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The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 2: Additional Projects: Project X002

SUPERVISOR: - Melanie Challenger (CECD Creative Fellow)

Melanie Challenger (c/o AHRC CECD, Institute of Archaeology, University College London)

PROJECT FUNDING: Cards Against Humanity
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The aim of my research is to gather material for a non-fiction, general-trade book called ‘Extinction’, an overview of the theme and its importance for contemporary society. In its broadest terms, ‘Extinction’ is a story of the central place held by cycles of extinction or near extinction in the establishment and expansion of life. An analysis of the natural and social processes of change will give way to a reading of the cultural and environmental vanishings in human societies that supply the consequent society with the materials for a new phase of growth. My perspective is that of a practitioner of poetry in a society for which my original function (as memory-holder and -conveyer for a given set of peoples or a place) has declined. Traditionally, poets were individuals sufficiently fluent in the spoken and written language of generations to fashion the lexicon for the modern world, practitioners making poetic adjustments to and from socio-economic and physical realities. My research will pursue the tipping points prevised by the linguistic shifts of poets, using modern scientific research to illuminate the agents conditioning these critical adjustments, and to summarise the subsequent effects of their dispersal. My particular focus is on how language informs and transforms our realities – how exactly does language function for social change? Is language akin to other agencies of change? And should any sensible apprehension of such evolution separate the three major strata (physical, sociological, and lingual-conceptual) from one another? In part to answer the latter question, I will be travelling to Antarctica as Writer in Residence for the British Antarctic Survey for International Polar Year 2007-8, working alongside scientists analysing data and modelling changes in Earth systems, while synchronously engaged in parallel examination of social and cultural shifts. On my return, I will work at CECD as part of a gregarious process of understanding, deepening the research for my project through discussion and information-equity among my colleagues at the Centre. This is an effort to produce a text through multiple forms of knowledge: by individual research and reflection, contemporary symposium, and physical voyage. The overall result will be a challenging text for a general readership, a book belonging to a mode of writing that has emerged in recent years: an amalgam Marina Warner termed as ‘history, traveller’s tales, autobiography, anecdote, aesthetics, antiquarianism, conversation, and memoir’, the ‘psycho-geographic’ exploration of place, people, and history.

By early 2010 Melanie Challenger had completed the full draft manuscript of the book, now entitled 'Vanished Like A Dream'. It was read with great interest and enjoyment by J. Steele who provided feedback on the scientific content. The revised final manuscript is due to be submitted to the publishers shortly.

Melanie Challenger (2011).
On Extinction: How We Became Estranged From Nature. Granta: London.