DFG Research Project: “The Environmental Imagination of Mobility: Nature and Migration in Contemporary American Poetry”

The global environmental crisis and intensifying migration movements are among the greatest challenges of our time, yet they are only beginning to be understood as interrelated. So far, this junction has mainly been studied in the social sciences; in literary and cultural studies, however, environmental and migratory developments are still discussed as largely separate issues. This separation is particularly surprising since there is a substantial body of contemporary poetry that links environmental perspectives with questions of global migration in conceptually complex, historically informed and aesthetically innovative ways. The project combines approaches from ecocriticism and migration studies to address this significant gap in research and to investigate how these poems, in their ethnic and geographical diversity, global connectedness, and formal density contribute to current debates about environmental change and human migration as interrelated phenomena.

The project will demonstrate, first, which new insights recent American poetry enables regarding the links between environmental crisis and human migration movements, pointing beyond one-dimensional cause and effect patterns that sometimes inform discussions about climate refugees. These include alternative views of migration as productive source of highly sensitive environmental insights, and as integral to culturally specific ways of relating to place—in spite of the profound crises related to displacement and the sense of being uprooted. Second, the project will show how poems that address the environment and migration together contribute to the ongoing reconstitution of American culture at the turn of the 21st century, up and against traditional concepts of America as ‘nature’s nation’ and ‘nation of immigrants.’ Such poems revise cultural patterns of rural nostalgia, westward movement and the frontier by linking them to issues of human and non-human movement, environmental risk, and a global disequilibrium ecology, and by constructing American landscapes as mobile places. Third, the project investigates how these texts engage the formal and stylistic possibilities of poetry to negotiate environmental and migratory concerns together, identifies new subgenres that emerge from this junction, and discusses their significance for the development of American literature. Methodologically, the project takes the approach of poetry analysis as social criticism further towards a combined social and environmental analysis of poetic texts, and brings ecocritical discussions of place into dialog with concepts recently discussed by cultural geographers in order to establish place, displacement and emplacement as mobile categories. In conjunction with in-depth interpretations of a new, far under-researched corpus of texts, the project develops an environmental-migratory paradigm whose productivity also points beyond the analysis of contemporary American poetry.


Christine Gerhardt. A Place for Humility: Whitman, Dickinson, and the Natural World. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014.

“Readers wishing to broaden the ecocritical canon will welcome this searching, deeply informed and eloquent environmental reappraisal of Whitman and Dickinson, which puts environmental humility at the heart of their poetics and points the way to reading a far broader range of literature through contemporary debates in environmental science and politics.”

– Laura Dassow Walls, University of Notre Dame 

A Place for Humility: Whitman, Dickinson, and the Natural World "makes all of [its] arguments in a clear, jargon-free prose style that is often a real pleasure to read. [...] As a close-reader, Gerhardt is balanced, generous, and sharply intelligent. She picks up details and turns them to account in sometimes surprising ways. [...] By bringing Whitman into the light shed by Dickinson, [she] illuminates new ways of reading the two poets together, rather than simply in opposition to on another. [...] Always respectful of previous scholarship and criticism, Gerhardt brings an important new perspective to the two greatest poets of nineteenth-century America. Her view opens new possibilities of reading, renewing the vision of both the poets and their readers."

– James Perrin Warren, Walt Whiman Quarterly Review

You can find a synopsis of this monograph here.



Christine Gerhardt and Christa Grewe-Volpp (Eds.). Environmental Imagination on the Move: Nature and Mobility in American Literature and Culture. Special Issue of American Studies/Amerikastudien 61.4 (2016).

This special issue of American Studies/Amerikastudien offers six innovative analyses that investigate the multifaceted connections between ecologically relevant perspectives and historically and culturally specific kinds of geographical movement and mobility in American literature and culture. It links ecocritical debates about environmental racism, ecofeminist ethics, urban ecologies, posthumanism, capitalism and globalization to debates about movement and mobility that take place in fields such as migration studies, diaspora studies, and mobility studies.



Christine Gerhardt. The American Novel of the Nineteenth Century. Edited with an Introduction. Handbooks of English and American Studies. Berlin and New York: DeGruyter, 2017.

This handbook offers students and researchers a compact introduction to nineteenth-century American novels in the light of current critical debates. Part I provides an overview of key historical and critical frameworks, including slavery, transnationalism, environmentalism and print culture, sentimentalism, the gothic, realism and naturalism. Part II discusses 25 core American novels in an innovative combination of 1) succinct surveys of biographical and cultural contexts, 2) fresh close readings, and 3) detailed discussions of relevant literary and cultural theories. 


International Conference: "The Environment and Human Migration: Rethinking the Politics of Poetry" - November 2016

This conference explores poetry that addresses the links between environmental and migratory issues. We invite scholars to discuss poems from different cultures and centuries that talk about the environment and human migration in their interrelationship, in historically informed, conceptually complex, and/or aesthetically innovative ways. We are particularly interested in papers that investigate environmental and migratory concerns in the larger frameworks of poetics, ethics, and politics. More Information

Conference: American Studies Postgraduate Conference - November 2015

The annual PGF conference brings together young scholars of American Studies for presentation-based discussions of current issues in the field. The PGF Conference 2015 was co-organized by the departments of American Studies in Bamberg and Bayreuth. More Information

International Symposium: "Whitman Across Genres" - July 2014

From July 21-26, 2014, the Bamberg American Studies section organized the international symposium "Whitman Across Genres." The symposium was part of the 7th International Walt Whitman Week, also held in Bamberg. More information

Symposium: "Nature – Mobility – Literature: The Environmental Imagination of Migration" - January 2014

As part of a research project on the intersections between the natural environment and people's migratory movements, the American Studies section organized a research symposium. More information

International Student Symposium: "Transatlantic Ties Between the United States of America and Germany" - January 2014

In January 2014, the Bamberg American Studies program organized an international student symposium together with the Department of American Studies at Charles University, Prague. More information


For more individual research projects and research interests, please visit the faculty profiles under Team.