Environmental Humanities

The Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB) is the center of a vibrant intellectual community focused on environmental learning and research in the humanities that includes speaker series, workshops, reading groups, and other sites of engagement. We are faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates who study environmental topics from a wide variety of humanistic disciplines, and we partner with related groups on campus to help faculty and students connect diverse fields of study in their research and teaching on the environment. Read more about the Initiative.

Upcoming Events

  • The Environmental Humanities Reading Group aims to foster an informal and interdisciplinary community around the environmental humanities at Brown. At each meeting an assigned reading serves as a jumping off point to discuss the role that the humanities might play in confronting the environmental crisis and supporting environmental justice.

    On this first session of the year we will welcome both new and old members to the Environmental Humanities Reading Group. For discussion, we will read several recent articles and blog posts from humanities scholars about the intersection of COVID 19 and the environment. At the beginning of the pandemic, internet news sites promulgated the unrealistic notion that COVID 19 would somehow be good for the environment, a claim which does not stand up to scrutiny. How, then, should we think about the relationship between COVID and the environment? Should we conceptualize COVID 19 as a form of environmental racism? As a symptom of the “capitalocene”? And what, specifically, do humanistic modes of thought offer to this conversation?

     Register here  to enroll in this session (you must be logged into your Brown University email account to access the form). A Zoom link will be provided the day of the event to registered participants.

    Links to the readings for this first session:

    Please feel to contact the group’s graduate student coordinator, Michael Putnam ([email protected]), with any questions, thoughts, and suggestions.

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group is part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB).

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • What might a decolonial understanding of chemical exposures look like? While concepts like the Anthropocene scale environmental violence up to the planetary level — treating the chemical pollutant and the human body as the same everywhere — this talk takes a non-universalizing approach to chemical violence and its relations to land and bodies. Focusing on the history of Canada’s Chemical Valley and the world’s oldest running oil refinery, this talk asks how the specificity of chemical exposures can be understood in relation to colonialism as well as Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee obligations to land on the lower Great Lakes. In so doing, it makes the case for the need to rethink the assumptions of universalism and liberal humanism that undergird conventional environmental understandings.

    Michelle Murphy is professor of history and women and gender studies at the University of Toronto, Canada Research Chair of Science and Technology Studies and Environmental Data Justice, and Director of the Technoscience Research Unit. Her current research looks at chemical pollution and environmental data in Canada’s Chemical Valley, with a focus on the world’s oldest running oil refinery which sits on the land of Aamjiwnaang First Nation. Murphy’s most recent book is The Economization of Life (Duke University Press, 2017). She is Métis from Winnipeg.

    A webinar link will be provided the day of the event.

    This event is presented as part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown as well as the Collaborative Humanities Initiative.

    Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • This session of the reading group will be led by Mark Cladis. More information about this virtual session is forthcoming.

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group is part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB).

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • This session of the reading group will be led by Marisa Brown. More information about this virtual session is forthcoming.

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group is part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB).

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • This session of the reading group will be led by Sophie Brunau.  More information about this virtual session is forthcoming.

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group is part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB).

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities

Previous Events

  • This welcome webinar of the Environmental Humanities at Brown, an initiative led by a group of faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students and hosted at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, featured brief presentations of research and teaching by both faculty and graduate student members of the initiative. Presenters included Sophie Brunau (French Studies), Mark Cladis (Religious Studies), Bathsheba Demuth (History), Brian Lander (Institute at Brown for Environment & Society), Shishav Parajuli (Political Science), Lukas Rieppel (History), and Ada Smailbegovic (English). Michael Putnam, a graduate student in Religious Studies, presented current plans for the 2020-21 environmental humanities reading group. The initiative welcomes new ideas and participants!

    Learn more about the initiative.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • Mar
    5
    12:00pm - 1:30pm

    Kate Brown • “The Great Chernobyl Acceleration”

    79 Brown Street, Sharpe House

    In April 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded and sent upwards of 50 million curies into the surrounding environment. Working through Soviet archives, Kate Brown encountered many contradictory accounts of the disaster and its effects. Realizing that though people and archives lie, trees probably don’t, she turned to scientists — biologists, foresters, physicians, and physicists — to help her understand the ecology of the greater Chernobyl territories and the health effects that ensued. She learned working in the swampy territory around the blown plant that radioactive contaminants saturated local eco-systems long before the Chernobyl accident and continued long after the 1986 event. Brown argued that to call Chernobyl an “accident” is to sweep aside the continuum of radiation exposure that saturated environments in the northern hemisphere in the second half of the 20th century. Instead of a one-off accident, Brown argued that Chernobyl was a point of acceleration on a timeline of radioactive contamination that continues to this day.

    Kate Brown  is Professor of History in the Science, Technology and Society Department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of the prize-winning histories Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2013) and A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard University Press, 2004). Kate Brown was a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow. Her work has also been supported by the Carnegie Foundation, the NEH, ACLS, IREX, and the American Academy of Berlin, among others. Her latest book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future was published March 2019 by Norton (US), Penguin Lane (UK), Czarne (Poland). In 2020, it will be translated into Ukrainian, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Lithuanian, French, Spanish, and Korean.

    This event, free and open to the public, was presented by the Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS) , and was co-sponsored by the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB) with the Department of History.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities, Social Sciences
  • Dec
    5
    2:00pm - 4:00pm

    Environmental Humanities Reading Group • Workshop Session

    Cogut Institute, Pembroke Hall

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group aims to foster an informal and interdisciplinary community around the environmental humanities at Brown. At each meeting an assigned reading serves as a jumping off point to discuss the role that the humanities might play in confronting environmental crisis and supporting environmental justice.

    This meeting took the form of a workshop session featuring informal five-minute talks by a small cohort of presenters about a work in progress (article, book, dissertation, chapter, etc.). 

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group is part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB), and was coordinated by graduate student Michael Putnam in 2018–19.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • The discussion of this workshop focused on “The Commensal Dog in a Creole Context,” a chapter from Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question (Columbia University Press, 2018) which revisits the concept of commensalism within a Caribbean, interspecies and (post-)colonial context.

    Commensalism, a relationship between two organisms in which one benefits without damage or benefit to the other, is envisioned through the lens of an anticolonial, anti-hegemonic, and anti-anthropocentric context. By addressing the compoundedness of domestication and colonialism, this chapter explores ways to think about relationships beyond a human-animal divide and beyond white supremacy.

    Bénédicte Boisseron is Associate Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. She specializes in the fields of black diaspora studies, francophone studies, and animal studies. She is the author of Creole Renegades: Rhetoric of Betrayal and Guilt in the Caribbean Diaspora (University Press of Florida, 2014), 2015 winner of the Nicolás Guillén Outstanding Book Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association. Her most recent book, Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question (Columbia University Press, 2018), draws on recent debates about black life and animal rights to investigate the relationship between race and the animal in the history and culture of the Americas and the black Atlantic. 

    This event, presented as part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB), was co-sponsored by the Charles K. Colver Lectureships and Publications Fund; the Departments of French Studies, History, and Religious Studies; the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES); the Program in Science, Technology, and Society; and the Watson Institute.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • Nov
    14

    Drawing on recent debates about black lives and animal welfare both coincidentally on the rise in America, Bénédicte Boisseron investigated in this talk the relationship between race and the animal in the history and culture of the Americas and the black Atlantic. This conversation is part of the fast-growing interest in human-animal relationships across the humanities and social sciences, an academic trend commonly referred to as ‘the animal turn.’

    Bénédicte Boisseron is Associate Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. She specializes in the fields of black diaspora studies, francophone studies, and animal studies. She is the author of Creole Renegades: Rhetoric of Betrayal and Guilt in the Caribbean Diaspora (University Press of Florida, 2014), 2015 winner of the Nicolás Guillén Outstanding Book Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association. Her most recent book, Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question (Columbia University Press, 2018), draws on recent debates about black life and animal rights to investigate the relationship between race and the animal in the history and culture of the Americas and the black Atlantic.

    This event, free and open to the public, was presented as part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB). It was co-sponsored by the Charles K. Colver Lectureships and Publications Fund; the Departments of French Studies, History, and Religious Studies; the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES); the Program in Science, Technology, and Society; and the Watson Institute.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • Oct
    24
    2:00pm - 4:00pm

    Environmental Humanities Reading Group

    Cogut Institute, Pembroke Hall

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group aims to foster an informal and interdisciplinary community around the environmental humanities at Brown. At each meeting an assigned reading serves as a jumping off point to discuss the role that the humanities might play in confronting environmental crisis and supporting environmental justice.

    This meeting focused on selections from Bénédicte Boisseron’s Afro-Dog (Columbia University Press, 2018) in anticipation of Boisseron’s lecture and workshop on November 14 and 15 at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities.

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group is part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB), and was coordinated by graduate student Michael Putnam in 2018–19.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • Sep
    26
    2:00pm - 4:00pm

    Environmental Humanities Reading Group

    Cogut Institute, Pembroke Hall

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group aims to foster an informal and interdisciplinary community around the environmental humanities at Brown. At each meeting an assigned reading serves as a jumping off point to discuss the role that the humanities might play in confronting environmental crisis and supporting environmental justice.

    At this inaugural meeting, the discussion concentrated on a few recent attempts to define the “environmental humanities,” and to think through the group’s aspirations for the semester.

    The Environmental Humanities Reading Group is part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown (EHAB), and was coordinated by graduate student Michael Putnam in 2018–19.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • Apr
    12
    9:00am - 10:30am

    Environmental Humanities Workshop with Macarena Gómez-Barris

    Cogut Institute, Pembroke Hall

    Pre-circulated reading material excerpted from The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Duke University Press, 2017) served as a starting point at this workshop with Macarena Gómez-Barris.

    Macarena Gómez-Barris is Professor and Chairperson of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She is also Director of the Global South Center (GSC), a research center that works at the intersection of social ecologies, art and politics, and decolonial methodologies. Her instructional focus is on Latinx and Latin American Studies, memory and the afterlives of violence, decolonial theory, the art of social protest, and queer femme epistemes. 

    Gómez-Barris is the author of Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile (UC Press, 2009), co-editor with Herman Gray of Towards a Sociology of the Trace (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Duke University Press, 2017) and Beyond the Pink Tide: Art and Politics in the Americas (University of California Press, 2018). 

    Gómez-Barris is series editor, with Diana Taylor, of Dissident Acts, a Duke University Press Series, and was Fulbright Fellow at FLACSO-Quito in Ecuador (2014–15). She is the current co-editor with Marcial Godoy-Anatavia of e-misférica, an online trilingual journal on hemispheric art and politics (NYU). She is also a member of the Social Text journal collective.

    This event was presented by the Environmental Humanities Initiative and co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Lectureship Fund, the Watson Institute, the Departments of History and Religious Studies, the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • The tree and the forest is the site of environmental humanities and multidisciplinary inquiry. By engaging the materiality of land, place, and the idea of the tree as knowledge, Macarena Gómez-Barris addressed the forest as a particular site of material and representational evacuation. Extending ideas from her book The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Duke University Press, 2017) on Indigenous aesthetics and social movements, Gómez-Barris considered modes of thinking about archives, counter-visuality, resistance, and recovery that work against the inevitability of the forest’s elimination. Where does the regenerative potential exist that challenges and moves us beyond the paradigm of no future?

    Macarena Gómez-Barris is Professor and Chairperson of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She is also Director of the Global South Center (GSC), a research center that works at the intersection of social ecologies, art and politics, and decolonial methodologies. Her instructional focus is on Latinx and Latin American Studies, memory and the afterlives of violence, decolonial theory, the art of social protest, and queer femme epistemes. 

    Gómez-Barris is the author of Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile (UC Press, 2009), co-editor with Herman Gray of Towards a Sociology of the Trace (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Duke University Press, 2017) and Beyond the Pink Tide: Art and Politics in the Americas (University of California Press, 2018). 

    Gómez-Barris is series editor, with Diana Taylor, of Dissident Acts, a Duke University Press Series, and was Fulbright Fellow at FLACSO-Quito in Ecuador (2014–15). She is the current co-editor with Marcial Godoy-Anatavia of e-misférica, an online trilingual journal on hemispheric art and politics (NYU). She is also a member of the Social Text journal collective.

    This event, free and open to the public, was presented by the Environmental Humanities Initiative and co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Lectureship Fund, the Watson Institute, the Departments of History and Religious Studies, the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • Feb
    1
    9:00am - 11:00am

    Environmental Humanities Workshop with Joyce Chaplin

    Cogut Institute, Pembroke Hall

    The discussion focused on the pre-industrial era of American history, the arrival of the industrial revolution, and the crucial turn toward carbon-based energy in the U.S. 

    Joyce Chaplin (BA Northwestern; MA and PhD, Johns Hopkins) is the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard University. A former Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom, she has taught at six universities on two continents, a peninsula, and an island, and in a maritime studies program on the Atlantic Ocean. Her most recent works include Round about the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit (Simon & Schuster, 2012), and (with Alison Bashford) The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus: Rereading the Principle of Population (Princeton University Press, 2016). She is the editor of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography: A Norton Critical Edition (Norton, 2012) and Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population: A Norton Critical Edition (Norton, 2017). Her reviews and essays have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Book Review, and the London Review of Books. Her work has been translated into French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Estonian, and, forthcoming, into Turkish and Chinese. She is a current Guggenheim Fellow; she tweets @JoyceChaplin1.

    This event was presented by the Environmental Humanities Initiative and co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Lectureship Fund, the Watson Institute, the Departments of History and Religious Studies, the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • Jan
    31

    Joyce Chaplin’s research examines climate change and climate science in eighteenth-century early America, focusing on awareness of and responses to the Little Ice Age. The invention and circulation of the Franklin stove is the central example of her study. Climate history is an important new subject for historians, given that public debates over climate and resource scarcity have become urgent. Belief that our dilemma is unprecedented is inaccurate and unhelpful, perhaps especially within the United States. Climate-change mitigation existed in the past and analysis of it reveals useful patterns of success and failure. Early American history has tended to emphasize non-environmental themes and events — especially the American Revolution as national pivot. But this history of politics, of human-to-human relations, was always entangled in human use and knowledge of the natural world. Early Americans themselves knew this. Benjamin Franklin knew he was living in an age of climate change, in response to which he designed a heating system and articulated a climate science. Both are significant. Franklin’s proposals about maximizing the production of heat from a minimal quantity of fuel were widely translated and discussed — they were profound Enlightenment statements about settler colonialism, resource conservation, and climate change.

    Joyce E. Chaplin (BA Northwestern; MA and PhD, Johns Hopkins) is the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard University. A former Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom, she has taught at six universities on two continents, a peninsula, and an island, and in a maritime studies program on the Atlantic Ocean. Her most recent works include Round about the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit (Simon & Schuster, 2012), and (with Alison Bashford) The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus: Rereading the Principle of Population (Princeton University Press, 2016). She is the editor of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography: A Norton Critical Edition (Norton, 2012) and Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population: A Norton Critical Edition (Norton, 2017). Her reviews and essays have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Book Review, and the London Review of Books. Her work has been translated into French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Estonian, and, forthcoming, into Turkish and Chinese. She is a current Guggenheim Fellow; she tweets @JoyceChaplin1.

    This event, free and open to the public, was presented by the Environmental Humanities Initiative and was co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Lectureship Fund, the Watson Institute, the Departments of History and Religious Studies, the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • Nov
    16
    9:00am - 11:00am

    Environmental Humanities Workshop with Damian White

    Cogut Institute, Pembroke Hall

    For this ‘Environmental Humanities’ workshop Damian White provided his article “Critical Design, Hybrid Labor, Just Transitions: Moving beyond technocratic ecomodernisms and the it’s-too-late-o-cene” as a starting point for discussion.

    Damian White is Professor of Social Theory and the Environment and Dean of Liberal Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the author of Bookchin: A Critical Appraisal (2008); Environments, Natures and Social Theory: Towards a Critical Hybridity (2016) and the co-editor of Technonatures (2009) and Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Reader (2011).

    This event was presented by the Environmental Humanities Initiative and co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Lectureship Fund, the Watson Institute, the Departments of History and Religious Studies, the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • On the climate front, events are moving from bad to worse with alarming speed. With fossil fueled neo-liberalism hurtling towards climate chaos and authoritarian populisms, where is there room for hope? In this talk, Damian White reflected on the contributions that mobilizations concern with just transitions running alongside a vibrant explosion of interest in design for transitions might make for re-grounding a political ecology of hope in dangerous times. The just transition is a concept that has its roots in the labor movement. Of late, it has been adopted by a broader array of forces: from democratic socialists to environmental and racial justice advocates, from feminists to decolonial-indigenous forces as a means of thinking about the political strategies and alliance building for moving post-carbon transitions forward. The emerging field of design for transitions equally is attempting to draw a broad range of design activists, radical municipalists, peer to peer hackers, commoners and others to think about the platforms, prototypes, cultural and design interventions that could aggregate multiple modes of redirective practice that could be unleashed to build post-carbon futures. At present, these currents often talk past each other. This paper explored tensions and conflicts emerging within both fields. It also reflected on the spaces for further engagement. There are of course no quick fixes or easy solutions to our climate crisis. But it is suggested that a post-carbon politics that is experimental, iterative and inventive in its outlook, marked by a degree of democratic maker-ly ambition and a post-carbon politics that foregrounds the potential creativity of labor has much to recommend itself.

    Damian White is Professor of Social Theory and the Environment and Dean of Liberal Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the author of Bookchin: A Critical Appraisal (2008); Environments, Natures and Social Theory: Towards a Critical Hybridity (2016) and the co-editor of Technonatures (2009) and Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Reader (2011).

    This event, free and open to the public, was presented by the Environmental Humanities Initiative and co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Lectureship Fund, the Watson Institute, the Departments of History and Religious Studies, the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

    Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • In the context of current ecological crises, the environmental humanities has advanced a great number of vital and interrelated projects, both critical-diagnostic and aspirational-transformative. We aimed through this conference to promote a collective dialogue about this highly active field. 

    Full video playlist of this conference.

    Friday, April 6, 2018

    Welcome and Introduction [Video]
    Amanda Anderson, Brown University
    Claire Brault, Brown University
    Iris Montero, Brown University

    Beyond the Human I: Suffering and Respect [Video]
    Moderator: Tamara Chin, Brown University
    Sharon Krause, Brown University • Political Respect for Nature
    Branka Arsić, Columbia University • Marvelous Extinctions: Melville on Animal Suffering

    Beyond the Human II: Sense-Making and Justice [Video]
    Moderator: Jeffrey Moser, Brown University
    Mark Cladis, Brown University • Racial and Environmental Justice in the Wild
    Katherine Behar, Baruch College, City University of New York • What Makes Sense? Environmental Sensing and Nonhuman Sense

    Blue Ecologies I [Video]
    Moderator: Brian Lander, Brown University
    Macarena Gómez-Barris, Pratt Institute • Disappearing Archipelagos
    Astrida Neimanis, University of Sydney • 2067: The Sea and the Breathing

    Introduction: Leela Gandhi, Brown University
    Amitav Ghosh, Writer • Embattled Earth: Commodities, Conflict and Climate Change in the Indian Ocean Region
    Presented as part of the OP Jindal Distinguished Lecture Series of the Center for Contemporary South Asia

    Saturday, April 7, 2018

    Exploring Methods I [Video]
    Moderator: Iris Montero, Brown University
    Kyle Powys Whyte, Michigan State University • Indigenous Science (Fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral Dystopias and Settler Fantasies
    Vera Candiani, Princeton University • The Costs of Environmental History: A View from Latin America

    Blue Ecologies II [Video]
    Moderator: Claire Brault, Brown University
    Stacy Alaimo, University of Texas at Arlington • Composing Blue Ecologies: Science, Aesthetics, and the Creatures of the Abyss
    Bathsheba Demuth, Brown University • Whales, Whalers, and Thinking the Ocean through Cetacean Labor

    Exploring Methods II [Video]
    Moderator: J. Timmons Roberts, Brown University
    Dale Jamieson, New York University • Environmental Humanities: Problems and Prospects
    Gregory Cushman, University of Kansas • How to Make the Environmental Humanities Central to Teaching Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies from the Start: A Case Study

    Conference, Environmental Humanities