“Flickering” reading of energy: presenting new work within the energy humanities at ACLA2024, Montreal

I’m in Montreal for the ACLA2024, where I’ll present some of my current work in progress (15 March 2024). I’m considering ways in which we can see energy at work in literature before the energy crisis (pre-1970s), at times when energy questions were rarely explicitly foregrounded in literary texts. I suggest a “flickering” reading of instances of energy in a comparative literary perspective, and argue that energy flickers tend to be tied in with moments when viable futures (individual or communal) are denied.

My talk continues earlier collaborations with Imre Szeman, during my three-year research project at TIAS, Turku, and builds on the course “Introduction to the Energy Humanities” taught at Tampere University in 2023. It is part of the seminar “Comparative Energetics: Energy Encounters and Beyond”, organized by Jordan Kinder and Reuben Martens. Good to reconnect with Reuben, whom I met while at KU Leuven, and looking forward to meet new people in this fascinating field.

Abstract below:

”Waking at the fumes and furnace-glares”: flickers of petro-modernity

Lieven Ameel

Building on work within the energy humanities that wants to make visible fossil-fueled energy transformations and their repercussions for (literary) culture (Szeman 2017; Wenzel 2019; Yaeger 2011), I propose a ‘flickering reading’ of the fossil-fueled fumes and glares often only visible in passing in the background of the narratives of long modernity. I argue that these flickers tend to occur in instances that emphasize the association between energy sites and the loss of (or threat to), viable futures, individual or communal. I draw on a comparative selection of texts from the early nineteenth century to the late 1960s, including William Blake’s Milton (1808), Stephen Crane’s Maggie (1893), and Philip Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings (1964).

This work is part of larger project that wants to develop the theory and methodologies of the energy humanities in ways that will deepen our understanding of the historical conditions of petro-modernity, and that will help outline the conditions for the necessary transformations ahead.

Image: Sheffield Forgemasters / https://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/sheffield-forgemasters-announces-record-breaking-pour/

Opening the year with a lecture on the literature of Antiquity

On my way to teach the first class of the year, as part of my spring course “Introduction to the History of Western Literature”. We’ll begin with some opening thoughts on the literature of Antiquity, its performativity and materiality.

Always a daunting task to try to cram the history of Western literature into a two-month course, and to justify what to leave out, what to gloss over, and to connect classical literature to contemporary perspectives without simplifying differences and ruptures.

I’ve tried to add an extra dimension by focusing on how different periods see their own temporality – how are they seen as building explicitly on previous periods, previous examples, previous cultural layers?


Image: Delphic poems, 2nd C BC. Source: wikicommons


“Narrative approaches for twenty-first century urban planning and theory” – presentation at the Finnish Urban Studies Conference, 5 May

Following a presentation yesterday at the yearly conference of the Finnish Literary Research Society, I presented today at the annual Finnish Urban Studies Conference – both conferences are organized this year in Turku, and suitably located in adjacent buildings.

My presentation is part of a 10-presentation double panel on cultural and social knowledge in interdisciplinary urban studies. Great to hear diverse presentations on this important topic and looking forward to meeting old friends and new colleagues from different academic backgrounds!

Abstract below

Narrative approaches for twenty-first century urban planning and theory

Following a tentative “narrative turn” in planning, what have been the benefits of drawing on narrative and literary studies when working in the field of urban planning and theory? This paper builds on three recently completed international projects: the COST action “Writing Urban Places. New Narratives of the European City” (hosted at TU Delft), the project “Scripts for Postindustrial Urban Futures: American Models, Transatlantic Interventions” (Ruhr region) and the project “PARVIS – Paroles de villes” (Paris). It identifies as central achievements: 1. clarification of concepts and methods; 2. clarification of innovative methods in teaching and participation; 3. identification of important points for further development. Productive approaches for further development in planning practices, based on narrative and literary methodologies, include among others: polyphony, open-ended storytelling, and narrative-purpose PPGIS. This paper draws on work published recently in the open-access book Narrative in Urban Planning: A Practical Field Guide (Ameel, Gurr & Buchenau).

Presenting “Energy Humanities: Resources, methods, aims” at the KTS conference, Turku

On my way to Turku to participate in the yearly conference of the Finnish Literary Research Society. I’ll give a presentation on the resources, methods, and aims of the Energy Humanities. My presentation is based on the preliminary results of a thematically focused literature research review (articles published between 2010 and 2022), and draws also on the work carried out in the course “Energy and literature: An Introduction to the Energy Humanities”, taught this spring at Tampere University.

Also in Turku today and tomorrow is the yearly Urban Studies conference, where I’ll present tomorrow. Looking forward to meeting many colleagues and friends from literary studies and urban studies in person!

Abstract of my presentation (in Finnish) below:

Humanistinen energiatutkimus: aineistot, menetelmät, tavoitteet

Lieven Ameel

Menneillään oleva maailmanlaajuinen energiamurros kohti vähähiilisyyttä vaatii paitsi teknologisia innovaatioita ja uudenlaisen energiatuotanto- ja siirtoinfrastruktuurin kehittämistä, myös uudenlaisten yhteiskunnallisten ja kulttuuristen muotojen luomista. Humanistiset tieteet ovat tässä mielessä energiamurroksessa avainasemassa (ks. Lummaa & Ameel).

Miltä näyttää humanistinen energiatutkimus tutkimuskirjallisuuden valossa? Mitkä ovat sen keskeiset tavoitteet ja minkälaisia aineistoja tai tutkimusmenetelmiä se hyödyntää? Tämä esitelmä esittelee humanistisen energiatutkimuskentän päälinjoja, keskeisiä tutkimuskysymyksiä, aineistoja ja tutkimusmetodeja. Esitelmä pohjautuu laadulliseen kirjallisuuskatsaukseen, jonka aineisto koostuu vuosina 2010-2022 julkaistuista tutkimusartikkeleista, joissa mainitaan avainsanoja ”energy humanities”, ”petrocultures”, tai ”petrofiction”. Taustalla on keväällä 2023 Tampereen yliopistossa pidetty kurssi ”Energy and Literature: An Introduction to the Energy Humanities”, jossa opiskelijat toteuttivat pienimuotoisia kirjallisuuskatsauksia annetun aineiston pohjalta.


Karoliina Lummaa & Lieven Ameel: “Petrokulttuuria purkamassa – Imre Szemanin haastattelu.” niin & näin 20/1, 2020, 7.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oil_Rig_-_panoramio_(1).jpg

Book Launch: “Narrative in Urban Planning” – 26 April 2023, Tampere


Lieven Ameel, Jens Martin Gurr, Barbara Buchenau 

April 26, 2023. 15h-16.30h, RJ108, School of Architecture, Hervanta Campus, Tampere University  

Zoom link: https://tuni.zoom.us/j/68406184345?pwd=SjFkRXFTZk9TQm1zUzk2cy9pVmhJUT09 


15.15: opening words 

Lieven Ameel (TUNI), Jens Martin Gurr & Barbara Buchenau (University of Duisburg-Essen) 

15.25-15.50: commentaries 

“Narrative in planning” – commentator: Dalia Milián Bernal, architect and doctoral researcher (TUNI) 

“utopia”, “metaphor”, “model” – commentator: Juho Rajaniemi, Vice Dean for Education, professor of urban planning and design (TUNI) 

“rhythm”, “palimpsest”, “path-dependency” – commentator: Panu Lehtovuori, professor of planning theory (TUNI) 

15.50-16.30: Q&A, refreshments

Book details and link: 

Lieven Ameel, Jens Martin Gurr & Barbara Buchenau: Narrative in Urban Planning: A Practical Field Guide. Transcript 2023. 

Published Open Access, March, 2023. 


Event organizers: TUNISchool of Architecture / Narrare Centre for Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies at Tampere University, Finland / History, Philosophy and Literary Studies Unit.

“Energy and Literature” course: visit to Tammerkoski plant (13 March) and Utopia lecture on “Sultana’s Dream” (6 March)

Quick update on my spring course on “Energy and Literature”:

Today (13 March), I’ll take my students of the “Energy and Literature” course to visit the Tammerkoski hydroenergy plant (Tammerkoski keskikoski plant). Tampere has a rich industrial history. Located between two lakes, hydroenergy has been a important catalyst of energy transformations in the city, and the plant is still functioning today, in the very centre of the city. Very much looking forward to see local energy infrastructure, and to get a better sense of how historical energy solutions have had their impact on urban culture.

Last week (6 March), we discussed utopian possibilities in the energy humanities, and discussed Sultana’s Dream (1905) by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. The theoretical reading consisted of Debali Mookerjea-Leonard’s 2017 article “Futuristic Technologies and Purdah in the Feminist Utopia: Rokeya S. Hossain’s ‘Sultana’s Dream’”, published in Feminist Review. The key concept for the lecture was “utopia”, and the optional reading consisted of my own article on utopian cities, “Cities Utopian, Dystopian and Apocalyptic” (2016).

Please find below the questions for reading discussion I gave the students prior to the class:

What is the relation between human being, energy technology, and landscape  / environment / society in Hussain’s text?

What forms of energy extraction, production, consumption, are described in Hussain’s text? How do they interact with human life and culture?

Consider our earlier definitions of Energy Humanities. Can this text be considered a useful resource within the EH – or not? Why?

How can this literary text be seen as a move towards a better society?

How can a study of this text be seen as a move towards a better society?

The text is – as always – culture-, language- and space-specific. What words in the text show this? What do they mean?

Consider Debali Mookerjea-Leonard’s article “futuristic technologies”. What does it add to our understanding of the text?

Within EH, there is a strong sense that energy transition has to mean also societal transitions towards a more just society. How does this fit in with Hussain’s text?

Optional question:

Consider the genre of utopia (see Ameel: ”Cities Utopian…”). To what extent does this text conform to the genre features of utopia? What does an analysis of utopia in the text add to our understanding of it?

Preparing a Course on Energy and Literature – An Introduction to the Energy Humanities

Currently preparing a course on energy and literature. I will teach the course “Energy and  literature – An Introduction to the Energy Humanities” this spring of 2023 at Tampere University.

I’m obviously looking forward to the course, but also very conscious of my own ongoing learning processes, involving a lot of soul-searching about the possibilities and limitations of literary studies and the humanities: what can we expect to achieve in our fields of studies, what kinds of questions can be answered, what kinds of methods are necessary or possible?

Very much interested in learning more from others, so if you have suggestions for readings, do get in touch at lieven.ameel [a] tuni.fi. I’m particularly looking for relevant sources and texts from the 18th and 19th century. There’s a huge amount of research carried out in contemporary (20th and 21st c) anglophone contexts, but I feel I can learn a lot also from non-English European sources and scholarship (Central European, Eastern European etc.). All suggestions welcome. The dimension of indigenous studies is obviously of particular importance for studies of energy cultures, and I’m looking for more resources on sami perspectives and thoughts on activism in the context of Nordic energy humanities.

I will link to other energy humanities syllabi in my own course material so students can get a sense of how other similar courses have been structured, do feel free to get in touch if you’re working on a similar course or if you have a syllabus you would like to share.

I’ll post the provisional course outline and reading material in a separate post later this month.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oil_Rig_-_panoramio_(1).jpg

Book Launch: Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies and Routledge Companion to Narrative Theory – 30 September 2022

Today we organize a double book launch at Tampere University to celebrate the recent publication of two new volumes: the Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies (Ameel 2022) and the Routledge Companion to Narrative Theory (Dawson & Mäkelä 2022).

Very much looking forward to the talk by visiting prof. Cecile Sandten (TU Chemnitz), who has agreed to give a brief assessment of the Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies as part of the program.

The book launch also has given me the time to reflect more on what has been achieved with the Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies, what could have gone differently, and what aspects stand out looking back. I will talk about these elements in more detail today, but I’d look to highlight here three of the 33 brilliant chapters of the volume. I hope these brief highlights will say something also about the aims for the broader volume, and will encourage readers to get to know the companion in its totality.

1. The chapter on the “Medieval Civic Encomium”, subtitled “A Theme and Variations in Praise of Italian Cities”, by Carrie Beneš and Laura Morreale. My own sense is that contemporary literary urban studies could do more to be attentive to historical city writing genres, which is why I was particularly happy to be able to include this exciting chapter on the genre of the civic encomium, a genre with a hugely important afterlife in city writing. What makes this an extra special chapter is that much of the work by the authors here is based on literary texts that are not available in translation, or even available in print, making this a particularly rich contribution. Fascinating is also how the the chapter shows that the genre of the encomium was active beyond literary texts (strictly defined), with a vivid presence in civic festivals and city life.

2. Michael G. Kelly’s chapter “The Form of a City: Geographies of Constraint in
Contemporary Urban Writing from France” presents scholarly work that is fairly close to my own research interests and which probably also for that reason resonated particularly strongly with me from the moment I read the first draft. Kelly’s chapter presents an unusally ambitious – and highly compelling – analysis of the interrelationship between city form and the form of the literary text. It brings figures from the urban margin, as well as lesser-known French authors, to the centre of literary urban studies, all in a study that in its own, balanced and intricate structure, reflects an attentiveness to the how material, societal, and literary form may interact.

3. Elizabeth Ho’s chapter “The Urban Child and Hong Kong’s Public Housing and Public Space in Yeung Hok-Tat’s How Blue Was My Valley“. Hugely attentive to the details of literary analysis as applied to the graphic novel, and with a meticulous grounding of the literary text within the local urban development context and the planning literature, this chapter will be useful to literary urban studies scholars and students alike. Also a text that puts the experiences of the child front and center. The evocative images from Hok-Tat’s graphic novel are an integral part of the compelling argumentative progression in this chapter.

Abstracts and book launch details below:

Lieven Ameel (ed.): The Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies. August 2022

The Routledge Companion to Literary Urban studies consists of 33 newly commissioned chapters that provide an outline of contemporary literary urban studies. The Companion covers all of the main theoretical approaches as well as key literary genres, with case studies covering a range of different geographical, cultural, and historical settings. The final chapters provide a window into new debates in the field. The three focal issues are key concepts and genres of literary urban studies; a reassessment and critique of classical urban studies theories and the canon of literary capitals; and methods for the analysis of cities in literature. The Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies provides the reader with practical insights into the methods and approaches that can be applied to the city in literature and serves as an important reference work for upper-level students and researchers working on city literature.

Paul Dawson & Maria Mäkelä (eds.): Routledge Companion to Narrative Theory. July 2022.  

The Routledge Companion to Narrative Theory brings together top 44 scholars in the field to explore the significance of narrative to pressing social, cultural, and theoretical issues. How does narrative both inform and limit the way we think today? From conspiracy theories and social media movements to racial politics and climate change future scenarios, the reach is broad. This volume is distinctive for addressing the complicated relations between the interdisciplinary narrative turn in the academy and the contemporary boom of instrumental storytelling in the public sphere. The 40 chapters of the volume explore new theories of causality, experientiality, and fictionality, challenge normative modes of storytelling, and offer polemical accounts of narrative fiction, nonfiction, and video games. Drawing upon the latest research in areas from cognitive sciences to complexity theory, the volume provides an accessible entry point for those new to the myriad applications of narrative theory and a point of departure for new scholarship. 

The Routledge Companion to Narrative Theory - 1st Edition - Paul Daws

Time: Friday, September 30 at 14:00–16:30  // Place: Café Aula & Toivo, Main Building 2nd floor, City Centre Campus 

Sparkling wine, coffee/tea and snack served. The program will consist of short introductory talks, online video greetings from our international collaborators and contributors, and a guest commentary by visiting Erasmus professor Cecile Sandten.  

The book launch is also the first event of the science event series of the Faculty of Social Science, Tampere University.  

Out Now: The Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies

After years in the making, this book is finally out in the world: The Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies. Its aims are to provide the reader with a methodical overview of the fundamentals of literary urban studies, and with a detailed outline of new directions in the study of the literary city.

It’s been a privilege to work on this with so many committed and wonderful colleagues. This is a book that showcases the richness and vitality of literary urban studies, with chapters on subjects ranging from urban satire in ancient Rome (by Grace Gillies), to the metropolitan miniature (by Andreas Huyssen), Athens in post-crisis literature (Riikka P. Pulkkinen), Hong Kong’s public housing in the graphic novel (Elizabeth Ho), translocality in city literature (Lena Mattheis), and much more.

From the Introduction: “What does it mean […] for a literary text to take the city as its focal point, as the presence from which character, language, plot, and voice take part of their meaning? How does the citiness of city literature make that literature – and literary urban studies – different from other texts and scholarly approaches? To what extent does the raw material constituted by the urban realm demand other kinds of approaches, as opposed to other kinds of literary texts? In each of the chapters of this Companion, these questions are present at least as part of a general background that informs the analysis.” (p. 2)

The Routledge Companion to Literary Urban studies consists of 33 newly commissioned chapters that provide an outline of contemporary literary urban studies. The Companion covers all of the main theoretical approaches as well as key literary genres, with case studies covering a range of different geographical, cultural, and historical settings. The final chapters provide a window into new debates in the field. The three focal issues are key concepts and genres of literary urban studies; a reassessment and critique of classical urban studies theories and the canon of literary capitals; and methods for the analysis of cities in literature.

The Routledge Companion to Literary Urban Studies provides the reader with practical insights into the methods and approaches that can be applied to the city in literature and serves as an important reference work for upper-level students and researchers working on city literature.

From the Acknowledgements:

“I am grateful to all of the contributors to this volume for taking up the challenge to contribute a chapter within a tight time frame and under difficult circumstances. I am particularly indebted to all contributors whom I did not know prior to the work on this Companion and who reacted warmly and collegially to my invitation. […]

I would also like to thank all colleagues with whom I have been in touch in the planning stages of the Companion, and who were not able to contribute for a variety of reasons. Circumstances for academic work have been particularly difficult these past years, with an unrelenting global pandemic (as I write these words) causing a continued state of uncertainty. In several countries – my own home country included – political decisions have made working conditions at universities more difficult during the past decade, especially within the humanities. Colleagues with whom I communicated in the context of this Companion wrote that they were coping with bereavement, were struggling under the simultaneous pressures of online teaching and home schooling, or were so overwhelmed with teaching in precarious positions that they had no possibility to do research or writing. I think it is important to also note, in an acknowledgment section such as this one, the wide-ranging invisible work and the meaningful absences in the background of academic publishing.

A special thanks to Frida, who was born during the final stages of this book project, and who always brought a sense of perspective and a smile to working from home. This book is dedicated to her.” (xiv-xv)

From the Introduction: “literary urban studies as a field can be said to resemble the city itself: it is a space where people from all kinds of backgrounds and with a range of different aims and perspectives meet and interact. And it is never finished – there are always some structures to be refurbished or adapted, some fallow land to be repurposed, and new kinds of methodologies, approaches, and experiences to be incorporated, always in ways that build on what is already there. In both of these senses, this Companion hopes to resemble its object of study.” (p. 8)

Do get in touch (at lieven.ameel [a] tuni.fi) if you are interested in reviewing the book, if you would like to read a particular chapter or chapters, or if you want to discuss literary urban studies.