Center for the Humanities hosts annual lecture series

The University of Rhode Island’s Center for the Humanities is back for its third annual year-long speaker series, which is focusing on environmental humanities this year.

According to the Center for the Humanities webpage, this lecture series “draws on the expertise of environmental historians, literary scholars, musicians and writers to demonstrate the role the humanities can play in understanding and addressing the urgent environmental questions of the day.”

Evelyn Sterne, professor of history and the director of the Center for the Humanities, said that this year’s lecture series is all about “reenvisioning nature.” 

“We’re all very concerned about climate change, and normally you look to the sciences to understand what’s going on with the environment and with the climate and all associated concerns,” Sterne said. “But the humanities is a really interesting provides a really interesting window into thinking about ‘how do people conceive the environment?’” 

According to Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies Erik Loomis, the environmental humanities are a way for people to look at the relationship between the environment and how people create different cultures based on the natural world. 

Loomis’s research has focused on topics  including labor and the environmental history of the United States. He became interested in the study of environmental humanities during his time being raised during the 1980s and 1990s in the Pacific Northwest, where he grew up seeing the conflicts that took place between environmentalists. 

“When I became a scholar, I became interested in looking at the history [of environmental issues],” Loomis said. “How do people create politics around the ideas of nature?” 

Both Loomis and Sterne played a role in helping select the speakers for this year’s lecture series that are diverse and focus on different elements of the humanities. 

The speakers this year have included guests such as Jeffrey Bolster, a University of New Hampshire professor emeritus of history who used his research of history to present his case on fisheries in his talk titled “The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail.” 

The Keynote speaker of this year’s series is Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Elizabeth Kolbert. According to Sterne, Kolbert has written for the New Yorker Magazine and published her successful book “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future,” about the future of climate change last year. 

According to Loomis, the topics discussed in this year’s lecture series are relevant to the URI community as well. 

“The community here at URI is very ocean-based,” Loomis said. “We have so many great scholars who work on the oceans at the Graduate School of Oceanography, and that’s great, but I think there are other ways to talk about the environment and getting people from the social sciences, the arts, and humanities changes the way conversations about climate are conducted at the University.” 

Sterne said that she hopes the lecture series brings the University community together across disciplines to talk about important topics that are affecting our world globally. 

“We believe so strongly that the humanities is incredibly relevant to understanding and engaging with the world we live in,” Sterne said. 

The next installment of the lecture series will be on Dec. 1 and will feature Terry Tempest Williams, a conservationist, author and advocate for free speech, who will speak on her writing and its relationship with the world we live in.  All lectures are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the humanities lecture series website.