The Anthropocene

Year of Funding: 
Art exhibit of a concrete pod that anchors a tree trunk and its roots with steel rods

This research cluster brings together faculty and graduate students to consider the provocations and implications of the Anthropocene thesis for the humanities. This controversial term—literally a “new human age”—seeks to define, both conceptually and geologically, the radical transformation of earth systems due to human activity. The Anthropocene calls on humanities scholars to think not only beyond period and national boundaries, but beyond the human as well, cultivating scientific literacy and numeracy in order to consider the historical and political agency of nonhuman actors, ranging from animals and forests to ice caps and methane. It also invites debates involving scientists and a broad public audience in questions of humanistic inquiry.

This cluster hosts a speaker series featuring prominent scholars working on the Anthropocene question, as well as a reading group engaging current research into the Anthropocene origins, causes, and consequences. Field excursions to sites such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation provide further opportunities to think about post-industrial landscapes as sites of ecological renewal and community resilience.


Artist Statement

Secured Embrace is a sentinel and welcoming figure at the entry to the museum. The concrete anthropomorphic pod is an anchor to hold the biomass of root wads. Secured Embrace was designed for the public domain, especially to be placed in rivers to provide marine habitat enhancement and protect migrating salmon. Placement of root wads with concealed anchors has been a common strategy for creating “natural” habitats. My aesthetic criticism of such initiatives has always been that they are not honest about the fact that this is a man-made intervention to correct earlier man-made environmental damage. My approach with Secured Embrace is to reveal the reconstructed landscape by highlighting the man-made materials. Further, the anthropomorphic figure of the pod humanizes the intervention and provides a sculptural play between mass and buoyancy. (Buster Simpson and Scott Lawrimore, Buster Simpson: Surveyor. University of Washington Press, 2014.)

Primary Contacts

Jesse Oak Taylor (English)

Jason Groves (Germanics)