What are the environmental humanities?


Environments are changing at a dramatic pace in the twenty-first century, and so does environmentalism.

New civic groups emerge while established ones are struggling. Nation-states are struggling to maintain environmental policies in an age of global commerce. Global agreements on climate change and other issues are long in coming. Nature conservation policies are under attack from local populations. In short, environmentalism has produced a lot of answers over the last decades. But do we still have the right answers?

The environmental humanities are not the only place in academia that reflects on the ongoing transformation of environmentalism. But we do so with a peculiar perspective: we look particularly at the cultural, political and socioeconomic frameworks that guide thinking and action. We reflect about metaphors, discourses, and intellectual traditions. We investigate how memories resonate in today’s approaches to problems. We explore forgotten events that can inspire us in our struggle with ongoing challenges. In short, the environmental humanities think about why we think in a certain way.

The environmental humanities are entering a crowded field with many voices, and the last thing that the field needs is an academic turf war. BISEMEH respects that scholars hail from different disciplinary backgrounds with their own legitimate interests. It embraces a broad definition of humanities and cherishes methodological and disciplinary diversity. It specifically welcomes the contributions that engineering and the natural sciences have made towards the understanding and mitigation of environmental problems, and yet this research leaves important dimensions unexplored. As environmentalism is changing, we need to know more about who we are, and how we came here.

The transformation of environmentalism has important consequences for our academic work. We can no longer take certain things for granted – including our understanding of environmental problems as distinct from cultural and social ones. As environmentalism is changing, we learn more about traditions, mindsets, hierarchies and other things that were previously a given. As the environmental humanities engage with current events, we are entering enter a conversation that can make us better scholars.

The environmental humanities are raising big questions. We cannot promise simple answers, or even answers at all. But we strongly feel that we need to wrestle with these questions as we work towards a sustainable future.