ASLE is very pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 ASLE Grants. Our five awardees include three subvention awards and two translation awards. Read more about their projects and plans below.
The World according to Maya Bees
The documentary film The World according to Maya Bees is based on the research led by Kata Beilin and Sainath Suryanarayanan and published in ACME in 2020 under the title Milpa Melipona Maya; Mayan Interspecies Alliances Facing Agribiotechnology in Yucatan. It tells the story of the environmental conflict between GM soy growers in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and the Maya Beekeepers, and reflects on how environment and economy would look like if the bee health was considered as a criterion of a sustainable development.
Not long after the arrival of GM-soy to Yucatan, the bees began to die. When the honey was rejected by the EU authorities due to contamination with transgenic pollen, Maya beekeepers realized that not only their bees, but also their water, and their bodies were poisoned by the GM soy agriculture based on an intense use of pesticides, while their forests were cut for new plantations. The Maya demanded from the state authorities an agriculture that respects bee health, based on agroecology and incorporating Maya ancient practices of beekeeping and milpa growing. The conflict involved Mennonite population that has settled in Yucatan since the beginning of the 21st century to lead monocrop agriculture and distribute pesticides to Maya growers.
In conversations with Maya beekeepers, scientists and policy makers, a vision of an alternative future emerges; where bees are healthy, water is clean, and agriculture incorporates a mixture of ancient techniques and cutting-edge technologies that assist humans in rethinking their relationships to the land.
Kata Beilin is a Professor at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and a Faculty Director of LACIS at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her current book and film projects are focused on a revival of Maya culture in Yucatan, Mexico, that is inspired by the Maya relations with sacred species and ecosystems: maize, Melipona bees and cenotes.
Avi Paul Weinstein is an independent filmmaker, editor, and animator with a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design where he graduated with distinction. Avi was awarded the Artist Fellowship for Film+Video by the Mass Cultural Council for his work exploring climate change and conservation.
These Trees Tell a Story
In the book These Trees Tell a Story, readers become students in an experiential field course, learning to read landscapes. Structured as a series of ecological mysteries, the book follows the trail of one of the author’s actual courses – students untangle clues presented at the beginning of each chapter to solve the mysteries by the end. Narratives unfold as a series of personal vignettes interwoven through time, which come together to wrestle with questions of science and philosophy. Combined with stories from around the world, the ten primary field sites span from tidal marsh to alpine summit in one New England watershed and are used to teach universal ecological principles. Readers learn to unravel the layers of geology, ecology, climate, natural history, human land-use, conservation values, and other inter-related topics that form natural areas and our perceptions of them.
The manuscript, which includes over 130 color photographs, has been accepted for publication by the Committee on Publications at Yale University Press based in part on the glowing recommendations of anonymous peer reviewers. One reviewer characterized it as “a thought-provoking, vivid and creatively structured project.” Another reviewer praised the book for its “significant contribution to the integrative nature of naturalist studies and to the reading of landscapes.” Ultimately, the insights in These Trees Tell A Story serve to empower land managers, political leaders and community members alike to be better stewards our landscapes, to be more connected with nature, and to more deeply understand ourselves.
Noah Charney is an assistant professor of conservation biology at the University of Maine, with a passion for natural history. He has published many scientific journal articles, co-authored a national-award winning field guide, founded a non-profit conservation organization in Nashville, TN, and he is raising two children.
Desert Humanities at CSUSB
“Desert Humanities at CSUSB” is a public-facing project that aims to create a living archive of creative, interdisciplinary engagements with the Inland Empire’s desert ecology, paying specific attention to questions of drought, sustainability, water management, and environmental justice. It will culminate in an exhibit, based on these archival materials, to be displayed both virtually and on campus.
San Bernardino County—the location of California State University, San Bernardino—overlaps with a unique and dynamic eco-system known as the High Desert. The High Desert region features the driest desert in the United States (the Mojave), it operates as a rich eco-system for thousands of unique animal and plant species, and it is home to diverse human communities. Unfortunately, this region is also currently threatened by drought, extensive resource extraction, and wildfires.
“Desert at Humanities at CSUSB,” builds on the emerging field of the desert humanities to consider how the extreme geology of the desert challenges its inhabitants to imagine what constitutes a good life (Cohen). What makes for a sustainable and equitable mode of living? What ecological practices might be cultivated in the pursuit of this aspiration? How do understandings of water —its availability, its distribution, and its socio-cultural significance—shape the capacities of life in a desert space?
As an integral part of its community, CSUSB can lead the way in envisioning more inclusive and sustainable futures, ones that are directly motivated by the urgency of our water crisis, and which directly give back to the larger community of San Bernardino.
Martín Premoli works in the environmental humanities and decolonial studies. His interests include settler-colonial and Indigenous studies, environmental justice, and multi-media cli-fi. He is currently an Assistant Professor in English at California State University, San Bernardino, after having earned his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania.
Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era
Through the lens of a biracial Arab-Jewish black child, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era explores climate justice: the intersection between global ecological collapse and cultural extinction of ethnic minorities, and highlights how we can learn from symbiotic archetypes from history and nature. It unravels the complexities of our climate crisis as it celebrates our interconnectedness through interfaith wisdom, economic, literary, environmental science, and historical resources. Noam Chomsky, Bill McKibben, Eve Ensler, Paul Hawken, Stephanie Seneff, and James E. Hansen are among the activists, scientists, scholars who have endorsed Zazu Dreams. Lush illustrations by Sephardic artist Micaela Amateau Amato and encyclopedic endnotes highlight the intersections between the sciences and humanities. Intended to ignite dialogue and collective action against environmental racism, Zazu Dreams is a combination of intergenerational magical realism and an interdisciplinary resource guide. It is divided into 2 sections—image and narrative, as well as about 400 endnotes of scientific, economic, historical, and literary references. All the human characters in the story are historical figures.
The rationale for translating the book into both Spanish and French is multifold—based on uprooting the tyrannies of greenwashing, extractive mining, and climate refugees. Rather than being “victims” of corporate capitalism, Alhadeff suggest that this material can serve an educational manifesto for equitable change. The book offers a balance between individual and communal needs that can be met through a collective commitment to solidarity, autonomy, cooperation, diversity, and reciprocity.
Dr. Cara Judea Alhadeff has published dozens of books and essays on climate justice, interfaith spirituality, philosophy, performance and ethnic studies. Her photographs and performance-videos are in private and public collections including MoMA Salzburg and San Francisco MoMA, and have been defended internationally by freedom-of-speech organizations. Former professor at UC Santa Cruz and Program Director for Jews Of The Earth, Alhadeff teaches, performs, and parents creative-zero-waste living.
Elisée Reclus (1830-1905) is primarily known today as a key figure in the Paris Commune, an important thinker of European anarchism, and one of the founders of the field of social geography. However, his role as a forerunner of 20th- and 21st-century environmentalist thought around water and urban water pollution is less well known. Reclus’ Histoire d’un ruisseau from 1869, aimed at a broad, non-academic readership, tells the story of a drop of water as it moves from the mountain spring where it emerges from the earth through a variety of landscapes and modalities of use before winding through the urban environment on its way, finally, to the sea, where it becomes vapor and begins the hydrological cycle anew. Each chapter is devoted to a particular disposition of water: the spring, the pool, the grotto, the waterfall, the ravine, waterwheels and factories, water in the plains, water in the city, the hydrological cycle, etc. Some highlight water as a geological force (and, by extension, an historical force), others as a mythical element, and one late chapter treats water in relation to the externalities of emergent industrialism. It is the combination of poetic and scientific musings on water with Reclus’s sharp social-political analysis of water’s role in modern capitalist societies that makes Histoire d’un ruisseau such a prescient text and a significant resource for scholars interested in the history of social-ecological thought.
Richard Watts is associate professor in the Department of French and Italian Studies, co-director of the Translation Studies Hub, and co-creator of the Environments, Cultures, and Values minor at the University of Washington, Seattle. His most recent publication is a translation of a chapter from Elisée Reclus’s Histoire d’un ruisseau (1869) in Michigan Quarterly Review (Spring 2020).
Sincere thanks goes out to the 2021 Grants Selection Committee for their hard work!
Heather Sullivan, chair, Trinity University
Lennie Amores, Albright College
Hannes Bergthaller, National Chung-Hsing University, Taiwan
Carmen Flys-Junquera, University of Alcalá (retired), Spain
Serenella Iovino, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Serpil Oppermann, Cappadocia University, Turkey
Stephanie Posthumus, McGill University, Canada
Modhumita Roy, Tufts University
David J. Taylor, Stonybrook University