The core of my research programme is international environmental law, with an emphasis on the structure and functioning of international environmental regimes, and of environmental law more in general. I have been particularly interested in the impact of uncertainty on environmental law; this has led me to study the precautionary principle, which is an attempt to lay down principles for decision-making under conditions of uncertainty.
The uncertainty that most often confronts political and legal officials in environmental cases is, of course, scientific uncertainty. Environmental law and policy depend heavily on scientific inputs, and when those inputs are open-ended, legal and political authorities are caught flat-footed. In order better to understand how translations could be carried out across the boundaries between expert discourses, I have begun exploring literature on social studies of science, drawing on sociology, philosophy, and history.
My interest in the interaction among expert discourses led me to reconceptualise sustainable development as an intersection of social systems. I turned to autopoietic scholarship in sociology and law for analyses of these systems, including law, and for insights into the manner in which law communicates with its environment. Legal literature in autopoiesis is preoccupied with the paradoxical manner in which law’s validity is grounded: law, according to an autopoietic analysis, provides its own grounds for validity. But in order to have any influence on its environment, it must, of course be able to communicate with it. This can be done in a punctual fashion, through individual rulings or judgments, or in a more structured manner. Interrelationships among systems come to be more highly structured when they interact regularly, which is certainly the case with respect to the various social systems that seek to address environmental degradation.
If law provides the grounding for its own validity, this raises questions as to whether the connection between law and the sovereign state is a necessary one, or whether this connection can be rethought or broken altogether. Scholarship on transnational law explores just these questions. Some of this law is produced by states, but non-state actors are increasingly involved in the production of rules and in governance more generally. Transnational law raises a number of questions about the production of law: if law is no longer grounded in the formal structures of the state, and no longer clearly related to formal political authority, its legitimacy and validity must be explained and understood differently. Environmental law tends to flow in transnational rather than domestic or international channels; the more robust political and legal structures that are emerging in transnational space are rapidly occupied by environmental problems or issues.
I am currently working on a project on sustainable development and the precautionary principle. The common feature of both, beyond their focus on the environment, is the challenge they pose to social systems to work together. By ‘work together’ I do not have in mind the kind of happy collaboration toward a common end that often seems to be assumed in literature on sustainable development in particular. Rather, I envisage these interactions to be difficult, requiring ongoing attention to the conduits among systems, and to the institutions within individual systems that allow for processes of decoding and translation of communications from others.
Another current project focuses more squarely on law in transnational space. In this project, I draw on literature on constitutions that are not rooted in states, but rather in networks or constellations of actors and activities or objects of concern. One such network could be defined as environment, though it is more likely that the networks would not be so broadly defined, but would focus on a particular environmental problem or issue, or on a point of friction between the objective of environmental protection and other objectives such as international trade and commerce or resource extraction. Here the questions include how these networks come to be constituted and how they operate; and in particular how one can conceptualize law in these networks.
As a cultural historian, I am interested in the relationships between religious practices and other realms like medicine, natural philosophy, and the arts in late medieval and early modern England. Much of this work focuses on processes of cultural translation and transition. Indeed, my work straddles period-boundaries, disciplinary expectations, and configurations, aiming to fruitfully disrupt them. I see the late medieval and early modern as a coherent period of transition and cultural translation. My doctoral research exemplified these pursuits, as I examined how the experience and aims of religious reform in England were shaped by a pervasive and well established sensory culture and its theories. I took to task the persistent stereotypes in existing scholarship of the intellectualized Protestant versus the sensual Catholic. By placing the practicalities of ritual life in the context of medical, sacramental, and moral views on sensation, material cultural changes, and empirical methodologies, a much more complex picture of reform emerged. The results, outlined at length in my book, reveal a medieval and conservative approach to the Reformation by contemporaries, a view that alters the periodization of the Reformation itself.
My interest in digital humanities is extremely practical – I don’t find that the digital tools available to historians are of much use beyond simple note taking or bibliographic management. They tend not to cater to the needs of cultural and social analyses, or the tracking of the necessary data to facilitate such work. Over the past decade my work in digital humanities has moved from individual research data management in the building of a my own research web application, Promus, to the creation of a custom Content Management System CMS for the Making Publics and Virtual Textile projects at McGill, and now as a result of this activity, and most recently with a SSHRC funded project, an effective vocabulary that models historical social and cultural networks and allows their dissemination using the Research Description Framework or RDF.
Connecting the Renaissance Senses
Connecting the Renaissance Senses is an interdisciplinary collection of essays that will engage in outlining an appropriate methodology for the study of the senses in the renaissance. It will draw upon a diverse and interdisciplinary set of scholars across the width of renaissance geographies will offer more to scholars than a monograph.
The Cultural Mediation of Religion in Early Modern Europe
This collection of essays grows out of the March 2012 Conference held at McGill University, ‘Religion and Modes of Cultural Mediation in Early Modernity’. The proposal is currently under review with Cambridge University Press.
My new book project, Empiricism and Particularity in the English Reformation, will examine the ways in which medieval moral culture’s emphasis on discretion operated in conjunction with late fifteenth-century and sixteenth-century epistemological changes in the context of religious reform.
Vernacular Knowledge of the Senses
This article/chapter length project forms an element of my larger book project on empiricism. One area lacking in sensory studies of late medieval and early modern England is the extent to which men and women knew of their senses, how, and how this changed over the late fifteenth through sixteenth centuries.
As semi-professional musician, I’ve been involved in one historical reconstruction, under the production of Alexandra Buckle, and am currently involved in another with the Montreal-based choral collective One Equall Musick of which I’m a founding member.
At the intersection of several contemporary critical streams, Stephanie Posthumus’s research focuses on the representations of the non-human, or more-than-human, in contemporary French literature.
Constructing an ecological perspective for examining 20th and 21st Century French literary texts has been the main goal of her work since she finished her doctoral thesis in 2003. As she has argued in several articles, ecocriticism, while based on a concern for global environmental problems, is not transferable from one national literature to another. The traditions, philosophies and representations of the non-human world that influence and are influenced by literature create important cultural differences that do not allow for a global ecocritical perspective. Working to develop a French ecocriticism, she draws on ideas such as l’esthétique environnementale (Nathalie Blanc), la nature-culture (Bruno Latour) and le contrat naturel (Michel Serres). Her recent articles demonstrate a move from this theoretical foundation to its possible application in the analysis of landscapes in contemporary French literary texts (see her articles on Jean-Christophe Rufin, Michel Houellebecq, Marie Darrieussecq and Michel Tournier). Her work in this field was recently acknowledged as being both original and important when she was awarded the prize for the best article published in 2009 by a member of the APFUCC (Association des professeurs de français aux universités et collèges canadiens).
A second branch of her work looks at representations of animals in contemporary French literature. Whereas ecocriticism remains on the periphery of French literary studies, the animal question has garnered much critical attention. Researching different disciplinary work on animals, from philosophy (Derrida, de Fontenay, Lestel) to ethology (Cyrulnik, Chapouthier), from literary criticism (Desblache, Simon) to animal ethics (Vilmer), Prof. Posthumus aims to define the animal question with respect to the French contemporary context. At the same time, she is interested in comparing this context to that of other European countries as the European Union has become an important ruling body for establishing laws about animal well-being and rights in Europe. The relationships between local, regional, cultural differences in a global landscape are at the heart of Dr. Posthumus’s work on ecocriticism and animal studies.
I am an Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at McGill University. My primary area of research is in the design, development, usage and theorization of tools for the digital humanities, especially for text analysis and visualization. I have led or contributed significantly to projects such as Voyant Tools, the Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR), theMONK Project, the Simulated Environment for Theatre, the Mandala Browser, and BonPatron. In additional to my work developing sophisticated scholarly tools, I have numerous publications related to research and teaching in the Digital Humanities, including Visual Interface Design for Digital Cultural Heritage, co-authored with Stan Ruecker and Milena Radzikowska (Ashgate 2011).
Other professional activities include serving as Vice President of both the Association for Computers and the Humanities(ACH) and the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities / Société pour l’étude de médias interactifs (SDH/SEMI), on executive committees of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Associations (ADHO) and centerNET, and as an editor ofDigital Humanities Quarterly (Digital Humanities Quarterly). Prior to moving to McGill University, I was Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University from 2004 to 2011, where I was also Director of the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship. Before joining McMaster University, I was at the University of Alberta where I was co-responsible for the creation and development of the M.A. in Humanities Computing programme from 2001 to 2004. My Ph.D. in French Literature is from Queen’s University (2000), my M.A. in French literature is from the University of Victoria (1995), and my honours B.A. in French is from the University of British Columbia (1994).
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Since 2011, I have been a collaborator on the Mapping the Republic of Letters Project (http://republicofletters.stanford.edu/), a project of the Humanities + Design Lab (http://hdlab.stanford.edu/) at Stanford University. This collaborative initiative brings together a diverse group of scholars with the aim of developing and using digital tools to analyze large data sets pertaining to the early modern period. At the Early Modern Time + Networks workshop, held at Stanford in August of 2012, we began to develop a tool that could be used to visualize as a whole the data that each of us has amassed. The tool, called Knot, will enable us to visualize the social networks that existed between all of the early modern figures under study in the project. Through the use of filters for categories such as profession and place of birth, Knot can also display the connections that existed between these figures.
My contribution to the project focuses on Venetian polymath Franceso Algarotti (1712-1764). I began by creating a number of large databases detailing Algarotti’s correspondence, travels, and publications, following a standardized method that we had developed for cataloguing this data. In partnership with the DensityDesign Research Lab at the Politecnico di Milano, our data was then used to create a visualization depicting Algarotti’s travels, networks, and significant publications in a single image (http://talent.adweek.com/gallery/Republic-of-Letters-Corriere-della-Sera-La-Lettura/3614363), which was published in Il Corriere della sera along with an article that I co-authored with Paula Findlen (Stanford) on Algarotti’s travels. Over the course of the summer, we plan to use various visualization tools, including Knot, in conjunction with our data in order to ascertain what they can show us about Algarotti’s networks, publications, and travels. Paula Findlen and I then plan to use the results of these visualizations to co-author an article on the editorial history of the various versions of Algarotti’s published correspondence.
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Ismael Vaccaro is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the McGill School of Environment at McGill University. In his scholarship and teaching Ismael Vaccaro explores the sociocultural and ecological dynamics of rural-urban interactions – the economic transformations that they foster, their scientific contours, their cultural dimensions, and their political implications at multiple scales. Through in-depth work based on long term studies in the Pyrenees, his research engages in comparative discussions of the politics of nature, providing data on a traditionally unstudied setting: the rural regions of southern Europe. He examines the importance of ethnographic attention to everyday experiences of rural and urban placemaking, situating his research and teaching in the lively and important transdisciplinary debates about global environments across the Global South and North.
This initial analysis of the Pyrenees landscape as an historical palimpsest of deep socioeconomic tensions led his research to address, more generically, the underlying political economy of urban-rural tensions. This analytical orientation guides all subsequent work, which shows repeatedly how studies of urbanization, metropolization, and development cannot work exclusively within the limits of large cities of the Global South. The rural world structures itself, and is structured through, urban processes. His research program has facets, therefore, not only in Southern Europe, but also in Latin America and Africa. Dr. Vaccaro analyzes historical and contemporary public policies, property regime changes, corporate practices, knowledge regimes, local uses of the territory, demographic fluxes, inhabitation patterns, and ecological transformations to demonstrate connections between rural change and urban growth, between social and ecological processes. This work positions him to participate in an interdisciplinary conversation with scholars from political science, geography, ecology, forestry, urban studies, or economics.
His current work spans three in-progress research projects. Each places special emphasis on the analysis of public policies and their effects on local communities and their environments. The projects are as follows:
In the project Patrimonialization processes of nature and culture: local positioning and global articulations a political ecology framework is used to study the role of a postindustrial economy on the politization and commodification of culture and nature (heritage and leisure) The implementation and promotion of conservation policies, ski resorts, traditional foods, and cultural museums, resulted on the redefinition of the local communities and ecology in the Pyrenean range in Spain;
The project Questioning the self-sufficient agrarian peasant indigenous community: money, migration and food dependence in Oaxaca, Mexico attempts to understand the social and ecological consequences of the connection of small mountain Zapotec villages in Oaxaca, Mexico to large transnational flows of people (massive migration to the US), money (remittances sent back to the villages), commodities (cheap produces can be now bought at the community), and ideas (new consumptive trends). Fields abandonment, new market oriented agricultural strategies, diabetes, and forest transition are some of these new trends; and
In the project Creating Hybrid Property Regimes as a Means to Regulate Fisheries in Eastern Africa’s Lakes collective action and property theory, political economy, and ecological methodologies are combined to help redesign the institutions that manage fisheries in the lakes of Uganda and promote sustainable fishing practices. The goal is to identify social, ecological and institutional territorialities to assess the complexity and interdependence of fisheries as a network where people (economy), institutions (policy), and resources (ecology) interact.
These projects are designed to better understand the sociocultural and historical background of contemporary environmental issues and contribute to the comprehension of how policy works and affects social life.