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Thinking through the environment, unsettling the humanities

Read the five-page article, “Thinking through the Environment, Unsettling the Humanities,” to gain greater understanding of drivers of the emerging field of Environmental Humanities.

The article was written in 2012 for the inaugural issue of the Environmental Humanities Journal by a team of leading Environmental Humanities scholars, including three educators from this MOOC—Thom Van Dooren, Deborah Bird Rose and Matt Kearnes. It begins with a brief overview of how and why the field of Environmental Humanities emerged and then discusses some of the key aims of the field.

Although the authors state that interest in environmental issues has grown within different disciplines—resulting in sub-disciplines such as environmental history, political ecology and eco-criticism—they point out that environmental humanities “is a result of something more than the growth of work within a range of distinct disciplinary areas”. [1] They state:

In many ways it is not yet clear what the environmental humanities are or will become. On one level, the environmental humanities might be understood as a useful umbrella, bringing together many sub-fields that have emerged over the past few decades and facilitating new conversations between them. On another, perhaps more ambitious level, the environmental humanities also challenges these disciplinary fields of inquiry, functioning as a provocation to a more interdisciplinary set of interventions directed toward some of the most pressing issues of our time. Both approaches are currently cohabiting under the one banner.[2]

The field of Environmental Humanities (EH) has rapidly evolved since the article was written in 2012, but the description of the two levels that environmental humanities operates on—as umbrella and as a provocation—still holds.

In the next few steps, you will see examples of some of the key environmentally focused sub-disciplines and sub-fields that Environmental Humanities brings together, such as Environmental History, Eco-Criticism and Environmental Philosophy. Please note, it is not an exhaustive list (for example, art is not included here as we explore art in later weeks, e.g. in Step 4.4). In Week 3 we will focus on the more ambitious interdisciplinary aim of Environmental Humanities and consider how EH challenges disciplinary fields of inquiry.

What do you think?

What were your key take aways from the article? What questions do you still have about this emerging field?


  1. Deborah Bird Rose, Thom van Dooren, Matthew Chrulew, Stuart Cooke, Matthew Kearnes, and Emily O’Gormand, “Thinking Through the Environment, Unsettling the Humanities,” Environmental Humanities 1 (2012): 2
  2. Ibid: 5

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This article is from the free online course:

Environmental Humanities: Remaking Nature

UNSW Sydney

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