Nature and Place

Dean's Message

Dear colleagues and friends of the humanities,

We are proud to present you with our spring magazine, which takes “Nature and Place” as its theme. When paired together, nature and place encourage us to consider the interplay between physical and conceptual environments and how they affect the way we live, belong and create.

UCI itself acts as a hub, with the campus designed in concentric rings around a central park, as if to demarcate an empty center that also circumscribes the wild capacity of a nature increasingly difficult to find. I like to think of UCI's humanities and writing programs as a kind of wildness that rejoins those outlying fields and canyons and their still seismic capacity for change, despite the spread of scrupulously “planned” communities. In the pages that follow, we’ll see a testament to the creative powers that flock to UCI and come into being here at UCI—a story on the recently-published anthology Orange County: A Literary Field Guide, edited by UCI alumni Andrew Tonkovich, lecturer in the UCI Department of English, and Lisa Alvarez, instructor at Irvine Valley College. The anthology brims with UCI talent—a total of 21 current and former professors and scholars from our M.F.A. Programs in Writing have their work on Orange County included.

If we expand our scope outside of UCI, we can see how the very concepts of nature and place are playing out in real time. Some of the fundamental questions addressed in this magazine by our faculty-scholars include: the role of the government in protecting, and failing to protect, the health of its citizens (a feature story on historian Andrew Highsmith’s work on Flint); the approaches to nature we can learn from the Sioux at Standing Rock amidst construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (written by Alicia Cox, assistant professor of comparative literature); and the attuned and adaptive lifestyle of the surfer that may hold the key to understanding how to live in harmony with nature (a story on Aaron James, professor of philosophy, and an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Surfing with Sartre). A Q&A with English Ph.D. student Danilo Caputo drives home the importance of the humanities and STEM fields working together to tackle climate change.

We also benefit from faculty-scholar contributions on the past that help us better contextualize where we’ve been and where we may be heading, with one story by David Fedman, assistant professor of history, about Japan’s imperial roots in the South Korean peninsula; and another by Margherita Long, associate professor of East Asian languages and literatures, on the role of eco-documentaries in Japan.

It is a joy for me to say that this is just a sampling of the scholarly work we do in the realm of nature and place within the Humanities. We continue to push the envelope on bridging the past, present and future—something we hope you see in the pages that follow. 

Georges Van Den Abbeele
Dean, School of Humanities