WHAT IS “ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES”?

Environmental Humanities is a new mega-/trans-/anti-discipline emerging in academic and public-sector humanities, which looks at the impact and influence of environments and ecologies on — and beyond — the human. Committed to bringing together the worlds of science and traditionally humanistic inquiry (arts, literature, ethnography, history), environmental humanities seeks to bring together often disparate knowledges to address a critical concern: communicating and understanding environmental experience, imagination, and threat in an the age of “Anthropocene.”

“The Anthropocene,” scary as it may sound (and actually is!) is a term used  by geologists. In September 2016, an international council of stratigraphers (the fancy word for “people who look at deep layers of rock in the earth”) met to officially recommend that the Earth has passed into a new geologic era — one marked by mass extinct; and one uniquely caused by the impacts of the human species on the planet. After much debate, the geologists placed the “birth” of the Anthropocene just after World War Two, with U.S.’s dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; in other circles, the question of “when it began” still rages.

Environmental humanities is a new “disciplinary formation” that seeks to create conversations across disciplines; and to cultivate new audiences and forms for scholarship in light of concerns about our threatened planet in Anthropocene Age. Environmental humanities demands that not just what we study — but also the very ways we talk about and present our work — shift, in order to address our present crisis. Instead of just publishing papers or giving academic talks about, say, the rise of ecological magazines in the 1940s or “cli-fi” novels or the history of pesticides, why not create documentaries, build digital humanities websites, develop exhibits, make radio?

While some have argued that “the Humanities” are in crisis; and face difficulties of relevance and communication in a complicated and broken world, environmental humanities re-imagines a fundamentally engaged public humanities practice that dares to divest from “just the human,” and to bring work that explores our interconnected ecologies to people (and beyond) in the environments where they live, work, and breathe.

Growing Right Oral History Project is deeply inspired by this emerging formation, and aspires to be a modular, replicable model for a public environmental humanities rooted in the voices and experiences of everyday people working in and on the land.