Pre-modern Elements

March 24, 2017 - 9:45am to 3:15pm

Before the rare earths that invisibly shape and fuel your cell phone and hybrid car—minerals of costly environmental extraction and recondite names—the elements were simple: as simple, shifting, complex, and storied as earth, wind, fire, and air. Together with other iconic foursomes (seasons, humors, continents) the elements organized the premodern universe, animated myth, required iconography. Drawing on recent efforts to think “with” the elements in ecocriticism, this workshop proposes a group exploration of the impact of the elements on premodern cultural production. We seek to expand elemental thinking beyond purely ecocritical or materialist concerns to include topics, texts, and objects in literary studies, history of art and architecture, and history and philosophy of science. How did earth, air, fire, and water combine to order—or disorganize—materiality, bodies, space, or texts? How did they foster, temper, or block new experiences of scale or configurations of matter? What does it mean to approach a literary text or cultural artifact through its engagement with the elements? How did elements express national or gender affiliations? What were the relations between elements and affect?


9:45 – 10:30 AM “Wet Cartesianism” Daniel Selcer (Philosophy, Duquesne University)

11:45 – 12:30 “The Dream of the Water-Men” Lowell Duckert (English, West Virginia University)

2:30 – 3:15 “Rivereuse: Water, Residency, Gender”  Katherine Ibbett (French/Early Modern Studies, University College London)


Here's a link to the shared common folder of elemental artifacts people have shared:

Location and Address

Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning