More than 40 SUNY Oneonta students participated in a unique summer seminar highlighting the area’s connection to celebrated 19th-century naturalist John Burroughs. “Sharp Eyes VII: Is Nature Writing Dead?” was the seventh in the John Burroughs Nature Writing Conference and Seminar series, presented every other year by the SUNY Oneonta Department of English.
The conference featured 25 presentations by top-flight scholars, including Oneonta alumna Dr. Andrea Braunius Denekamp of Drew University, who gave a talk titled “J.R.R. Tolkien’s `The Lord of the Rings’ as Environmental Literature.” In between lectures, the group went on hikes and visited Woodchuck Lodge in Roxbury, N.Y., where Burroughs was born and is buried.
This unique local connection, and the event’s affiliation with the Association for the Study of Literature & Environment, has helped the conference to establish an international reputation, said organizer Dr. Daniel Payne, associate professor of English at SUNY Oneonta. The 2010 event drew presenters from Canada, Germany, Singapore and Australia. This year’s participants included an Italian poet (presenting via Skype) and a graduate student from the University of Bergen in Norway, as well as scholars from the American Museum of Natural History and The Natural History Network.
The wide variety of subject matter allowed students to connect with the material on many levels. “For some people it was emotional; for some it was political — there were a lot of different ways you could perceive this, and I think that’s what made it so successful,” said Matthew Hodges, an English major with minors in professional writing and sociology.
Kaylee Velez, an early childhood education major from Windsor, N.Y., said the discussions of the impact of hydrofracking really resonated with her. “I’m from upstate New York, which is where the majority of the fracking is, so I actually deal with it in my own life.”
For Hannah Kinisky, an English major with minors in creative writing and women’s and gender studies, one of the highlights was hearing the Italian poet’s ecopoems. “She was so passionate. You could tell that she had so much love for what she was doing and she just wanted to share it.”
Andrew Gitner, an adolescent education-English major, said the combination of being immersed in a high-quality academic conference and then taking those ideas and theories out into the natural world created “a totally authentic learning experience.”