Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 August 2021
The most common physical substance on our planet, water touches and shapes human lives, cultures, and histories in all three of its physical states: solid ice, liquid water, and gaseous vapor. Environmental humanities scholarship has focused largely on oceans and large bodies of fresh water. A wider frame for water-focused ecological scholarship should also include gaseous vapor, solid ice, and other less visible forms that water takes on our planet. Engaging in turn with each of the physical phases in which humans encounter water, and distinguishing between salt and fresh liquid water, this chapter demonstrates the range and dynamism of the relationship between humans and this essential substance. The invisible touch of humidity, the glacial immensity of polar ice, the sweetness of fresh water, and the imaginative breadth of the great salt sea all provide matter for environmental analysis. The chapter contains accounts of recent water-focused writings in the environmental humanities, presents a brief literary history of water in its various shapes, and concludes by gesturing toward the possibilities for new work.
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