What is the “Environmental humanities”?

Environmental studies is typically the domain of the natural sciences. Ecologists, geologists, and chemists—these are the experts who help us understand nature and changes to it. The social sciences, too, offer important windows on the environment. Through these fields of knowledge, we learn about environmental law and policy, cultural adaptations to the planet’s varying physical conditions, and the economic dynamics of natural resource management. What role, then do the humanities play in understanding nature? Where do history, philosophy, literature, and the arts fit in environmental studies?

In answering these questions, Bucknell faculty help articulate a new field of inquiry, the “environmental humanities.” Environmental humanists analyze the human relationship with the natural world in ways not found in the sciences, highlighting issues of meaning, identity, ethics, and patterns of historical change. As an emerging area of study, the environmental humanities contribute to a greater understanding of “the environment,” but also unsettle how scholars typically define and negotiate environmental problems.

What do Environmental Humanities at Bucknell look like?

The Environmental Humanities approach the study of the non-human world from the humanistic disciplines – literature, religious studies, philosophy, history, classics, and the arts. At Bucknell, faculty and staff from across these disciplines gather to share research, discuss ideas, offer programs and courses, and develop new initiatives.

    • We host a bi-weekly gathering where we share and talk about each other’s work. We also consider current events or trending issues, all orbiting environmental change and human relationships with it.
    • We help organize lectures and events on campus that contribute humanistic perspectives to the continuing campus conversation on the environment.
    • We also plan future programming. We have ideas for a Spring 2014 “Great Ideas in Dialogue” series and undergraduate research conference on the environmental humanities

At our meeting on September 23, 2014, faculty and staff came up with the following ideas about what we mean by “environmental humanities”:

• Adding to our understanding of what it means to be human, as refracted or demonstrated by our dealings with the environment

• How those whom we study conceive of the environment; how they see themselves as human in relation to/in movement through the environment

• A meta-analysis of terms, concepts, and premises or rationales (both environmental and human), their origins and values

• A method or approach to understanding places

• Tending toward characterization rather than definition, and offering examples

• How to question in a constructive, not merely critical, way

• Landscape as narrative

• In contrast to the environmental sciences; yet likely to borrow from them

• A term used to demarcate within particular disciplines those that incorporate the environment

From Deborah Rose, Thom van Dooren, Matthew Chrulew, Stuart Cooke, Matthew Kearnes and Emily O’Gorman, “Thinking Through the Environment, Unsettling the Humanities,” Environmental Humanities 1 (2012) 1-5

…An effort to enrich environmental research with a more extensive conceptual vocabulary, whilst at the same time vitalising the humanities by rethinking the ontological exceptionality of the human.

…the underlying cultural and philosophical frameworks that are entangled with the ways in which diverse human cultures have made themselves at home in a more than human world.

… brings these great humanities questions of meaning, value, and human responsibilities to bear both on how we understand ourselves and how we understand the nonhuman world.

How do I get involved with Environmental Humanities at Bucknell?

If you are interested in learning more about Environmental Humanities at Bucknell University, or participating in one of our events, contact us at ats011 (at) bucknell (dot) edu.

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