Humanities for the Environment

By Aimee Mepham, Program Coordinator, WFU Humanities Institute

The WFU Humanities Institute is collaborating with universities across the United States and around the globe on a major project, Humanities for the Environment (HfE). Humanities for the Environment is part of a larger, three-year project supported by a $1.2 million Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, titled, Integrating the Humanities Across National Boundaries.

CHCIHumanities for the Environment is investigating the role of the humanities in the Age of the Anthropocene, a concept developed by scientist Paul Crutzen to identify the era in which human activity is reshaping the earth’s geological future.blee23

The project has established three research “observatories” – one each in Australia, Europe, and North America. The North America observatory features the work being done in three regional clusters, namely, the Southeast, which includes the research being conducted at Wake Forest University, the West, and the Northeast.


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Each observatory is addressing a particular theme within environmental humanities. The WFU team, led by David Phillips, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Humanities, is conducting research in the local community.¬† Together with their students, Phillips, Ron von Burg (Assistant Professor, Communication), Lisa Blee (Assistant Professor, History), Thomas Frank (University Professor, History and School of Divinity), and Luke Johnston (Assistant Professor, Religion) are researching — from various disciplinary perspectives in the humanities – the environmental history of the Piedmont Triad, how and why local communities have organized and responded to environmental concerns, and models for moving forward.

vonburg6584The courses involved are: Humanity and Nature (Spring 2014, Von Burg); First Year Seminar in American Environmental Thought (Spring 2014, Blee,); Religion and Ecology (Johnston, Fall 2013); Environmental Issues (Johnston, Fall 2013); Innovations in the Humanities: Culture, Community and Environment (Phillips, Fall 2013); and Social Entrepreneurship and the Humanities (Phillips, Fall 2013).¬†Thomas Frank’s course, Introduction to Historic Preservation (Fall 2014), will be linked with Lisa Blee’s Issues in Public History (Fall 2014), for a focused study of how natural and built landscapes tell the story of the development of the Triad.

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The development of web-based resources, archives, and oral histories will follow, and the team will launch the Humanities for the Environment (HfE) website in the 2013-2014 academic year. The site will serve as an academic and community resource, as a site for posting research findings, and as a forum for collaborative investigations and dialogue.