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Northwestern University

The Environmental Humanities

A new research workshop spotlights environmental issues through public lectures, readings, talks and more

Spurred by support from the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, a new research workshop focused on the environmental humanities debuts this fall at Northwestern University.

Throughout the 2015-2016 academic year, the workshop will feature public lectures from noted scholars and artists, intimate discussion groups and film screenings exploring humanistic questions about the environment.

Corey Byrnes, an assistant professor of modern Chinese culture, discussed the inaugural research workshop he co-founded with assistant history professor Keith Woodhouse, who also teaches courses in Weinberg’s Environmental Policy and Culture program.

How did this research workshop come about?

Both Keith and I work on environment-related topics and we felt there was a need for a more defined place within Weinberg and Northwestern that tackled questions about the environment beyond the scientific and policy approaches that the university has done such a wonderful job addressing. Fortunately for us, the Kaplan Institute agreed.

Why was it important to you and Keith to lead this effort?

Above all, we saw a great opportunity to really explore deep, humanistic issues about the environment on a campus that is quite conscious of the environment, climate change and ethical questions related to the environment. We wanted to create a place that didn’t seem to exist on campus and deliver a more formal framework for approaching these important topics.

And, on a somewhat selfish front, I think both Keith and I see this as an opportunity to bring exciting scholars to campus, individuals who can help us think about the environment throughout a humanistic lens. This research workshop provides an intellectual home for the work we do and helps foster the exchange of ideas so important to scholarship.

What are some of the program’s highlights?

In January, we’ll host philosopher Dale Jamieson, a professor at New York University and one of the leading scholars writing about ethics and the environment. In mid-April, Nicole Shukin comes to campus and will discuss, among other things, her groundbreaking book Animal Capital. And in May, we’ll welcome UCLA comparative literature professor and former president of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, Ursula Heise, who will share research from her forthcoming book on extinction and endangered species.

What’s your ultimate goal with this research workshop?

People are constantly thinking about the environment and climate change, and the idea is to get them thinking about these topics in a different way and to expand the discourse beyond science and policy. We think the humanities are a rich way to engage with these fundamental questions, and we hope this sparks a sustained conversation for learning and talking about the environment on the Northwestern campus and beyond.

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