A World in a Shell: The Disappearing Snails of Hawai’i

Listen to the Audio Recording

A Lecture by Thom van Dooren
Field philosopher, storyteller and Associate Professor, University of Sydney and the University of Oslo

October 21, 6pm EST

The Hawaiian Islands were once home to one of the most diverse assemblages of terrestrial snails found anywhere on earth. Today, however, the majority of these species are extinct and most of those that remain are headed swiftly in the same direction. This lecture explores this larger context of loss, asking what it means and why it matters that so much of Hawai’i’s rich snail diversity is disappearing. It does so, however, through a focus on one very particular question: how did a global centre of terrestrial snail diversity end up out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Snails, after all, are not commonly known for their propensity to undertake long journeys—not by land, and certainly not by sea. So, how did they all get to this most remote oceanic archipelago? Equally as importantly at our present time, how might the ongoing extinctions of snails be understood differently if we pay attention to these deep-time processes? What might this context help us to see, appreciate, and perhaps hold onto?

Moderated by Malcolm Sen

This event was aired live on Zoom, Facebook and YouTube. Recordings are available at the links and on SoundCloud.

Thom van Dooren is Associate Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry and the Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney, and Professor II in the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities, University of Oslo. His research and writing focus on some of the many philosophical, ethical, cultural, and political issues that arise in the context of species extinctions and human entanglements with threatened species and places. He is the author of Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (2014), The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds (2019), and co-editor of Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (2017), all published by Columbia University Press. www.thomvandooren.org

Malcolm Sen (moderator) is an Assistant Professor at UMass Amherst and directs the Environmental Humanities specialization offered by the Department of English. His research focuses on questions of sovereignty, migration, and race as they emerge in climate change discourse. He is the editor (with Lucienne Loh) of Postcolonial Studies and Challenges of the New Millennium (Routledge, 2016);  The History of Irish Literature and the Environment (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021); and Race in Irish Literature and Culture (with Julie McCormick Weng) to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2021. Sen’s monograph Unnatural Disasters: Irish Literature, Climate Change and Sovereignty is under review at Syracuse University Press. Two recent articles include “Risk and Refuge: Contemplating Precarity in Contemporary Irish Fiction” in Irish University Review, 2019; and “An Ordinary Crisis: Covid-19 and Irish Studies” in Mike Cronin et al., Eds., A Handbook of Irish Studies (Routledge, 2020).  

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The Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series is made possible thanks to the generosity of UMass Amherst history department alumnus Kenneth R. Feinberg ’67 and associates. The series is co-sponsored by more than 3 dozen university and community organizations.