The Future of the Environmental Humanities

The Future of the Environmental Humanities: Research, Pedagogies, Institutions, and Publics, a multi-day conference taking place at the UW Oct. 31-Nov. 3, seeks to spark the emergence of a regional network of environmental humanities scholars, who will come together to understand how the humanities may contribute to civic conversations about environmental change and to better define the place that the academic humanities have in this process. The conference’s keynote addresses—a Walker Ames lecture by Lawrence Buell (Harvard University) and a talk by Ursula Heise (University of California, Los Angeles) are free and open to the public.

According to conference organizers Gary Handwerk (English and Comparative Literature), Sabine Wilke (Germanics), and Rich Watts (French & Italian Studies), the environmental humanities are at a developmental crossroads. Growth in the field of ecocriticism over the past few decades has shown steady progress during a period when the humanities have in general experienced a decline in their enrollments and perceived relevance. The same pattern of growth has been visible in environmental history, environmental ethics, and many of the humanities-oriented areas of the social sciences as well.

At the same time, they contend, there has been less progress particularly in the Pacific Northwest in creating a regional network among active environmental humanities scholars and teachers. Conference organizers see major potential for ongoing collaboration and cross-fertilization among faculty at different universities, for sharing ideas and innovations with regard to research, program-building, and public engagement.

The Future of the Environmental Humanities includes two major lectures for public audiences. On Thursday, Oct. 31, at 6:30 pm, ecocriticism pioneer Lawrence Buell (American Literature, Harvard University), delivers a talk as part of the Walker Ames Lecture series. Titled “Environmental Imagination at the Crossroads,” the lecture opens the conference.  Though free, registration is required.

On Friday, Nov. 1, at 4:30 pm, noted scholar Ursula Heise (English, University of California, Los Angeles), speaks on the subject of environmental humanities, the Anthropocene, and posthumanism. Her talk takes place in Communications 120.

The humanities can play a vital role in fostering social awareness and informed decision-making with regard to our endangered environment.  Conference organizers hope that a Pacific Northwest research and teaching network can serve as a platform for making the cross-cultural and historical study of environmental issues a central concern of the universities and colleges in the region, and for profiling the ways in which humanities research and education can be useful, even essential, for the scientific and political dimensions of these concerns.

For more information, visit



Image: Shaun Roberts, Junkyard (detail), 2013, 22 in. x 30 in., graphite on paper.


Be Boundless for Washington | For the World