Claire Adler has a lifelong interest in conservation, a lot of anxiety about climate change—and a degree in medieval English literature. She shares some thoughts about how studying our past can help protect our future.
“When I explain my background to my coworkers, I tend to emphasise that my research approached medieval literature from an environmental perspective. I’m interested in the new stories old texts can tell us about humanity’s place in the natural world.
But in reality, I didn’t spend much of my degree focused on the environment: I was too busy learning how to decode medieval handwriting, gaining a grounding in the history of the period, and spending lots and lots of time reading very weird poems very, very carefully.
Beyond the practical skills it has afforded me, I am grateful for my humanities background because it enables me to place today’s environmental crisis in historical context. Recognising the long European legacy of violence against the living world reframes the present moment as an opportunity to finally create a radically new society.
At Synchronicity Earth, I have had the privilege to be a very small part of this process. Many of our partners engage in locally-led conservation and restoration work, work that implicitly resists the dominant capitalist narrative by casting care for the living world as intrinsically worthwhile. Others challenge the contemporary economic order more directly, from pushing back against Inga 3, to fighting for the recognition of communal, Indigenous land rights based on stewardship rather than ownership.
This fall, I’m moving on to pursue a PhD in medieval and early modern literature. As I envision my future as an academic, I know it will be profoundly shaped by my time at Synchronicity Earth.
Of course, I’m excited to one day advise my students on how their literature degree could translate into a career in conservation. I will be able to confidently say that no one needs to choose between biodiversity and storytelling: the living world needs new stories.
But perhaps more importantly, I leave Synchronicity Earth more convinced than ever that our stories need the living world. When we look at history through the lens of today’s environmental crisis, different things stand out.
Read Claire’s full story here, and how studying our past, from peat bogs to the origins of colonialism, taught her the skills and perspectives she needed to start her career in conservation.