (allocating water for the environment) and “aggregate preferences of the population” (public input on the fair distribution of water) came forward as key issues, which we will carry forward into the Winter Seminar with a thematic focus on migration, farming, labor, and livelihoods.

The focus text for the Winter Seminar is J.B. Jackson‘s 1953 essay “The Westward-Moving House,” a story about three generations of the Tinkham Family beginning with their arrival to colonial era New England where they purchased 60 acres of “virgin” land from the British Crown. Subsequent generations move west to Illinois and then to Texas, respectively; each move signals a transformation of “revolutionary” values with greater distance from the Crown and greater loyalty to the market.

In addition to Jackson’s essay, we will weave in discussion of Ch. 1, 2, and 5 from pioneer feminist nature writer Mary Austin‘s Land of Little Rain; Sarah Wald‘s essay on the invisibility of workers’ and immigrant rights in food studies, challenging Michael Pollan’s erasure of labor and food production in The Omnivore’s Dilemma despite his assertion of the “right to look”; Ellen Knickmeyer‘s eye witness report on pop-up “wetlands” ushered in by conservationists and rice farmers who argue allocating water to flood the fields for farming in California’s Central Valley also provides bird habitat, noting that drought and water cutbacks at wilderness preserves makes for stagnant and packed water with higher risk of disease outbreak and bird death; and finally Terry Tempest William‘s fiction letter to the pioneer explorer and irrigation cartographer Major John Wesley Powell lauding him for his “philosophy of restraint.”

PDFs of winter readings are here.

We are very pleased that Héctor Hoyos will join us as a distinguished participant to moderate the discussion. Two film recommendations this quarter include Diego Luna‘s César Chávez (2014) and Icíar Bollaín‘s También la lluvia (Even the Rain, 2010). Hoyos has recommended the second title and he will surely bring a strong comparative perspective to the table.

Dinner will be provided.

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