Reconnecting the dots between race and place.

Friday, August 1, 2014 - 8:45am
Lauret Savoy, professor of environmental studies, in a video produced by the Center for Humans and Nature.

Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies Lauret Savoy was an invited speaker at California’s biennial Geography of Hope conference, and was featured in a video interview that delves into the profound connections between her scholarly work and her life as an African American woman. In both, she thoughtfully reconnects the dots between the human and natural worlds, and between race and place.

“Sand and stone may be Earth’s memory, yet each of us, too, is a landscape inscribed by memory,” she says. “My skin, eyes, and hair recall the blood of three continents as paths of ancestors—free and enslaved Africans, colonists from Europe, and peoples indigenous to this land—converge in me. As an Earth historian, I’ve tracked the continent’s deep past, yet my own familial origins lie largely eroded and lost. To live in this country is to be marked by residues of its still-unfolding history, residues of silence and displacement across generations.” A book now in manuscript form describes her search for and discovery of these marks, “reconciling what it means to inhabit terrains of memory—and to be one.”

Savoy’s scholarship has become deeply personal, and in this video interview with Curt Meine, senior fellow with the Center for Humans and Nature, she’s honest about why.

“Human experience and the history of the American land itself have, in fragmented tellings, artificially pulled apart what cannot be disentangled: nature and ‘race,’ ” she says. “It’s important to make connections often unrecognized, to trespass supposed borders to counter some of our oldest and most damaging public silences. There are so many poorly known links between place and race, including the siting of the nation’s capital and the economic motives of slavery. None of these links is coincidental. Few appear in public history. Many touch me—and you.”

In this video of her Geography of Hope conference talk, Savoy further explains her views on community, democracy, and the land.

• Savoy's essay on the ties between race and place appeared in the Huffington Post and the Albany Times-Union.


 —By Emily Harrison Weir