Celebrating Our Contributors #2

This March, we are publishing a series of posts to showcase the work and celebrate the accomplishments of nine EHN contributors who graduated in the past year. This month marks one year since lockdowns started happening around the world, so it seems only fitting to mark that hard anniversary with a celebration of perseverance in the face of it. Every couple weeks we will feature three grads (see #1 here). Today, let’s toast to Anna Antonova, Kristen Carey, and Nicole Welk-Joerger!

Dr. Anna AntonoVa

Graduated in November 2020,
PhD in Environmental Humanities earned at the University of Leeds.

Dissertation titled: “Transformations, Crises, and Contestations in Narratives About Environment and Society on the Yorkshire North Sea and Bulgarian Black Sea Coasts.”

Give us your elevator pitch. What was your thesis/dissertation?
I worked on the Yorkshire North Sea and the Bulgarian Black Sea coasts to compare how each community narrated their experiences of social, political, and environmental change. The challenges the two places face are in some ways very different. On the Yorkshire shoreline, Brexit has just added a new complication to a story of transforming fishing livelihoods and increasingly complex marine policies that has been unfolding for the past few decades. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian coastline grapples with its economic dependence on tourism, which puts environmental conservation in contest with tourism-related (over)construction. By comparing these experiences, I worked to understand what communities might share in terms of the stories they tell, the meanings they construct, and ultimately the actions they take about change on the contemporary European coastline.

What was one thing that stood out to you, a cool find you came
across, or something that surprised you in the course of your research?

We know that the coast matters a great deal to the communities who inhabit it, and one of the strenghts of the environmental humanities is being able to highlight the relevance of that kind of sentiment for the Anthropocene. But I also found that the meaning people give their environment, at least in these two coastal settings, ends up influencing how communities respond to and shape all kinds of wider politics, including issues like corruption or supranational relations that don’t immediately seem related to environmental concerns at all. I think it may be surprising to think of this very humanistic concern with affect and forms of expression (narratives) about nature as having a direct analysis implication in these broader areas of policy, where deliberations can often be quite technical. That aspect was certainly something I enjoyed discovering for myself.

Tell us a little bit about your process. Was there anything unique
about how you did the work?

My project was set up as interdisciplinary from the start. I worked with multiple types of source materials (original semi-structured interviews but also literature, media pieces, policy and legal documents, and archival materials), which spoke to several different time frames. I had to come up with my own narrative analysis approach in order to be able to blend these different insights together. I feel that this effort ended up producing the best results from my work but also was the source of my largest challenges during the entire PhD process. I navigated not only the analytical methodology itself but also how my institution saw them – sometimes my work was seen as too social sciency and at other times as too humanistic.

It was an extraordinarily rough year to complete a degree. What kept
you going?

My long 2020 actually began in 2019, when I was asked to revise and resubmit my entire PhD. It took me half of 2019 and the majority of 2020. I made it successfully through that whole period only because of two reasons, one internal and one external. The internal reason was a sense of obligation to future Anna, whom I felt I’d harm more than help if I gave up (although that was a close call sometimes). But I think that alone wouldn’t have been enough to justify the mental health toll or to help me through all that 2020 stacked against us. So what really kept me going was the extraordinary support of my friends, colleagues, and family, who supported me in the hardest moments. They were somehow always there to listen and help despite going through 2020 themselves. They are the real heroes and I am so grateful to them.

Dr. Kristen Carey

Graduated in May 2020,
PhD in History earned at Boston University.

Dissertation titled: “Population Management: The Origins, Implementation, and Breakdown of Localized Population Policy in Tanzania, 1948-1999.”

Give us your elevator pitch. What was your thesis/dissertation? 
My dissertation uses historical lessons from East Africa to propose a new model for population policy. Tanzania’s holistic interventions during this time period included education reforms, diversified family planning, and public health campaigns, which stood in stark contrast to population control interventions that were popular worldwide, such as China’s One-Child policy and US biomedical family planning campaigns. I highlight four factors that allowed for Tanzania’s innovative programming: coordinated leadership, a sense of imagined kinship, moral understandings of responsible parenthood, and a policymaking coalition comprised of groups that are usually disenfranchised by state population control efforts, including women, religious leaders, community networks, and local health practitioners.  Showing that an innovative population management agenda emerged in Tanzania as part of its localized nation-building framework, decades before international organizations realized the deleterious effects of population control, works as a corrective to global histories that tend to elide actors who fall outside international population establishment circles and invites a closer look at how African governments can be emblematic, rather than derivative, of world systems.

What was one thing that stood out to you, a cool find you came across, or something that surprised you in the course of your research? 
The United Nations projects that around 2050, global population growth will level off—and perhaps even decline—for the first time in human history. Up to 82 percent of the population growth that does occur through the end of the century, however, will be in Africa. Those are major demographic shifts… how will they affect your area or region of study?

Tell us a little bit about your process. Was there anything unique about how you did the work? 
I really credit my writing group with helping me through the dissertation writing process and getting my arguments to where they needed to be. We’re six women from three different disciplines, who all work on East Africa. We started about two years before I defended, so they were with me from the beginning. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure the group was helpful during the first six months or so. It was a lot of work to get to know each other’s projects, genres, styles, and gain a sense of trust. But I am so thankful I stuck it out. We met once a week to read over one or two pieces, so I got monthly feedback on everything from shitty first drafts to polished final chapters. Sometimes we’d show up and the hour was more like a therapy session. We’re still going strong — helping out on job materials, book manuscripts, and syllabi. My one piece of advice for dissertators: find yourself a solid writing group!

It was an extraordinarily rough year to complete a degree. What kept you going? 
Stress-reducing yoga. I found a yin sequence that worked wonders for me after a long, stressful day. I even did it the morning before my defense, and felt so calm and confident! 

Dr. Nicole Welk-Joerger

Graduated in April 2020,
PhD in History and Sociology of Science earned at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dissertation titled: “Feeding Others to Feed Ourselves: Animal Nutrition and the Politics of Health, 1900 – 2019.”


*Cover image: A feeling of hope. Artwork by EHN contributor Kate McNally.

[Cover image description: painting of a mountainous landscape in different shades of blue. Two trees leaning toward each other in the front, and a lake with mountains in the background.]