Beyond Despair: Theory and Practice in Environmental Humanities | National Humanities Center

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Beyond Despair: Theory and Practice in Environmental Humanities

April 3, 2019

Wednesday–Friday, April 3–5, 2019 at the National Humanities Center

This unique three-day summit of scholars and experts from across the country featured a dynamic intersection between discussion, presentations, and exhibitions, grounded in practical site excursions. The summit was convened by Robert D. Newman, founder of the first Environmental Humanities graduate program in the U.S., and current director of the National Humanities Center. Presenters included scholars, teachers, students, scientists, community leaders, activists, and artists in an effort to build bridges between the global and the local. The list of presenters is impressive and speaks to the timeliness and importance of this discussion.

Beyond Despair was presented with the generous support of RTI International.

Watch the Panel Videos

Keynote Address by Subhankar Banerjee

Land, Water, Food, and Sustainability

Carbon Offsets

Intergenerational Justice

Policy and Regulation

Teaching the Environment in East Asia

Teaching the Environment

Data Rescue for the Environment

Beyond Despair: Next Steps in Environmental Humanities

About the Summit

Subhankar Banerjee

Keynote Speaker: Subhankar Banerjee

internationally recognized photographer, scholar, environmental activist


The summit and supporting activities were intended to reimagine next steps for the important discipline of Environmental Humanities, while at the same time challenging the limitations that have emerged to date.
This discipline brings environmental studies and issues normally located in the sciences or public policy into humanities contexts that add depth and focus. Technological solutions and policy initiatives have limited success, and possible negative consequences, unless one understands the ethical implications and nuanced history and culture of the places where they are to be implemented.

Despite its contributions to environmentalism, Environmental Humanities frequently has focused on theory independent of application and in terms that are debilitating, such as “catastrophe,” “apocalypse,” “end of history,” “mourning,” “loss.” Such terminology, while cautionary, is potentially demotivating, especially to students. Also, necessary conversations between scientists and humanists have not been well integrated into the field, and a tension persists between activists and scholars.

By bringing Environmental Humanities experts into discussion with other scholars, teachers, activists, artists and others, Beyond Despair intended to foster cooperation between these various groups, impact the field of environmental humanities, and launch dialogue that has the potential to change how environmental issues are taught in classrooms across the country.


Read more about the presenters
  • Joni Adamson – Director, Environmental Humanities Initiative, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University; NHC Fellow 2018–19
  • Brooke Andrade – Director of the Library, National Humanities Center
  • Justin Baker – Senior Economist, RTI International
  • Subhankar Banerjee – Professor, Art and Ecology, University of New Mexico; Lannan Foundation Endowed Chair of Land Arts of the American West; Director, Land Arts Mobile Research Center
  • Matthew Booker – Associate Professor of History, NC State University; NHC Fellow 2016–17
  • Robin Bulleri — National Board Certified teacher of Biology and AP Biology, Carrboro High School
  • Saskia Cornes – Program Director, Duke Campus Farm and Assistant Professor of the Practice, Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University
  • Marion Deerhake – Senior Research Environmental Scientist, RTI International
  • Sangeeta Desai – Information Specialist, Metadata and Content Management, National Humanities Center
  • Ryan Emanuel – Associate Professor, Center for Geospatial Analytics, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, NC State University
  • Stephanie Foote – Jackson and Nichols Professor of English, West Virginia University; NHC Fellow 2017–18
  • Jeremy Jackson – Scientific Director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network; senior advisor on coral reefs for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature; emeritus professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Karen Kemerait – Attorney, Fox Rothschild LLP
  • Emlyn Koster – Former Director, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Claudia Leal – Associate Professor of History and Geography, Universidad de los Andes (Colombia); NHC Fellow 2018–19
  • Tom Linden – Glaxo Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Medical Journalism, UNC School of Media and Journalism
  • Andy Mink – Vice President for Education Programs, National Humanities Center
  • Tania Munz – Vice President for Scholarly Programs, National Humanities Center
  • Robert D. Newman – President and Director, National Humanities Center
  • Miles Powell – Assistant Professor of Environmental History, School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • Daniel D. Richter – Professor of Soils and Forest Ecology, Duke University
  • Stephen E. Roady – Professor of Law, Duke University
  • Kira Alexandra Rose – Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of English, School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • Deborah Ross – Attorney, Fox Rothschild LLP and former member, NC House of Representatives
  • Ellen Spears – Associate Professor of History, University of Alabama
  • Shaojing Sun – Associate Professor of Journalism and Communication, Fudan University, Shanghai
  • Joseph Taylor – Professor of History, Simon Fraser University; NHC Fellow 2018–19
  • Randall Tolpinrud – President and Founder of the Bosque Lluvioso and Pax Natura Foundations
  • Julie Velásquez Runk – Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Georgia; NHC Fellow 2018–19
  • Robin Visser – Associate Professor of Asian Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; NHC Fellow 2017–18
  • Bethany Wiggin – Founding Director, Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, University of Pennsylvania


Beyond Despair was made possible by the following sponsors:

RTI International

Presenting Sponsor

Burroughs Wellcome Fund TUCASI

  • The North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • Research Triangle Foundation
  • Sally and Russell Robinson
  • Duke University Press


Wednesday, April 3, 2019
National Humanities Center
6:00 pm Keynote Registration Only Welcome and Conference Opening – Robert D. Newman, National Humanities Center
Keynote Address: “Building Bridges and Connecting Dots: Apprehending Multispecies Futures” – Subhankar Banerjee, University of New Mexico
Thursday, April 4, 2019
Duke Campus Farm
9:30 – 9:45 am Welcome to the Duke Campus Farm
Saskia Cornes, Duke University
9:45 – 10:30 am Practicum I – Deep Time: Soil Science, Science, and Humanities
Daniel D. Richter, Duke University
10:30 – 10:45 am Break
10:45 – 11:30 am Practicum II – History of the Farm, Soil Restoration, and Food
Saskia Cornes, Duke University
National Humanities Center
1:15 – 2:30 pm Panel I – Land, Water, Food, and Sustainability
Panelists: Stephanie Foote, West Virginia University; Jeremy Jackson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Smithsonian Institution; Tom Linden, UNC School of Media and Journalism. Moderator: Matthew Booker, North Carolina State University.
2:45 – 3:00 pm Break
3:00 – 4:15 pm Carbon Offsets: Justin Baker, RTI International; Randall Tolpinrud, Pax Natura. Moderator: Deborah Ross, Fox Rothschild LLP.
4:15 – 5:30 pm Panel II – Intergenerational Justice
Panelists: Ryan Emanuel, North Carolina State University; Ellen Spears, University of Alabama; Julie Velásquez Runk, University of Georgia/NHC Fellow. Moderator: Joni Adamson, Arizona State University/NHC Fellow.
Friday, April 5, 2019
National Humanities Center
8:45 – 10:00 am Panel III – Policy and Regulation
Panelists: Karen Kemerait, Fox Rothschild LLP; Claudia Leal, Universidad de los Andes/NHC Fellow; Joseph Taylor, Simon Fraser University/NHC Fellow; Marion Deerhake, RTI International. Moderator: Stephen E. Roady, Duke University.
10:00 – 10:15 am Break
10:15 – 11:15 am Conference Call and Q&A with East Asian scholars – Teaching the Environment at Fudan University, Shanghai and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (prerecorded)
Panelists: Miles Powell, Nanyang Technological University; Kira Alexandra Rose, Nanyang Technological University; Shaojing Sun, Fudan University. Moderator: Robin Visser, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
11:15 am – 12:30 pm Panel IV – Teaching the Environment
Panelists: Robin Bulleri, Carrboro High School; Emlyn Koster, formerly North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences; Bethany Wiggin, University of Pennsylvania. Moderator: Andy Mink, National Humanities Center.
12:30 – 1:30 pm Lunch
Data Rescue for the Environment: Brooke Andrade, National Humanities Center Library and Sangeeta Desai, National Humanities Center Metadata and Content Management.
1:30 – 3:00 pm Panel V – Beyond Despair: Next Steps in Environmental Humanities
Panelists: Joni Adamson, Arizona State University/NHC Fellow; Matthew Booker, North Carolina State University; Robin Visser, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Stephen E. Roady, Duke University; Subhankar Banerjee, University of New Mexico; Deborah Ross, Fox Rothschild LLP. Moderator: Tania Munz, National Humanities Center.

Subhankar Banerjee photo by Didier de Fays.
Any views expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the North Carolina Humanities Council.