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The North American Observatory and ASU’s Environmental Humanities Initiative host Environmental Humanities workshop

In January 2018, over 40 participants from universities around the world gathered at Arizona State University for a workshop hosted by the North American Observatory and co-sponsored by ASU’s Environmental Humanities and the PLuS Alliance.

The PLuS Alliance is a collaborative initiative between three leading research universities on three continents–ASU, Kings College London, and University of New South Wales.  Since the major challenges facing the world today are global and interdisciplinary in nature, the development of potential sustainable solutions are beyond the capacity of any single institution. The PLuS Alliance aims to collectively address these challenges.

Two HfE researchers, Joni Adamson of the North American Observatory and Thom van Dooren of the Australian Pacific Observatory, applied for and won a PLuS Alliance grant to hold three workshops on the theme “Humanities for the Anthropocene”. Adamson and van Dooren teamed up with colleagues Rimjhim Aggarwal (ASU), Gary Dirks (ASU), Matt Henry (ASU), George Adamson (KCL), Rory Walsh (KCL), Matthew Kearnes (UNSW) and Judy Motion (UNSW) to organize these workshops. The first was held at Kings College London in May of 2018, the second at University of New South Wales in July 2018, and the last at ASU.

Mike, Hulme, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Cambridge and frequent collaborator with environmental humanists, kicked off the workshop with a January 11, 2018 lecture titled “The Cultural Functions of Climate.” We followed up with Joni Adamson to tell us more about the workshop that took place on January 12, 2018:

How are the environmental humanities defined?

In the past decade and a half, a new interdisciplinary field – the environmental humanities – has emerged to take up the challenge of producing better ways to research the “human dimension” of environmental change and engage in interdisciplinary projects. Environmental humanists seek to understand and transform the human preferences, practices and actions that are the crux of social and environmental justice challenges.

How did Mike Hulme’s talk relate to the environmental humanities?

In his lecture, Hulme noted that his work with the public led to a “deeper appreciation for the ways the humanities can open up new ways of thinking about and acting upon climate change.” His newest book Weathered: Cultures of Climate (SAGE 2016) follows up on this observation by addressing how “climate change” is both a phenomena that can be scientifically measured, but it is also an “idea” that is deployed in cultural, political and scientific discourses.  This is the reason he insists that the humanities – which has a long history of analyzing ideas, philosophies and cultures – must be brought into discussions of climate change.

The humanities offer insights into the ways that humans are responding to challenges that will require collaboration across cultures and politics if we hope to discover effective solutions.

What was the focus of the workshop?

We are exploring a range of new approaches and methodologies that focus on climate change, biodiversity loss, recognition of indigenous peoples and knowledge, and energy system transition. The project is exploring how researchers might incorporate conceptual methods from the environmental humanities into interdisciplinary efforts to foster problem solving with respect to global environmental change and its complex associated social challenges.