Author Archives: Claire Eder

A Celebration of Turkish-German Writer Aras Ören

The most recent issue of Monatshefte, a special issue dedicated to Aras Ören, is now available. Guest editor Ela Gezen gives a brief summary of the issue below.


An actor, playwright, novelist, poet, theorist, and radio journalist, Aras Ören (1939–) is one of the earliest and most significant contributors to the emergence of Turkish-German literature. He had his literary breakthrough in 1973, with the publication of the first part of his highly acclaimed Berlin trilogy: Was will Niyazi in der Naunynstraße [What Does Niyazi Want in Naunyn Street]. Ören has been a regular participant in a variety of cultural events and also an important public figure in his role as editor for the first regular Turkish-language radio programming in (West) Germany. This special issue brings Aras Ören’s literary oeuvre as well as cultural-political contributions to the fore, while also highlighting their continued significance. It features well-known scholars from a variety of institutional and national contexts, and not only offers new approaches to Ören’s work, but also includes selected first-time English translations expanding his readership and therefore providing opportunities for inclusion into the English-language classroom. At the same time this special issue draws attention to the extensive archive, Ören’s Vorlaß at the Akademie der Künste, which not only includes documents relevant to his own work, but also his collection of materials on Turkish-German cultural activities and events in (West) Berlin since the 1970s.


To learn more, browse the table of contents and read the introduction (in German), freely available now.

Call for Papers: Colonial Histories of Plant-Based Pharmaceuticals

Image courtesy of the Wellcome Collection: The Munsong cinchona plantation, Kalimpong, Bengal, India: a woman in traditional Bengali dress holds a circular tray of cinchona seeds (the plant of which is used to produce the anti-malarial drug quinine), which are planted by the Bengali man next to her. Photograph, 1905/1920 (https://wellcomecollection.org/works/u3vcd8uy).

History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals, the official journal of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP), is pleased to announce a call for papers for a special issue: “Colonial Histories of Plant-Based Pharmaceuticals.” The issue will appear as volume 63, number 2 of HoPP (Winter 2021). Guest editors for the special issue will be Dr. Geoff Bil and Dr. Jaipreet Virdi, both of the University of Delaware.

Submission Guidelines

To submit a proposal for the special issue, please send a 200-word abstract and 1-page CV to guest editors Geoff Bil (gbil@udel.edu) and Jaipreet Virdi (jvirdi@udel.edu) by January 31, 2021. Invitations for manuscript submission of 8,000 words will be sent by February 6, 2021, with first drafts due April 15, 2021, for peer review. Please consult the full HoPP author guidelines when preparing manuscripts.

Call for Papers

Plants and their medicinal properties have been used for healing since time immemorial. Plant-based pharmacopoeias have generated local, regional, and global systems of production, distribution, and consumption; defined trade relations across borders; and even accompanied exchanges of bodies and technologies. Scholars have examined, for instance, how the circulation and consumption of plants and pharmaceuticals were generated within deeply inequitable systems of colonization, with the accompanying exploitation, suppression, and erasure of ancestral knowledges. Within these contexts, the very definition of plants as medicines—as opposed to foods, taxonomical specimens, symbols or ornaments—is frequently unstable, shaped by language, culture, empire, and ecological context, and subject to contingent understandings of the body, physiology, illness, and treatment. While the rise of synthetic and chemical pharmaceuticals has inadvertently positioned herbalist approaches as “alternative” healing systems in the Western world, phytomedicines have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as complementary forms of treatment, even while they constitute 80 percent of pharmacopoeias in the Global South. Increased demand, coupled with ecological destruction wrought by climate change, have furthermore depleted crucial plant resources, thereby threatening Indigenous ways of life. 

What are the cultural and epistemological tensions between plant-based pharmaceuticals and synthetic biomedicines? How have medicinal plants figured in colonial relationships? This special issue of History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals aims to reframe histories of phytomedicines through intersecting approaches from the history of medicine, pharmacy, and pharmacology with postcolonial, Indigenous, and gender studies, histories of science and empire, labor history, environmental history, and related fields.

We seek papers on themes including, but not limited to, the following: 

  • Colonial histories of medicinal plants as examined through Indigenous and local histories
  • “Medical quackery” reframed through new histories of plant-based pharmaceuticals 
  • Workers and labor histories, including intersections with disability and industry
  • Gender, sexuality, and medicinal plant knowledges
  • Global and/or imperial consumption and distribution patterns 
  • Phytomedicines and colonial encounters in the Global South 
  • Plant-based approaches for chronic diseases, disability, and health maintenance
  • Effects of climate change and ecological factors on medicinal plant resources
  • Bioprospecting, patenting, and anti-colonial resistance
  • Medicinal plants in translation

Landscape Journal Welcomes New Interim Editor

Landscape Journal, the official journal of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), is excited to welcome a new interim editor. Katherine Melcher succeeds previous interim editor Robert Corry and assistant editor David Pitt. The UW Press would like to thank Corry and Pitt for all their hard work on behalf of the journal over the past year. The following is a brief introduction to the new editor.


Katherine Melcher is an associate professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design, where she teaches courses in community design, site engineering, and research methods. Her research interests span two areas: landscape architecture theory and social aspects of design, with a special focus on participatory design. Her work has been published in Landscape Journal, Landscape Review, Landscape Research Record, Town Planning Review, The Plan Journal, and New Geographies. Her piece in Landscape Research Record, “Three Moments in Aesthetic Discourse,” received the Outstanding Paper Award from the Council of Educators of Landscape Architecture in 2018.

She co-edited the book Community-Built: Art, Construction, Preservation, and Place, published by Routledge in 2017, and served as co-editor of the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts’ newsletter from 2017 to 2019. In addition to teaching research methods at the University of Georgia, she has supervised the research of over twenty-five master students.

Prior to joining the University of Georgia, she was Design Director at Urban Ecology, a nonprofit based in the San Francisco Bay Area that specializes in community-based design. She developed participatory processes that engaged diverse communities in the design and creation of their public places, including the East Bay Greenway, a twelve-mile pedestrian and bicycle path in Alameda County, CA. The California Chapter of the American Planning Association awarded the East Bay Greenway Concept Plan its 2009 Focused Issue Award of Excellence.

Originally from Oklahoma, she received her BA in sociology from Vassar College and her MLA from Louisiana State University. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.

On her new role with Landscape Journal, Melcher says,

I am excited about the opportunity to engage directly with landscape scholars to help further our understanding of how we can best plan, design, and manage our environments. I would especially like to thank Robert Corry and David Pitt for taking so much time and care to introduce me to the editing process. Because of their work, I believe the transition will be smooth. I also would like to thank Dan Nadenicek and Ashley Steffens for encouraging me to take on this role.


To learn more about Melcher’s work, see her 2013 article in Landscape Journal entitled “Equity, Empowerment, or Participation: Prioritizing Goals in Community Design,” which is freely available to read until the end of January.

The Social Cost of Water Pollution

The most recent issue of Land Economics, a special issue entitled “Integrated Assessment Models and the Social Cost of Water Pollution,” is now available. The papers in this issue stem from a 2019 workshop organized by David Keiser, Catherine L. Kling, and Daniel J. Phaneuf. Read an excerpt from the introduction to the issue, written by the organizers.


The eight papers in this issue were presented at a workshop titled Integrated Assessment Models and the Social Cost of Water Pollution. The event took place on April 3–5, 2019, at Cornell University. This was the second annual workshop, part of an ongoing effort to understand how changes in water quality affect society, with the ultimate goal of providing estimates of the “social costs” of water pollution that are useful for policy analysis across broad spatial scales. This requires moving beyond economic case studies, emphasizing instead multidisciplinary research operating at large spatial scales and involving economists, ecologists, hydrologists, and related disciplines. It also requires coordination with state and federal agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders to provide tools that have both scientific rigor and practical usefulness. The workshop brought together academic economists, ecologists, hydrologists, and agricultural engineers; agency scientists and policy experts; individuals from private sector institutes; and students to hear talks, participate in discussions, and build foundations for future collaborations.

The reference to integrated assessment models (IAMs) in the workshop title serves to emphasize the scale of ambition for this research community. An IAM is a collection of modules that individually describe the components of a complex system and work together to understand how the overall system works. Disciplinary specialists contribute their own expertise to build the IAM components and also cooperate with other researchers to assure that the components are compatible. Estimating the social costs of water pollution involves linking the sources of water pollution with their fate and transport in waterways, their impact on downstream ecosystem services, and changes in economic value or costs among affected populations. This requires the expertise of hydrologists, ecologists, and economists, respectively.

The specific papers are examples of progress to date. They include a mix of IAMs focused on predicting the economic benefits from improved water quality, IAMs looking at the costs of achieving pollution reduction objects, and studies that explore specific components needed for integrated assessment. The applications span locations and spatial scales, such as iconic water bodies and their surroundings (Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes), a state-level analysis focused on Michigan, a river basin scale application to the Republican River in Kansas/Nebraska, individual watersheds in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, and a nationwide application. Collectively the studies illustrate the range of research tasks, challenges, and products that define the agenda of research on the social costs of water pollution.


To learn more, browse the table of contents and read the open access article “Including Additional Pollutants into an Integrated Assessment Model for Estimating Nonmarket Benefits from Water Quality” by Robert Griffin, Adrian Vogl, Stacie Wolny, Stefanie Covino, Eivy Monroy, Heidi Ricci, Richard Sharp, Courtney Schmidt, and Emi Uchida.

Call for Proposals: Monatshefte Special Issue

The editors of Monatshefte are pleased to announce a call for proposals for a special issue in 2022. They invite interested guest editors or co-editors to propose a topic with a German Studies focus (broadly conceived) by sending them a list of contributor names, brief abstracts from contributors (300 words maximum), mini-bios of the guest editor(s), and a rationale for the volume of 500–1000 words by January 1, 2020. Typically, Monatshefte issues consist of 5 to 7 articles with 6000–8000 words, but the editors are open to alternative formats provided they remain roughly within that total length.

The editors will evaluate the proposals on the basis of the interest and timeliness of the topic, the coherence of contributions as a single issue, the representation of diverse identities and career stages by the contributors, and the expertise of contributors in the topic.

Please send proposals to monatshefte_editor@gns.wisc.edu.

Timeline

  • Proposals due 1/1/2021
  • The editors, in consultation with the editorial board and international advisory board if needed, will make a decision by 2/1/2021
  • The completed manuscripts will be due to the editors by 11/30/2021, after which they will be sent out for peer review
  • Revisions after review will be due by 3/31/2022
  • The issue will appear as issue 114.3, fall 2022

University of Wisconsin Press Welcomes New Journal for 2021: History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals

The University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to announce a new partnership with the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). The institute’s journal, History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals (formerly Pharmacy in History, 1959–2020), will be published by the Press beginning in January 2021. AIHP is located at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy.

AIHP executive director Dennis Birke says, “We look forward to working with the University of Wisconsin Press. With their capabilities and publishing expertise we can continue to place the highest priority on serving our members and community, while exploring new opportunities to broaden the reach of our journal.”

History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals publishes original scholarly articles about the history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals, broadly defined, including (but not limited to) the history of: pharmacy practice, pharmacy science, pharmacy education, drug regulation, social and cultural aspects of drugs and medicines, the pharmaceutical industry—including the history of pharmaceuticals, drugs, and therapeutics—and facets of the related medical sciences.

History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals publishes two issues per year, and its online content can be found on JSTOR. The title joins the Press’s eleven other peer reviewed academic journals in the humanities and social sciences.

Toni Gunnison, Journals Manager at the University of Wisconsin Press, states, “We are thrilled to add this dynamic and well-established journal to our publishing program. We look forward to partnering with the AIHP, a fellow University of Wisconsin organization, to disseminate scholarship in support of the Wisconsin Idea.”

Biography and Economics in African History

The most recent issue of African Economic History, a special issue entitled “Biography and Economics,” is now available. The lead editor for this issue, Paul Lovejoy, explains his choice of theme:

The inspiration for this special issue on Biography and Economics was the realization that economic history often does not focus on individuals and what their personal testimonies can tell us about economics and economic relationships. The issue brings together five articles that address this theme in different ways; the first through the lens of Philip Quaque on the Gold Coast in the eighteenth century; the second the case of the Ologoudou family on the coast of the Bight of Benin; third through biographical perspectives on enslavement in the upper Guinea coast; fourth, through the memories of indentured women in Natal; and lastly through the autobiographical details found in the wills of freed Africans in Brazil.

This was the final issue for Lovejoy, who is now retired after more than 30 years of editing African Economic History. Browse the table of contents on Project MUSE.

African Economic History Welcomes New Editors

Following the retirement of longtime editor Paul E. Lovejoy, African Economic History has appointed two new editors. Earlier this year, George Bob-Milliar and Chétima Melchisedek joined the existing editorial team of Mariana Candido, Toyin Falola, and Toby Green. Together, the editors recently launched a social media presence for African Economic History, posting about current events related to African economies as well as important research in the field. You can follow AEH on Facebook and Twitter. Read on to learn more about the journal’s new editors.


George M. Bob-Milliar is a senior lecturer in the Department of History and Political Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, one of the most prestigious public universities in Ghana. He joined the faculty of KNUST in August 2013 and has been involved in research, teaching, and mentoring of students at all levels. He is currently serving as the director of KNUST’s Centre for Cultural and African Studies (CeCASt). In 2012, Bob-Milliar received his PhD from the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, the oldest center for African Studies on the continent. Trained as an interdisciplinary scholar, his research lies at the intersection of history, political ethnography, and development studies. He has published in the preeminent journals in his field of specialization. Bob-Milliar has been a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge, Uganda’s Makerere University, and the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), as well as a guest lecturer at the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany. In 2010, he received the inaugural African Author Prize for the best article published in African Affairs by an author based at an African institution, and in 2012 he was awarded a prize for his contribution to research on African policy issues from the Centre for International Governance Innovation. He sits on the editorial boards of African Affairs, African Review of Economics & Finance, and the Journal of Political Economy and Development.

Chétima Melchisedek is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at York University. Before coming to York, Melchisedek was a senior lecturer at the University of Maroua; a fellow at the Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies; the Gordon Henderson Fellow at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa; and a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for African Studies at the University of Basel. He earned a PhD in history from the Université Laval and a master’s degree from the University of Ngaoundéré in Cameroon. Melchisedek is a member of the editorial advisory board of the Canadian Journal of African Studies. His articles have appeared in the Historical Journal, African Studies Review, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Journal of Asian and African Studies, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, and Afrique Contemporaine, among others. His article in Cahiers d’Études Africaines (2015) was awarded the Prize for the Best Paper on Central Africa by the Central Africa Studies Association, while his paper in Africa Spectrum (2018) won the UFS/AS Young African Scholar Award. Melchisedek guest edited a special issue of the Canadian Journal of African Studies on “Boko Haram beyond the Media” (Volume 54 Number 2, 2020) and is currently co-editing, with Paul Lovejoy, a volume on Boko Haram and Political Distancing (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2021). Chétima is an affiliate member of the African Academy of Sciences and a founding member of the Cameroon Academy for Young Scientists.

Raising the Minimum Retirement Age: How Do Workers Respond?

As populations are aging, governments around the world are looking for ways to stretch pension programs to accommodate large numbers of retirees. One option is to raise the minimum retirement age, as Germany did in 1999, upping the retirement age for women from 60 to 63. Economists Johannes Geyer and Clara Welteke analyze the impacts of this policy shift in a Journal of Human Resources preprint article. They wanted to know whether women over 60 changed their labor market status as a result of the reform. Did employed women stay in their jobs longer or use unemployment or disability benefits as a way to exit the labor market? Geyer and Welteke joined us to discuss their findings.


Why did you decide to pursue this topic?

Population aging is an enormous challenge for the financial sustainability of public pension systems of many OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. Germany is facing a rapid increase in the old-age dependency ratio in the coming years. Already every second person in Germany is over 45 years old and every fifth person is over 66 years old. One way to increase the financial sustainability of the pay-as-you-go pension system is to increase the legal retirement age, thereby extending contribution periods whilst simultaneously decreasing pension expenditures. However, legal retirement age increases often have undesired distributional effects. Furthermore, workers may not be able or willing to work longer and may choose other exit routes from employment. Thus, it is of great importance to gain empirical evidence on the effects of pension reforms that increase retirement age thresholds. Our goal is to gain insights into the effects of this important question and inform policy makers.

What is one takeaway from this research that you’d like to communicate to policy makers?

The increase in the early retirement age for women in Germany resulted in a large employment increase in the affected age group (60- to 63-year-olds). One could conclude that the reform was a success and recommend similar measures for other countries and groups. However, the reform was successful in increasing employment because the labor market was in a good state and women were able to continue their employment. We also find that inactive and unemployed women remain longer in their respective status due to the reform. Another factor was the early announcement of the reform, which gave enough time to adjust career plans.

As a main takeaway, we recommend early retirement age increases as an effective tool to increase employment of the affected group, if labor market perspectives and the health of workers enable such an extension of their working life. Retirement age increases should be announced well in advance and those who are not able to work longer should be offered appropriate support, such as disability pension schemes.

What’s one question that emerged from your research that you’d like to follow up on, or that you hope someone else will explore in the future?

One of our results was that non-working women affected by the pension reform did not return to the labor market while employed women stayed in employment. In a follow-up project, we look at the distributional effects of the pension reform at the household level. More specifically, we wanted to know if the pension led to increased income inequality. Our results suggest that the distribution of available household income is not affected by the reform. One reason for this result is program substitution. The study is forthcoming in Labor Economics. In a current project, we look at health effects of the reform. We use administrative data from German health insurance that contain detailed information about individual diagnoses from medical practitioners’ records. Preliminary results suggest that the reform led to an increase of psychological symptoms.

What are some of the ways in which raising the retirement age could theoretically backfire on governments? Did you find any evidence that this is happening in the case of Germany?

The reform can be considered a success in retrospect. It did not lead to an increase in unemployment or large increases in disability pensions. However, the positive employment effect is strongly related to the good labor market performance at the time. Our results also show that women at this pre-retirement age do not react very flexibly to changing conditions. The results would have been different if Germany had experienced a large recession. Interestingly, this result is also found in other countries, like Australia and Austria. Therefore, governments should also invest more in labor market opportunities for older workers and develop better strategies to bring the older unemployed back to work.


Johannes Geyer is deputy head of the department of public economics at DIW Berlin. He earned his PhD in Economics in 2012. Between 2012 and 2016 he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, in addition to his work at the DIW Berlin. His research focuses on issues of social protection and demographic change. For this he uses empirical methods of microeconometrics and microsimulation.

Clara Welteke is an economist at the German Federal Ministry of Finance since April 2019. Her work focuses on pension provision and the sustainability of public finances. Previously, Clara was a researcher at the Public Economics Department and the Gender Economics Research Group at the DIW Berlin. Clara received her PhD from the Free University Berlin and the DIW Graduate Center in 2017. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy & Economics from the University of Bayreuth and a Master’s degree in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics from the University of Amsterdam. After completing her Master’s degree, Clara worked as a consultant for the World Bank. During her doctoral studies, she worked for the OECD in Paris and the European Commission in Brussels.

Reimagining Ecosystems through Science Fiction

Science fiction readers may be familiar with the giant sandworms of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or the pequeninos, small pig-like aliens from Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. These species and their surrounding ecosystems puzzle the human explorers that encounter them. In the article “Islands in the Aether Ocean: Speculative Ecosystems in Science Fiction” from Contemporary Literature, Elizabeth Callaway examines these two novels and their strange species, arguing that the authors propose a different way of relating to biodiversity. In this interview, Callaway explains how science fiction can help us question the conceptual frameworks that define our understanding of biodiversity on Earth.


How did you end up looking at science fiction through the lens of biodiversity?

Actually, the interest in biodiversity came first! I’m writing a book about representations of biodiversity, and a version of the article we’re discussing now appears as a chapter. When I was initially thinking about assembling a group of texts that tackle the challenge of representing species in their multitudes, science fiction seemed like a particularly fertile place to start. Within the genre are novels that describe entire planets of living variety. While other types of books mention hundreds of species (memoirs of competitive birders or the nonfiction of E. O. Wilson, for example) SF is really excellent at portraying entire planets of surprising and lively creatures. In addition, these planets can sometime feature what I call “speculative ecosystems,” or sets of interactions among living creatures that do not function the way Earth’s ecosystems do. They’re built on different, imaginative systems, and because they’re so unusual they model alternative stances toward biodiversity.

When it comes to depicting biodiversity, what makes these two novels different from other works of science fiction?

Their “speculative ecosystems” are a key part of what sets them apart. Unlike many worlds that are simple Earth analogues where the environment doesn’t make much of a difference to the story, and unlike novels which feature a planet seeded with Earth organisms (like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy), these are not systems that are analogous to Earth ecosystems or based on Earth species. They’re totally alien (if imagined) worlds. There are other examples that I would include as speculative ecosystems. The most well-known might be James Cameron’s Avatar. That world features ecosystems that work in ways that are very different from those on Earth. Animals can connect to each other with exposed nerve-type organs, there is a central tree that connects the entire planet in a type of neural net, and there’s abundant terrestrial bioluminescence. That said, Dune and Speaker for the Dead, unlike Avatar, do not make the speculative ecosystem into an object of worship or offer any old-school environmental readings having to do with rootedness, sense of place, or living on the land. Rather they explore the speculative variety of organisms on their planet in new ways.

You say that, while we are used to thinking about science fiction as a genre that shows us possible futures for our own planet, science fiction also works “by imagining things that could never be.” How can the “counterfactual” nature of science fiction help us to think about our own environmental challenges?

On one hand it seems like the science fiction texts that imagine Earth futures might be more useful for thinking through current environmental challenges. You think of stories that include biodiversity decline like Phillip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and it’s clear how they’re interested in what animals mean to individual people and also to different human societies. They explore how these meanings might change as species decline. What is particularly interesting to me about science fiction that doesn’t imagine future Earths of declined species, however, is that they experiment with alternative ways to relate to biodiversity. In particular, I think it’s useful that Dune and Speaker for the Dead present a puzzled stance toward biodiversity where one is continually surprised by the way diverse nonhuman organisms interact with each other. I think the mechanics of science fiction itself—the way it explains how the fictional world works by casually throwing out hints rather than presenting sections of exposition—are fantastic for modeling a puzzled engagement that holds space open for recognizing the agency of nonhumans. In science fiction we’re always ready for that clue that changes what we had assumed to be true about the world, and this is especially true for the impossibly strange ecosystems of counterfactual worlds. If we’re curious about how the world works while aware that we can be surprised, then I think that can cultivate an attitude that more easily recognizes the liveliness of the material world including (but not limited to) nonhuman living creatures.

What are you reading right now? (For fun or for serious.)

Emily Dickinson has become my home quarantine inspiration. Whenever my socially-distanced world feels tiny and diminished, she makes me realize that my back yard is only as small as my mind. (Dickinson and I share the good fortune of having a yard.) After reading a few of her poems I see the details of the world as strange and new. In one of her more famous quotations she describes poetry as writing which makes her “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” This is such a fabulously weird way of defining poetry, and it is how her poems make me feel except it is also as if my entire word has had a lid removed, and there’s more room to experience everything. I’m also reading How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, which is beautiful, lonely, and a playful mashup of science fiction and narrative theory.

If you had to pick a favorite species from Arrakis or Lusitania, what would it be?

Given our current pandemic, I am more and more fascinated by the descolada virus that “unglues” DNA and wreaks havoc on the human community of Lusitania in Speaker for the Dead. While I wouldn’t want to characterize the descolada as my “favorite,” it has captured my attention anew. This is the virus that sculpted life on Lusitania, initially creating the plant/animal paired species while driving the vast majority of life extinct. Its world-remaking capabilities certainly feel especially real right now as my own world is being remade in different but comparable ways. Also, the way the descolada simplifies the planet (to put it mildly) is more and more striking to me. I now look at my article’s visualization of the stark ecosystem of Lusitania and imagine a similarly simple social network made of my interactions during social distancing. The story of a virus reshaping a world certainly feels increasingly relevant.


Elizabeth Callaway is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Utah and affiliated faculty with the Environmental Humanities Graduate Program. She researches and teaches at the intersections of contemporary literature, environmental humanities, and digital humanities. Some of her most recent publications focus on climate change in Zadie Smith’s NW, diversity and inclusion in definitions digital humanities, and the speculative ecosystems of science fiction. Her current book project, titled Eden’s Endemics: Narratives of Biodiversity on Earth and Beyond, is forthcoming at the University of Virginia Press.