Institute at Brown for Environment and SocietyIBES

Michiel van Veldhuizen

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Michiel's research focuses on the phenomenology of disaster in the Ancient World, and argues that ancient beliefs and practices about disaster are anchored in a semiotic or communicative rather than a fatalist-punitive or proto-scientific paradigm, involving interaction between the human, the natural, and the supernatural. He therefore approaches disaster as a disruptive and disorienting event not only on a physical and social level, but also on a narrative and hermeneutic level, as asemiotic event that is part of a web of signification and knowledge-production. Michiel's research is situated in the nascent field of Environmental Humanities, at the heart of which lies the collapse and deconstruction of the binary human vs. nature, demonstrated in the work of Bruno Latour, Michel Serres, and others. Indeed, part of the impetus for the Anthropocene as a recently proposed new epoch is the increased awareness that natural disasters, catalyzed by climate change, are seldom just ‘natural’.  As Dipesh Chakrabarty has argued, we must begin thinking more seriously about genealogies and traces of historical ideas about “our” relationship to nature and (natural) disaster. The Environmental Humanities, however, still lacks a nuanced view of what continues to be a grand narrative of the “we” as humans. While micro-genealogies (Lyotard’s petits récits, micronarratives) have already sprung up in Early Modern and Renaissance Studies, a fresh look at the roots of the disaster paradigm and its relationship to knowledge-production in the Ancient World is long overdue; his study aims to fill this gap.

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