Environmental Humanities

What can literary criticism, philosophy, media studies and other humanities disciplines tell us about environmental issues?

Staff in the School of Science in Society work on topics and approaches from the Environmental Humanities, alongside colleagues from Art History, Literary Communications, English and other humanities disciplines      . We are especially focused on how the Environmental Humanities disciplines intersect with the sciences.

The Environmental Humanities is a broad term for humanities disciplines as they are applied to thinking about environmental questions and responding to environmental crises. It can be argued that scientific knowledge about global warming, energy and waste changes the nature of humanities disciplines, prompting them to respond to our current crises. The humanities can help us to see how global warming, for example, is not just an issue with scientific and technical origins and solutions, but is also a product of cultures and attitudes. We can see those cultures reflected in our art, literature and language, and we can seek out steps towards a response in our writings and thoughts.

Environmental Humanities disciplines treat the environmental crisis as an occasion to offer a critique of our cultures, and hopefully to change them. They give us ways to see the politics and assumptions behind our dependency on fossil fuels, and challenge the language with which we have become used to talking about environmental issues.

Questions in the Environmental Humanities include: what can literary texts, films and artworks tell us about how people have understood the environment? Do they give us clues as to the cultures and attitudes that have led to global warming and other environmental crises? How do we balance the need to think carefully about global warming with the need to do something about it quickly? Is the idea of nature separate from humans useful or damaging? What relationship can we have with nature other than an exploitative one? Are all humans equally responsible for global warming?

The Environmental Humanities include a wide range of different disciplines, from Ecocriticism (the criticism of nature writing and the treatment of the environment in literature), Ecomedia (the criticism of media through an environmental lens), Environmental Philosophy, and Environmental Politics. Environmental History is an Environmental Humanities discipline and many Science and Technology Studies scholars also contribute to debates in the Environmental Humanities.

Environmental Humanities fit with the School of Science and Society’s broader interest in humanities approaches to scientific topics. Recent publications include:

For example, Tim Corballis has written on aesthetic interpretations of climate models and their imagery, and James Beattie has examined the role of art works in colonial environmental protest as well as the importance of gardens to people's material and mental and physical well-being.

For more information, please contact:

Senior Lecturer
Centre for Science in Society