In the environmental humanities, we bridge the traditional divide between the sciences and humanities to look holistically at the past and present’s environmental problems. We investigate not only historical and ecological facts but also the underlying human factors that drive collective behaviors and beliefs. We also look at the stories we tell—and write our own—knowing that facts alone will not motivate the change our world needs. We need to evolve a new human narrative as well.
The environmental humanities explore cultural productions, like literature, art, film and media, as well as history and philosophy, to understand the ways nature and the environment are referenced and depicted. Through this examination, environmental humanities scholars can trace and track how attitudes about nature have shifted over time as well as across geography, religions and knowledge systems.
Questions we ask in the environmental humanities include: how can we account for human beliefs and culture when creating climate-change solutions? How are questions of social justice entangled with environmental issues? How do various cultures around the globe relate to the natural world and the place humans have in it? What role might eco-documentaries play in chronicling and challenging reliance on fossil fuels or nuclear power?
At UCI, our research in the environmental humanities is deep, with scholars diving beneath the surface to help understand today’s challenges; radical, with scholars getting to the roots of complex problems; creative, with scholars imagining new approaches and drawing lessons from nature; and engaged, with scholars encouraging new ways of thinking and taking action.
In the humanities, our scholars work from a toolbox that includes critical analysis, cultural attunement, storytelling, historical context, and deep interpretation of human beliefs and motivations. These tools are vital to solving the dynamic and multifaceted environmental issues of today. Sometimes, it’s as simple as being the voice at the table to ask, “Good for whom?” and “At whose expense?”
What follows is a multimedia tour of the multidisciplinary cadre of UCI Humanities scholars tackling environmental humanities research today.
Dean, UCI School of Humanities
“Literary studies – and critical theory in particular – ask us to pay attention to cultural attitudes and assumptions that often go unexamined. I hope that by thinking critically about the world we inhabit and the cultural artifacts we’re surrounded by, we can not only discover how climate change came to be, but, hopefully, how to envision a way out of the crisis.”
“In the School of Humanities, we were exposed to art and music, literature and ideas, philosophies and frameworks through which stories are told, civilizations are built and viewed. I believe this well-rounded understanding of people and societies underlines that there are universal truths and shared human desires and that everything really is connected. In order to work in sustainability, one must be passionate and empathetic. Understanding the beauty and the brutality of humankind and nature through the arts and across time illustrates our strength and ability to adapt and to be the best we can be, for ourselves and for all of life on earth. It is hard but rewarding work.”
“Studying the humanities has helped me understand the importance of storytelling and radical imagination in the age of climate catastrophe. At its core, the climate catastrophe is a crisis of a dominant world view that asserts there is only one way – and that way has been predicated upon extraction and exploitation. The humanities must remind us of alternative worldviews, centering marginalized communities, questioning the domains of ‘credibility’ and shifting into a framework that centers lived experience. All of this naturally bleeds into the world of decentering whiteness, decolonizing environmentalism and equipping a generation of diverse storytellers to challenge the narrative.”
“The humanistic study of extractive industries, and the social histories connected to them, will be key for understanding the challenges presented by the climate crisis.”
The Chair of the UCI Academic Senate convened a new task force, which includes Director of the Environmental Humanities Research Center and Chair of Art History James Nisbet, to make recommendations on how UCI should move forward on issues related to climate change.
For UCI to effectively answer the threat of climate change, we need to know our strengths. Please help us build a database of scholarly activity on climate change happening at UCI by completing a survey here.