Tom Crist and Peggy Shaffer, Altman Fellows


In 2000, the Nobel Laureate chemist Paul Crutzen coined the term “Anthropocene” to mark the emergence of a new geologic epoch in which humans have become the most “globally potent biogeophysical force” on the planet.  “Anthropocene,” Crutzen explains, “suggests that the Earth has now left its natural geological epoch, the present interglacial state called the Holocene. Human activities have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature and are pushing the Earth into planetary terra incognita.”  If this global transformation signals a paradigm shift in the sciences, it also demands the critical attention of the humanities—for it touches every aspect of human life on earth and its possible futures. 

The Anthropocene:  A New Era in Human-Environment Relations explores the consequences of this paradigm shift with three goals in mind: 1) to support the development of approaches that engage the sciences and the humanities together around environmental questions, concepts, and problems; 2) to advance research and teaching focused on the environmental humanities at Miami; and 3) to provide a platform for developing new curricula and forms of collaborative inquiry that bridge environmental humanities and environmental studies. 

Altman faculty and students in this program will join a collaborative working group from diverse fields—such as anthropology, biology, English, environmental science, geography, history, literary and cultural studies, and philosophy, among others—to explore the pressing environmental questions and issues of our age.  Through public programs, exhibitions, films, and a formal interdisciplinary course, we aim to create an active environmental humanities network and draw attention to the critical questions raised by the Anthropocene.  Specifically, how does the Anthropocene reframe the way humans relate to, use, and value the planet?  How might the Anthropocene transform longstanding distinctions between human history and natural history?  Does a planetary perspective challenge widely-held views of individual liberty and human agency? How do social institutions, cultural practices, and cultural forms—including images, narratives, and media more generally—affect environmental processes, and how have they done so in the past?  How might history, cultural criticism, philosophy, and political ecology illuminate or address the environmental challenges of our age? And finally, how does the Anthropocene empower us to build bridges between the humanities and the sciences to imagine a sustainable future for the planet?

The 2014-15 Altman Program includes a special team-taught course, called “Home Planet:  Food, Health, and Habitat in an Environmentally Challenged World” (AMS 405/IES 440).  This course will use the concept of the Anthropocene to explore the relationship between human beings and the natural world by focusing on three issues critical to species survival: food, health, and habitat.  Specifically, we will focus on targeted examples, themes, and issues that address the complexity of food systems, the nature and culture of health and disease, and the ecologies and economies of sustainable habitats. Students will explore each topic from multiple perspectives looking at the interdependencies between environmental, social, cultural, and economic forces that shape complex human ecologies related to food, health, and habitat in an effort to integrate science and the humanities and address sustainability challenges.



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