Linda Haverty Rugg: Environmental Humanities

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Linda Haverty Rugg, Chair of the Scandinavian Department at UC Berkeley. It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses.

(Cribbed from the co-authored Background Report, The Emergence of the Environmental Humanities, Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research/MISTRA, Stockholm, 2013, co-authors David Nye (Chair), Robert Emmett, James Fleming, and Linda Haverty Rugg)

During the last decade a new field has emerged that increasingly is referred to as the Environmental Humanities.  Environmental Humanities research centers often originated either in literature departments, because of the ecocritical movement in English Literature and American Studies, or in history departments, where the field of environmental history emerged after c. 1980. Other contributors to this field have come from inherently interdisciplinary fields such as geography, the digital humanities, gender studies, anthropology, and the history of technology.  Other fertile ground for Environmental Humanities has emerged at interdisciplinary centers that combine natural and social sciences with humanities, or at humanities centers that encourage research and discussion across disciplines. Several fields that have contributed much to the Environmental Humanities have already begun to bridge this divide, notably cultural geography, anthropology, and the history of technology.

The present moment is one of transition as well as growth. A generation of scholars who laid the foundations for the Environmental Humanities are nearing retirement or have already retired. They leave behind a thriving intellectual field, including several newly dedicated research centers.  The Environmental Humanities are expanding rapidly and articulating concerns relevant to medicine, animal rights, neurobiology, race and gender studies, urban planning, climate change, and digital technology, to name just a few fields. Generally, there has been a growing effort to engage environmental concerns, to communicate with a broad public, and to evoke a sense of wonder, empathy or urgency, which comes largely out of humanistic training and practice. It is difficult to think of a single academic discipline that has not become engaged with the Environmental Humanities. In response to a survey of the field conducted by this committee, Australian scholar Libby Robin, suggested that the phrase Environmental Humanities: “refers to the human sciences that contribute to global change which include environmental concerns such as climate change, global ocean system change, biodiversity and extinctions, and atmospheric carbon. It is an interdisciplinary area that considers the moral and ethical relations between human and non-human others (at all scales up to planetary). Because ‘the environment’ has been defined by biophysical indicators and studied through ‘environmental sciences’ (a term that dates back just 50 years) and environmental economics, the moral, political and ethical dimensions of environmental degradation were long neglected as ‘outside the expertise’ of the dominant discourse. Attitudes and values are not easily measured, nor do they readily yield data that can be incorporated into modeling of future scenarios.” Yet environmental problems belong to us all, and the solutions will come from all fields of endeavor, including the humanities.