Conference 1: Ecology of the Clark Memorial Library Core Program, "The Forgotten Canopy: Ecology, Ephemeral Architecture, and Imperialism in the Caribbean, South American, and Transatlantic Worlds"

Paul Niell's picture
November 4, 2022
California, United States
Subject Fields: 
Archaeology, Architecture and Architectural History, Black History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies, Indigenous Studies

The core conference program to be held by the Center for 17th– & 18th-Century Studies at UCLA’s Clark Library (2022–2023) will convene scholars around the topics of “Ecology,” “Ephemeral Architecture,” and “Imperialism” in the early modern (16th–19th-century) world. The circum-Caribbean is our starting point, specifically we use this term to refer to the deep connections between the peoples and places of the Caribbean and South America, along with parts of North America. Due to national politics, language barriers, and scholarly divisions that have their roots in the European colonization of the Americas, the long and complex history of exchange among these regions and peoples have been greatly understudied. In truth, this history of entanglement across water and land stretches back millennia, resulting in a rich and diverse built environment that is deeply tied to ecological change. This dynamic did not end with the invasion of 1492, but rather continued to expand and accelerate when people, plants, and empires came from across the Atlantic. Using ephemeral architecture, in particular the complex and exquisite creation of thatch roofs as the leading thread in these tapestries of exchange, this series of conferences highlight the profound ways in which environmental practices, botanical knowledge, technological development, architectural innovation, and creative expression were deeply tied across these distinct regions and peoples, and shaped by imperial actions. This conference series brings an unusually diverse number of disciplines together in order to unpack these complex dynamics, which challenge how we understand the built environment, the early modern Atlantic World, and the intersections between the local and the global. “The Forgotten Canopy,” which aims to share and amplify the critical contributions of Native Americans and Black Americans to the architecture of the Americas, is also supported by a Terra Foundation Grant.

Conference 1: Ecology

November 45, 2022

Ephemeral architecture has been long overlooked by scholars, with few exceptions, because of its relatively short life span, the lack of extant structures, and most importantly, the need to understand its complex ecological context.  Our first conference, “Ecology” (November 4–5, 2022), seeks to address this lacuna by exploring the complex and dynamic ecologies from which ephemeral architecture arises in the Indigenous Caribbean and South America worlds, and their transformation with the arrival of Africans and Europeans (with their flora, fauna and technologies). Scholars from a diversity of disciplines and countries are brought together to explore and challenge a variety of perspectives and theoretical approaches to local and cross regional ecologies and histories, from unique plants and cultural knowledge, to complex ecosystems and critical human interventions. In the case of thatched roofs, which often drew upon short-lived grasses and had to be remade regularly, even slight ecological changes would have had profound impacts. It is precisely the material condition of this ephemeral architecture that ties its existence to even subtle changes in local ecologies, while also revealing overlooked histories and silenced voices of the early modern world.


Michael D. Carrasco (Florida State University), “The Enduring Maya Home”

Mónica Domínguez Torres (University of Delaware), “Between rancherías and fortalezas: Empire, Extractivism, and Ecology at the Pearling Centers of the Early Americas”

Justin Dunnavant (University of California, Los Angeles), “Beyond the Provision Ground: Towards a Black Historical Ecology in the Atlantic World”

Christine Hastorf (University of California, Berkeley), “The Movement and Tempo of Plant Domesticates throughout the Americas: Implications of Values”

Corinne L. Hofman (University of Leiden & Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies–KITLV), co-author of “Grounding the Táboüi. Recognizing Traditional Knowledge Practices Embedded in the Life Histories of the Caribbean’s Islandscapes of Dwelling”

Irvince Nanichi Auguiste (Former Chief of the Kalinago People), co-author of “Grounding the Táboüi. Recognizing Traditional Knowledge Practices Embedded in the Life Histories of the Caribbean’s Islandscapes of Dwelling”

Eduardo Góes Neves (University of São Paulo), “Landscape and Urbanism in Ancient Amazonia”

Jonah Rowen (Ahmanson-Getty Fellow), “‘Little Empires’: Mahogany, from Forests and Forced Labor to Furniture and Fittings”

Glenn H. Shepard, Jr. (Goeldi Museum, Belém do Pará, Brazil), “The House-Forest Continuum in Indigenous Amazonia, from Architecture to Ecophilosophy” 

Pamela Villaseñor (Executive Director of Pukúu Cultural Community Services), “Indigenous Knowledges and Futurisms: Native Villages of Los Angeles”

Contact Info: 

Paul Niell, Associate Professor of Art History, Florida State University


Contact Email: