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ASU Environmental Humanities Initiative is partner in Global Humanities Institute grant

April 23, 2020

The Environmental Humanities Initiative of the Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State University is collaborating with the University of Texas Humanities Institute in a grant awarded by the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), located at the University of Wisconsin System. The grant, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is for the purpose of conducting a Global Humanities Institute (GHI) in summer 2021 on the theme “Climate Justice and Problems of Scale.” This will be the fifth GHI funded through the CHCI-Mellon partnership.

The project is a collaboration among six CHCI member institutions, including the Humanities Institute (University of Texas at Austin), the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (University of Pretoria), the Sydney Environmental Institute (University of Sydney), the Institute for Humanities Research (ASU), the Center for American Studies and Research (American University of Beirut) and the Humanities Center (Carnegie Mellon). Three or four scholars from each participating university are collaborating to plan the GHI’s activities. These scholars include principal investigator Pauline Strong, professor of anthropology and director of the Humanities Institute; Joni Adamson, President’s Professor of Environmental Humanities and director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative; and James Ogude, professor and director at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.

The Summer 2021 GHI is scheduled to be held at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and will convene 18 senior scholars along with 18 early-career scholars from around the world for a 10-day conference. It will include keynote addresses from renowned scholars in the field.

“The Environmental Humanities Initiative at ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research is honored to partner with UT Austin and this international group of humanities scholars,” said Adamson, project co-PI.

“The Global Humanities Institute will build on and expand the global Humanities for the Environment network launched at ASU in 2013 with CHCI and Mellon funding," Adamson said. "The GHI will train early-career faculty, something that is more important than ever as we learn to respond quickly to new challenges in uncertain times.”

The GHI will explore climate change as a social, historical and cultural force that transforms all lives but does so in an uneven and often unequal fashion. Behind the institute is the premise that problems of scale make it difficult to understand the differing ways in which climate change affects lives, communities and the earth. Seeking to cultivate scale literacy, the institute will generate more nuanced and holistic understandings of the relationship between the effects of climate change and the intensification of injustices in the social, political and cultural spheres. These inquiries are grounded in the understanding that a diverse array of factors — including geography, race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability and economic position — influence the ways in which individuals and groups experience and react to the impacts of climate change.

The institute will consider the following research questions, among others:

  • How do matters of scale fundamentally shape understandings of climate change and its effects at specific times and places?
  • How can we build scale literacy to identify the sources and attributes of climate injustice?
  • What new narratives, activist frameworks and planning strategies might promote collective action to mitigate climate change, more evenly distribute the impacts of climate disruption and work toward climate justice?

“During the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years, Arizona State University and the University of Pretoria will also co-host related Faculty Fellow seminars on the theme of ‘The Humanities for the Environment: The Future of Food,’” said Adamson.

“These seminars will build on collaborations between ASU’s North American HfE Observatory and University of Pretoria’s African HfE Observatory, that have been ongoing since 2015,” said Joan McGregor, project co-PI, project lead for Dinner 2040 and professor of philosophy at ASU.

According to co-PI Ogude, the GHI will support work centered in the HfE African and North American Observatories that was seed funded by the CHCI in 2013-15. The GHI will also advance ongoing work of humanities faculty at University of Pretoria and ASU who are researching ways to increase food sovereignty and ensure climate justice in two distinct regions in the global south and global north, respectively. At these institutions, the project will focus on equitable access to healthy foods and water and the emerging work in indigenous communities in both South Africa and Arizona to build food systems that will meet the challenges presented by climates that are becoming warmer and drier. 

In South Africa, this work includes working around drought-resistant crops — an existing research agenda of Humanities for the Environment at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship. It additionally involves a focus on recuperating traditional knowledges of agroforestry known as “earthkeeping,” and enhancing food production system resilience. In Arizona this includes cultivating “famine foods,” harvesting desert plants and reintroducing regenerative farming practices known as “O'odham Himdag,” or the “Desert People's Way.” All of these local initiatives will be discussed and interrelated at the institute, allowing for a global scale of comparative analysis.

Preceding the GHI, representatives from the six partner institutions will hold a virtual global planning meeting to discuss the agenda for the institute and collaborative activities that will be held on the partner institutions’ campuses. In the months following the GHI, members of the planning group will reconvene at the University of Sydney to discuss outcomes and possible publications.

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