Seen From a Floating Coast

Seen From a Floating Coast

New Perspectives on Environmental History : A Conversation with Bathsheba Demuth

« The following chapters trace what Beringia made of capitalism and socialism, and how modernity operates without the caloric ease of agriculture and industry. The critical events are not, mostly, wars or laws, but climate flux, or the life cycles of walruses and foxes. Looking away from what so often counts as history embeds people in the chain of energy conversions foundational to all life. From this perspective, capitalism and socialism are not laws of history that separate the human from the nonhuman; they are ideas about time and value that shape particular relationships with the basic matter of existence, matter that has its own influence over human ambition. » (p. 18).


« The nature of history when nature is part of what makes it is cacophony: not harmonious but revealing both a linear story and many cyclical, converging. We all live in more than one time, even if we are taught to refuse this idea » (p. 314).


Quotations from Bathsheba Demuth, Floating Coast. An Environmental History of the Bering Strait, New-York, WW Norton, 2019.


Environmental history invites us to study the reciprocal transformations of ecosystems and human societies. Composing a more-than-human history gives visibility to the invisible actors of history, from animals to human beings usually excluded from the great story. The visibility of these actors transforms the writing of history. The predation of whales in the Bering Strait allows us to revisit the competition between the Soviet and capitalist systems, organizing the continuous predation of marine mammals. Revisiting history from the perspective of the defeated also allows us to shed light on the experience of those who were dispossessed of their territories or whose epidemiology is durably affected by exposure to toxic substances. The heart of the reflection of environmental history remains the relationship maintained by our human societies to time. While extreme climatic events are multiplying, the narratives of history must be rethought in order to give an audience to these works and to contribute to the understanding of current environmental crises.


L'histoire environnementale nous invite à l'étude des transformations réciproques des écosystèmes et des sociétés humaines. La composition d'une histoire plus qu'humaine permet de porter le projecteur sur des acteurs et actrices invisibilisé.e.s dans l'histoire, depuis les êtres humains habituellement exclus des grands récits jusqu'aux animaux. Construire cette visibilité métamorphose les manières d'écrire et de diffuser l'histoire. Etudier la captation des baleines dans le détroit de Béring a permis à l'histoirienne Bathsheba Demuth de revisiter l'histoire des concurrences entre les systèmes soviétiques et capitalistes, lesquels organisèrent une dynamique de prédation de ces mammifères marins, comme des autres animaux (rennes, morses, etc.) de part et d'autre du détroit. Revisiter l'histoire depuis la perspective de ces vaincus permet aussi d'éclairer l'expérience de ceux et celles qui furent dépossédés de leurs territoires, ou dont l'épidémiologie est durablement affectée par l'exposition à des toxiques. Alors que les événements climatiques extrêmes s'intensifient, les manières d'écrire l'histoire doivent être aujourd'hui repensées, en lien avec les humanités environnementales, afin de donner une audience aux travaux qui participent à rendre intelligible les crises environnementales que nous traversons.



October, 20th - Grenoble, IUGA - Cités des Territoires, Salle des Actes./


15h30 - Roundtable -Making Anthropocene Sensible

  • Fabien Bartolotti (historian, Telemme, Aix-Marseille University
    • The environmental history of the industrial port activities in Provence: new experiences of research, writing and promotion.
  • Olivier Labussière (geographer, PACTE, Grenoble)
    • A walk with Lucretius : being sensitive to the quasi presences of the anthropocene
  • Perrine Poupin (ethnographer, AAU/CRESSON, Grenoble)
    • Shies, a local grassroot environmental protest in Northern Russia. Fieldwork as video/film curation. 


17h30 - Conference - “Do Whales Judge Us: Interspecies History and Ethics”

  • Bathsheba Demuth (Brown University)




October, 21th - EHESS, Paris - 54 Bd Raspail


14h30 - Roundtable - Reading Floating Coast:

  • Sabine Dullin (CHSP, Sciences Po) & Marin Coudreau (CERCEC, EHESS)
    • Modern Times? Two Views on Temporalities in the Arctic
  • Marc Elie (CERCEC, Paris)
    • Beyond Area Studies and Toward Global Environmental Histories
  • Charles-François Mathis (IHMC, Université Paris 1)
    • On the History of Energy, in Floating Coast and elsewhere


16h00 - Conference - “Giving a Dam: Beavers, Law, and Making the Yukon River"

  • Bathsheba Demuth (Brown University)

Researchers involved: 

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