April 7-9. 2016

Acidic seas, melting glaciers, tornadoes, tsunamis, droughts, species extinction, food scarcity – the world faces environmental challenges today on a level unprecedented in the human past. And despite doubts raised by those who would rather sing all summer than prepare for winter, scientists have come to conclude that human action is to blame. Today, humans are no longer seen as buffeted about by forces beyond our control; rather, human impact has become recognized as a powerful—and destructive—force in the world; and in response, a group of scholars has dubbed this new era of human-generated climatic transformation the “Anthropocene.”

Climatologists and environmental scientists have worked for years to raise awareness of the role and impact of humanity in the world, and in the last decade or so, humanities scholars and social scientists have similarly sought to investigate the relationship between people and their context. Perspectives from history examine human history and the history of the natural world in concert. Perspectives from anthropology examine the dialectical relationship of humans and animals in the world. Philosophy and religious studies consider human choice, welfare, and community. Approaches from the fields of gender studies, linguistics, and languages explore the role of communication in how we address and discuss climatic and environmental issues. As the world, and governments, have begun to recognize the magnitude of human impact on the environment, it has also become clearer that in order to understand the meaning of human action in the world and to strategize how to change human preference and practice, the humanities offer a robust suite of concepts, theories, and foundations for knowledge. Climate change has affected the way we look at the world and our place in it, and it has also changed how we view the humanities and their role in the world.

The humanities have traditionally examined questions of meaning, values, ethics, knowledge production, aesthetics, etc., all with an eye to understanding the world and how we process it. But the impact and urgency of global climate change questions the reality of the divide between person and context, the human and the natural. This seminar will investigate questions of the human both within the natural world and as an inextricable part of that environment, exploring the effects of arguments about the Anthropocene and related questions upon the environmental humanities. Humanistic approaches to climate change will be an important part of the seminar, and it will also examine scholarship in animal studies, environmental history, and ecocriticism as well.

Speakers included Dipesh Chakrabarty (Department of History), Elizabeth Chatterjee (Franke Institute for the Humanities), Sarah Fredericks (Divinity School), Greg Lusk (Department of Philosophy), Benjamin Morgan (Department of English), and Mark Payne (Department of Classics).