Maitane Ostolaza: "The aim is to decipher and provide a comprehensive understanding of our connection with nature in the Basque Country"
Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.
Maitane Ostolaza is a researcher and professor at Université de Perpignan in France. In recent years, she has been researching Basque culture and nature from the perspective of environmental humanities. She spoke on the subject as part of the 13th Bikaintasuna Euskal Ikasketetan course offered by the Etxepare Basque Institute in collaboration with the University of the Basque Country.
Ostolaza’s research revolves around the relationship between religion, education and modernisation, as well as nineteenth century popular culture, the processes of nationalisation in Europe and, in recent years, heritage and landscape from a cultural history perspective. She has published numerous articles and books on landscape and heritage in both France and Spain.
Ostolaza has conducted extensive research in recent years, and her aim was to share the knowledge she gained and educate others on how to promote Basque culture internationally using diverse disciplines. To achieve this, she presented a conference titled "Naturaleza y cultura en el País Vasco: el punto de vista de las humanidades ambientales" (Nature and culture in the Basque Country: an environmental humanities perspective) at the 13th Bikaintasuna Euskal Ikasketetan course. The aim of her talk was to raise awareness of the images, representations and symbolic value throughout the history of the Basque Country, as well as to stimulate sensitivity to nature and the environment in the educational sphere.
Why is it important to research Basque nature and culture from the point of view of environmental humanities?
We all know about the current climate crisis. Not only we are aware of it, but we are suffering from it. In the face of this crisis, the attitude of every society and every human being in recent centuries towards nature must change in some way, and in order for changes to take place, we need to work across all disciplines to help raise public awareness of nature.
My speciality is precisely research from the humanities perspective. It seems to me that at the level of representation, these ideas that we have about the world and nature must change. It is essential to know how and when these ideas came about. I strongly believe that the prevalence of environmental studies in numerous universities is not a mere coincidence but a response to a genuine need.
During the 19th century, industrialization brought about a paradoxical situation. Society came to dominate nature as it plunged into the age of modernity. Furthermore, nature often became perceived merely as a resource, yet its significance was also emphasized among various social groups or elites. Contemporarily, the effects of industrialization have encouraged a greater focus on nature, a sensitivity towards environmental issues, and the enhancement of landscapes. However, at the same time, the economic and political attitudes this industrialisation have led to a dependence on nature.
To address our dependence on nature and foster a more respectful and equitable relationship with the environment, it is imperative to transcend the modernisation model. This requires collective efforts from individuals in various disciplines to challenge existing cultural representations and adopt new practices with nature.
Where did your curiosity to investigate this topic come from?
Research on the subject began in the United States and in several European countries in the 1970s. Initially, the topic was closely related to the natural sciences or environmental studies, but later the social sciences were also involved in this type of research.
In particular, I’d say that interest has intensified over the last 20-25 years in the social sciences and in the disciplines we know as the humanities. In my particular case, I’ve always worked on different themes (religion, education, creation and strengthening of identity, among others) and always revolving around the Basque Country. My fascination with these topics has been long-standing, but it grew significantly, particularly during my time as a director in a cultural organization. This experience made me acutely aware of the significance of natural heritage and its importance in our lives. This aroused my curiosity and while I was working at the Sorbonne University in Paris I held a lectureship position linked to Basque heritage.
How can sensitivity to nature and the environment be promoted in education?
I think there is already a good amount awareness and sensitisation. Perhaps not in a monographic way, but through Basque cinema, Basque literature or bertsolaritza, for example. In other words, it is disseminated using the usual teaching resources.
My primary objective in teaching is to decipher and provide a comprehensive understanding of our connection with nature in the Basque Country. To clearly explain the historical ups and downs of Basque culture and nature, whether through literature, novels, verse or political discourse. The current sources used for Basque themes have a long history. The idea is to put them into perspective and to be aware of them. By understanding our relationship with nature in the Basque Country, we avoid oversimplification and connect it with the broader history of humanity.
How has your experience been teaching Basque culture through the lens of environmental humanities in foreign contexts?
In the field of Basque studies, I worked at the Sorbonne in Paris thanks to support from the Etxepare Basque Institute. We set up the Basque studies programme, and within this framework, it was my job to teach Basque culture and history. Using the content and products mentioned earlier for promoting Basque culture, I created notebooks to distribute to students regularly. Through these notebooks, we engaged in discussions and gained a deeper understanding of Basque language and culture. I managed to integrate Basque culture into the general history of the world. The aim was also to encourage students to research these topics with a view to their doctorate or thesis.
What conclusions did you draw from the 13th Bikaintasuna Euskal Ikasketetan course?
First of all, I felt that there was active participation, which is very positive. I also think it is interesting and enriching for readers to have direct contact with teachers from other disciplines and other countries to give classes in Basque and Basque culture.