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ASU Wrigley Institute News Environmental Humanities

February 7, 2018

Mike HulmeIn January 2018, over 40 participants from universities around the world gathered at ASU for a workshop co-sponsored by the Environmental Humanities Initiative and the PLuS Alliance.

The workshop focused on the ways that humanities methodologies are contributing to interdisciplinary collaboration and participatory engagement on climate change and energy transition. Participants also explored how better assessment of impact might be piloted through modes of inquiry that include narrative, story, metaphor, imagery and representations that convey the cultural knowledge behind decision making.

Mike Hulme, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Cambridge, kicked off the workshop with a 2018 EHI lecture titled “The Cultural Functions of Climate.” Workshop sessions were keynoted by leading international cultural geographers, humanists and philosophers, including Giovanna Di Chiro of Swarthmore College and Kyle Powys Whyte of Michigan State University.

We followed up with Joni Adamson – English and Environmental Humanities Professor, Senior Sustainability Scholar & Director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative – to tell us more about the workshop and EHI:

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.

 What is the mission of ASU’s Environmental Humanities Initiative?

ASU's EHI brings together some of the brightest emerging environmental humanities scholars and founders of the field. EHI faculty, who are all sustainability scholars and scientists, offer a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses that allow students to explore the full interdisciplinary nature of interlinked social and environmental systems. In 2009, they launched the undergraduate Environmental Humanities Certificate to offer ASU students the opportunity to explore humanities contributions to sustainability studies.

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

In his lecture at ASU, Hulme noted that this 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 PLuS Alliance workshop after Hulme’s talk?  

Through a series of workshops funded by a seed-grant from the PLuS Alliance, “Humanities for the Anthropocene” PLuS Alliance researchers 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.