What are the Environmental Humanities?
The environmental humanities is a rapidly growing field focused on the study of human imagination, perception, behaviors and the relationship of humans to their surrounding environments—both social and natural.
Literary, cultural, religious, and ethnic and women’s studies scholars, philosophers and historians began organizing in the early1990s, at first separately, in their own disciplines, but increasingly, collaboratively. They realized that the complexity of linked social and environmental problems needed to be addressed on both local and global scales collectively by all the disciplines. Early work focused on notions of wilderness and conservation, but quickly turned in the direction of more complex understandings of human-nonhuman relationship within complex biogeochemical and social systems.
By 2000, these organizational efforts began rapidly internationalizing and integrating into a new interdisciplinary field called—in its first iterations—the “eco-humanities” by literary critic and ethnographer Deborah Bird Rose, historian Libby Robin, and feminist Val Plumwood who formed a study group in Australia to begin piloting a new field. Within a few years, the term “environmental humanities” became the recognized name of new methodological approaches that were increasingly transdisciplinary and collaborative, bringing humanists together with social scientists and scientists. Working together, these collaborations were formed to seek solutions to the complex social and environmental challenges. Environmental humanists also seeks to improve human wellbeing and promote justice, while protecting earth’s life support systems.
ASU, an Innovative Leader in the Environmental Humanities
Since 2006, ASU has been contributing to the environmental humanities both internally and externally, counting some of the founders of the field among its faculty. ASU has also been actively hiring some of the brightest young environmental humanities scholars. Founding units at ASU include the Department of English, the School of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies (SHPRS), the School of the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS), and the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts (CISA). Each of these units worked closely with the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation. Environmental humanities faculty can also be found in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, American Indian Studies, and the School of Transborder Studies.
The ASU EHI brings together faculty from over 22 different schools and departments across all of ASU’s campuses. Keywords for their diverse research include: environmental literature; history; philosophy; cultural studies; ethics; food systems and culture; energy humanities; feminist studies; human values; human rights; environmental justice; law; religion and ecology; religion and conflict; spirituality and ecology; human dimensions of science and technology; place and place-making; sustainability; decision making and governance; policy; environmental imagination; integral (or integrated) ecology; and well-being studies.
From the Director
Humanists raise questions: Must we continue on this path? Can we imagine a shift in course? Environmental humanists encourage us to develop “prospect” on human relationship to the planet instead of seeking “progress” for the sake of progress. Prospect suggests vision and the possibility of something auspicious on the horizon.
Environmental humanists encourage us to understand biogeophysical systems, cultivate broader prospectives, envision auspicious futures, and participate imaginatively in shifting the narrative about who we are, where we are going, and how we will get there.
Director, Environmental Humanities Initiative (EHI), Professor, Department of English and Senior Sustainability Scholar, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation