WHAT ARE THE “PUBLIC (ENVIRONMENTAL) HUMANITIES”?

Environmental humanities is an ascendent mega-/inter-/anti-discipline, that both foregrounds the affective power and political urgency of ecologies and environments in humanities scholarship — and which questions, and sometimes imagines a world after, the reign of humankind as a species.

Environmental humanities scholarship is committed to distant disciplinary conversations; and bringing science and the arts together to try to understand our contemporary (and historic) ecological situation. Much environmental humanities scholarship is premised on a recognition and exploration of what it means to live in the Anthropocene — the era (our era) in which man has become a geological force.

Public humanities is a catch-all name for a broad blend of humanities documentation, presentation and interpretation strategies that seek to take humanities scholarship public — via a range of multi-modal forms: exhibitions, documentary, digital humanities sites, walking tours, installations, and, yes, pop-ups. Public humanities projects can take on any theme; but often, public humanities projects have been critiqued for being too “celebratory” (think: dulcimers on the porch) and not enough in touch with urgent political and social realities for all people and all beings.

Some sub-fields of public history, however — public folklore, and some strands of radical public history — have developed models for “community based,” community-collaborative, and reciprocal strategies for documentation and interpretation that model an ethic of “sharing authority” with the communities, neighborhoods and groups who are documented. This “third way” public humanities practice is the set of methods we tap here at Growing Right. We don’t believe we — or anyone — has the power or right to “give voice”; but we do believe that public humanities work, done right, can amplify and re-circulate voices, experiences and perspectives in new spaces; and can provoke important, surprising, and sometimes even life-changing exchange.

We’re also moved by novel community-based, digital, emplaced and “new mobile” models for public humanities work, which bring public humanities interpretation to the spaces and places where it really matters. Instead of you going to the museum, the museum comes to you — and in many cases, it is you. Because we document and seek to cultivate conversations about the connection between our food systems, agricultural practices, personal health and environments, Growing Right will be popping up in farmers’ markets and other food hubs — coming straight to the places where people buy and eat food.

Growing Right situates itself in a field we’re calling the public environmental humanities. We bring the best practices from public humanities — commitments to accessible scholarship and innovative presentation forms — to cultivating space for urgent conversations about environmental change, concern and crisis in the present. Conversely, our public humanities methods are also deeply influenced by ecological thinking. Thus, our oral history work is inflected by public folklore’s commitment to tracking not just the “texts” of narrative; but also the cultural and environmental surrounds. That’s why we stomp around so much in addition to our sit-down interviews; and that’s why we take so many pictures! We think “ecological thinking” is a way of life, and starts and home — for us, that means it starts with our documentary and media practices.