2016-17 | Environment, Culture, Limits: Thinking through the Long Anthropocene in the United States

Faculty Leader: Randal Hall, Associate Professor of History
Abby Spinak, HRC Energy Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow

Student participants: Justine Bakker (Religion), Joseph Carson (English), Maureen Haver (Anthropology), Keith McCall (History), Sean Smith (History)

The idea of the Anthropocene—that human environmental actions are affecting the nonhuman world on a geological scale—has emerged as part of contemporary reaction to global climate change. But the geologists who advocate that the International Commission on Stratigraphy formally recognize the Anthropocene typically date its beginning to around 1800, with the emergence of industrialization. This seminar will take a long view of the Anthropocene, treating the whole of U.S. history as a part of the new geological unit. Participants will become familiar with selected aspects of U.S. environmental history from the early national era to the very recent past. What can it mean to think of the United States as an Anthropocene nation? Seminar participants will take on this question from a variety of perspectives. Studying environmental issues from within any single discipline is difficult. Environmental history, a field developed largely in the past three decades, has been particularly open to insights from other disciplines; and other fields of study can benefit from a deeper engagement with how this nation has arrived at its present position of contributing disproportionately to the environmental disruptions of global climate change.