Dr. Siobhan Senier

Siobhan Senier

What does culture have to do with sustainability?

There is considerable evidence that some cultural practices and objects—languages, rituals, values, monuments—can help sustain ecosystems, and vice versa. Generally speaking, environmental upheaval has been bad for culture; and the traumatic ruptures of diverse local cultures (by globalization and colonialism, for instance) have been, in turn, bad for the planet.

Tell us a bit about your scholarship.

I’m a literary historian focused in Native American Studies, which means I try to figure out what kinds of writing indigenous people have produced, from pre-colonial times to the present, and why that writing is or is not more widely disseminated or understood. Right now I’m starting to build a digital archive of Native writing from New England, with the help of regional tribal historians, Native authors, local historical societies, and my students. I’ve been blogging about this project at indiginewenglandlit.wordpress.com/.

What motivates you personally to be involved in sustainability?

I was trained to deal with texts, often in isolation from the rest of the world. Years ago, though, I took a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) summer seminar with a group of Native American scholars who pressed me to start thinking about what my scholarship contributed to Native people. I mean really contributed—not some vague “improved understanding of the literature.” That experience forced me to get engaged with Native people, who have been teaching me a lot about how people can sustain local ecologies, cultural traditions, and each other.


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