Early manuscript illustration of fuscia plant with flying insects

The Insect Apocalypse (2023)

The 2023 seminar seeks to explore the human and insect relationship from a variety of perspectives.

There has been much in the news late of alarming reports about the disappearance of insects. The declining numbers of bees and monarch butterflies have been in our consciousness for some time (e.g., colony collapses of bees in the USA in 2006 and 2015) but the problem is much more widespread, so much so that the phrase ‘insect apocalypse’ is now not infrequently heard. There is no one cause behind the losses but rather multiple factors, the common denominator of which usually can be traced back to man (pesticides, monoculture of crops, climate change, etc.). Life on earth as we know it, however, is not possible without the millions of different insect species who cohabit this planet with us, and who in fact have inhabited it for far longer than us (c. 400 million years) and whose infinite variety we still do not have a good grip on. Yet they pollinate our crops, act as biocontrol agents, breakdown organic matter including dung and animal carcasses (and thus recycle valuable nutrients back into the environment), aerate the soil, are food for manifold other species including ourselves, have medicinal properties, transmit diseases, etc. They also play a cultural role which is perhaps less vital but not less rich and meaningful. They appear in art, music, folklore, myth, as religious symbols, as pets, and as oracles. The seminar seeks to explore our relationship with insects from multiple angles, in order to understand how our thinking about insects may have contributed to their decline, and how looking more closely at our relations with our fellow creatures may help to ameliorate this situation. 

Presented in partnership with UCalgary Alumni.

Watch the recording

Video by Maven Media

Event Program

9:00 a.m.                    Doors open and check-ins; Coffee and muffins

9:30 – 9:35 a.m.          Audience takes their seats

9:35 – 9:45 a.m.          Jim Ellis, PhD, Director, Calgary Institute for the Humanities

Traditional land acknowledgement and welcome to the forum guests; Introduction of Dr. Maya Evenden                                      

9:45 – 10:10 a.m.        Maya Evenden, PhD, Professor, College of Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Alberta

10:10 – 10:20 a.m.       Jim Ellis, Questions for Dr. Maya Evenden

10:20 – 10:25 a.m.       Jim Ellis, Introduction of Dr. Eric Brown

10:25 - 10:50 a.m.       Eric Brown, PhD, Professor of English, University of Maine at Farmington

10:50 – 11:00 a.m.       Jim Ellis, Questions for Dr. Eric Brown

11:00 – 11:30 a.m.      Coffee break

11:30 – 11:35 a.m.      Jim Ellis, Introduction of Dr. Sherryl Vint

11:35 – 12:00 p.m.      Sherryl Vint, PhD, Professor of Media & Cultural Studies, English, University of California, Riverside                                      

12:00 – 12:10 p.m.       Jim Ellis, Questions for Dr. Sherryl Vint

12:15 – 1:15 p.m.        Lunch – Registered attendees pick up lunch provided by Sidewalk Citizen

► ‘Round Table’ discussion groups to respond to the morning’s talks and to the specific question found on the table. Individuals submit question cards to be collated by the moderator.

1:15 – 1:20 p.m.          Alana Bartol and Bryce Krynski introduce the short film all roses sleep (inviolate light) (2022)

1:20 – 1:35 p.m.         Screening of the short film all roses sleep (inviolate light) (2022)

1:35 – 1:45 p.m.          Q&A with filmmakers Alana Bartol and Bryce Krynski

1:45 – 1:50 p.m.          Jim Ellis, Introduction of Veronica Briseño Castrejon

1:50 – 2:05 p.m.          Veronica Briseño Castrejon, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, University of Calgary

2:05 – 2:15 p.m.          Jim Ellis, Questions for Veronica Briseño Castrejon

2:15 – 3:30 p.m.         General discussion and questions; summary of the day’s conversations.

3:30 p.m.                    End of Forum – wrap up


Invited Panelists

Eric Brown, PhD

Professor of English
University of Maine at Farmington

Dr. Brown has written previously about insects and eschatology in Edmund Spenser’s Muiopotmos. Dr. Brown is also the editor of Insect Poetics, the first book to comprehensively explore the cultural and textual meanings of bugs. Though literally woven into the fabric of human affairs, insects are considered alien from the human world. Animal studies and rights have become a fecund field, but for the most part scant attention has been paid to the relationship between insects and humans. Insect Poetics redresses that imbalance by welcoming insects into the world of letters and cultural debate. 

Maya Evenden, PhD

Professor of Biological Sciences
University of Alberta

Dr. Evenden received an NSERC University Faculty Award to join the University of Alberta in 2003. Her research interests focus on the chemical and behavioural ecology of insects considered to be pests of agriculture, forestry and horticulture in western Canada. The research in her laboratory contributes to the development of sustainable pest management systems. At the University of Alberta, Dr. Evenden teaches Insect Biology, Insects in Managed Ecosystems, and Chemical Ecology. Dr. Evenden has served as the President of the Entomological Societies of Alberta (2006) and Canada (2010), as well as the International Branch of the Entomological Society of America (2018). She is currently a member of the editorial board on 5 scientific journals.

Sherryl Vint, PhD

Professor of Media & Cultural Studies, English
University of California, Riverside

Dr. Vint is the author of Bodies of TomorrowAnimal Alterity, and Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed, coauthor of the Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction, and coeditor of The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (2009). She has recently completed Science Fiction (2021) for MIT Press's Essential Knowledge series, and Biopolitical Futures in Twenty-First Century Speculative Fiction (2021), which theorizes how speculative fiction interrogates a number of sites where bodies intersect with biotechnology in the marketplace—cryonics, transplant surgery, IVF, clinical drug trials, synthetic biology.

Invited Artists

Alana Bartol and Bryce Krynski

Presenting their short film all roses sleep (inviolate light) (2022), an olfactory video that blends how bees and humans experience and use the land around us. Shot using ultraviolet video, visitors are invited to see the prairie landscape from a bee’s point of view and a scratch and sniff card expands on the pleasant and pungent experience of pumpjacks, grazing cattle, prairie grasses and wildflowers. As the solitary bee searches and dreams of a rose, the work is meant to conjure questions about our shared future. 

Kevin Chen

Kevin Chen lives in Calgary, Canada, where he studies with Marilyn Engle. Despite his young age, he has already taken part in many famous international competitions, winning 1st Prize at the Liszt Competition in Budapest, 1st Prize at the Mozart Competition in Lugano (junior section) and 1st Prize at the Hilton Head Competition in Washington. He is also an avid composer, with nearly 100 works to his credit, including symphonies and a piano concerto.

Featured Guest

Veronica Briseño Castrejon

CIH Honorary Graduate Student Fellow and PhD Candidate with the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Veronica Briseño Castrejon spent several years living in the Quintana Roo state of Mexico and formed relationships with several Maya beekeeping families. She is currently doing ethnographic and ethnoecological research on the ancient tradition of beekeeping.