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CHE | Graduate Student Symposium: Watersheds

March 25 - March 26

The UW–Madison Center for Culture, History and Environment (CHE) will bring together graduate student researchers, educators, and artists from multiple disciplines to examine and discuss methods, applications, theories, ideas and practices related to the theme of watersheds.

Watersheds, otherwise known as drainage basins, are places where water flows to a single point before converging into another body of water. Functionally, watersheds serve as an avenue for: the transport and storage of water, energy, organisms, sediments, and pollutants; the cycling and transformation of essential biogeochemical activities; and the process of ecological succession that circulates materials from the physical environment back into the biological.

Watersheds gather and expand, dissolve and define, blur and separate, filter and create, fill and transform. The study of these ecosystems brings to the forefront the intersections of essential ecological, hydrological, and geomorphological processes that, in turn, provide critical social, economic, and ecosystem benefits.

Beyond the study of watersheds as ecosystems, the idiom of a “watershed moment” evokes a crossroad, a defining occasion, a paradigm shift, or a milestone. The term is used to refer to monumental events that have altered cultural, artistic, social, and political as well as environmental landscapes. For example, reporting after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, journalists with the Washington Post called the Dobbs ruling a “watershed moment” in the debate over abortion access in the United States.

Speaking before the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, in a series of remarks condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, termed the threats to international peace and security, along with the climate crisis and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as “watershed moments” that demanded collective action and sustainable solutions.

In this symposium, we hope to explore the implications of watersheds in relation to both the human and more-than-human world. How does conceptualizing watersheds and watershed moments give us an opportunity to reflect on past, present, and future shifts that reroute the trajectory of individual and collective ecological positions? How do watershed connections, interruptions, and convergences offer speculative spaces of modeling, embodiment, and figuration? How might turning points, whether of water or of wedge issues, flows or philosophies, become sites of generation, curiosity, and resilience?