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December 11th, 2013 – The Sea is Rising: Narrating Climate Change in the Pacific, presented by Elizabeth DeLoughrey (UCLA)

The Sea is Rising Event posterTwenty years ago, the Tongan anthropologist Epeli Hau`ofa published his deeply influential essay “Our Sea of Islands,” arguing that the legacies of colonial belittlement that render the Pacific as “islands in a far sea” need to be replaced with a more accurate and world-enlarging view. Instead, he argued, we must recognize the primacy of the largest ocean on the planet which facilitated both the legacies of Pacific voyaging as well as contemporary circuits of globalization, rendering the region as “a sea of islands” better known as Oceania. Hau`ofa’s work made a tremendous contribution to the fields of indigenous, cultural and literary studies of the region. While Hau`ofa was concerned with the ecological health of the ocean, he could not have foreseen the ways in which climate change, particularly sea-level rising, has transformed islands that are in fact threatened by the expansion of the sea, faced with a new era of what has increasingly been termed “carbon colonialism.”

The dramatic changes to the geographies of low-lying atolls in the Pacific have generated an unprecedented body of cultural narratives that are translating the urgency of climate change mitigation to a global audience, creating a new oceanic imaginary. This paper will explore the rise in documentaries that are visualizing the challenges faced by island communities such as Tokelau, Tuvalu and Kiribati as they adapt and, increasingly, migrate in response to the erosion and salinization of their lands, and raise questions as to the various narrative methods these texts employ, considering how they contribute to the visual production of climate change discourse in the global North. Produced, in-part, with generous support from the USC Department of American Studies & Ethnicity (ASE) as part of the Hemispheric Graduate Student Initiative (HEMI GSI) Conference.

About the speaker: Elizabeth DeLoughrey is an Associate Professor in the English Department at UCLA. She is the author of Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Island Literatures (2007 U Hawai`i Press) and the co-editor of the volumes “Postcolonial Ecologies: Literature and the Environment” (2010 Oxford UP), “Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture” (2005 U Virginia Press) as well as the special journal issues New Literatures Review (2011) (on island literatures) and Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature and the Environment (ISLE) (on postcolonial ecocriticism). She is currently editing a collection called Global Ecologies: Postcolonial Approaches to the Environmental Humanities and writing a manuscript about climate change, empire, and islands.