Seeing the Environment through the Humanities

A New Window on Grand Societal Challenges

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Environmental Humanities Switzerland.

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Environmental Humanities

Environmental Humanities is a new interdisciplinary research field that explores environmental issues through the methods and insights of the humanities.
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Global Warming

The end of the world as we know it?

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Tree Stories

Juanita Schläpfer-Miller, Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center Christoph Kueffer, HSR Rapperswil & ETH Zurich Recent hurricanes in the United States were not only physical events but also storms of information. Some may have hoped that they would help to changing how people and politicians think about climate change; probably they didn’t. At least not immediately. This is typical of many environmental problems. There is a vast amount of scientific data, but it remains difficult to form a consensus and see how action can spring from all the information. This is because information is often incomplete, difficult to understand, abstract or even contradictory. In recent years scientists have started to collaborate more intensively with humanities scholars and artists to develop new ways of synthesizing and visualizing scientific information in ways that are more tangible to the public. One such strategy is to tell stories. Storytelling engages people with an environmental issue through dialogue, for example the recent Tree Stories storytelling journey through Zürich organized by the group Environmental Humanities Switzerland in May 2017.   The future of urban trees Trees in a city such as Zurich have become a contested topic. They disappear where urban densification competes for their space, yet people love them and fight for them. They are increasingly also seen as a magic bullet against the negative effects of a warming climate in the already hot and dry heat islands of cities. But even if we agree to have lots of trees in Zurich, things don’t get easier. Some want native trees to support native biodiversity, while others argue that only alien trees introduced from elsewhere can survive,... read more


***************************** Although several hundreds of studies have been undertaken so far, no definitive answers have yet been found that convincingly explain the huge gap between the knowledge and awareness of environmental issues on the one hand and the radius of action on the other. What are the reasons for this startling absence of answers? One reason might lie in the complexity of the subject. In order to get into the various aspects of the problem, one needs to exert oneself into various kinds of models: Political and economic models, psychological and ecophilosophical models, social marketing models to mention a few. This leads to the conclusion that the posed question – what builds the competence of a behavior that considers environmental issues? – is such a complex one that it cannot be visualized through one single scientific approach. So, for someone who enters the field of Environmental Humanities like myself for the first time, it can be hard to find an entrance to the maze and it can be even harder to find a way out without losing directions. One entry to the maze could be the following: In order to act in a way that respects the environment, one needs to develop the competence of ‘pro-environmental behavior’. According to Kohlmus et al this kind of behavior is defined as a mode of action that seeks to minimize the negative impact of one’s actions on the natural and built world on a conscious level.[1] Early rationalist and linear models that are based on the assumption that a linear progression of environmental knowledge automatically leads to environmental attitudes, which in turn... read more

Baum-Geschichten: 19 Mai 2017

Ein Spaziergang von Botanik zu Biographie Während eines Spaziergangs, der uns in der Stadt Zürich zu Bäumen aus verschiedenen Ländern führen wird, treffen wir auf Performances und Geschichten, die von Zürchern mit globalen Wurzeln veranstaltet und erzählt werden. In Zürich, einer kosmopolitischen Metropole, gedeihen hunderte von Baumarten. Einige Vertreter leben hier bereits seit Tausenden von Jahren, andere erst seit kurzer Zeit. Wir laden eine kleine Gruppe von Zürchern, die, wie die Bäume globale Wurzeln aufweisen, ein, einen Baum zu wählen, der ihr/ sein Herkunftsland repräsentiert. Was bedeutet es, hier in Zürich einem Baum aus dem eigenen Heimatland zu begegnen? Fühlt sich der Anblick angenehm an? Löst er Freude oder Heimweh aus? Oder beides? Führt der Anblick zu einer stärkeren Verwurzelung oder führt er zur Entfremdung? Das Projekt zielt darauf ab, die öffentliche Wahrnehmung der globalen Natur Zürichs zu schärfen und den Dialog zu Unterscheidungen wie einheimisch versus nicht einheimisch in der Natur anzuregen.... read more

Leopard Ecology & Conservation Symposium

We are delighted to invite you to a very interesting public lecture on leopards and lions. Adidas Superstar Monika Schiess and her team of Leopard Ecology & Conservation along with Prof. new balance france Dr. chaussures adidas David Macdonald, Prof. bottes ugg Dr. asics gel lyte 3 Craig Packer and Dr. Michael Flyman will be there to talk to you on Wednesday 28 June, 2017. asics gel lyte 5 We also recommend participating in an informal lunchtime discussion (with free coffee and cake) on Conservation and Research in Botswana that following... read more
Death Valley

‘Environmental Humanities’ (EH, Umwelt-Geisteswissenschaften / Sciences humaines de l’environnement / Scienze umane dell’ambiente) is a new interdisciplinary research field that explores environmental issues through the methods and insights of the humanities.  Historic, social, philosophical, and cultural insights offer fresh perspectives for addressing and understanding complex environmental problems.  This rapidly growing research field aims to identify effective, sustainable, and equitable ways of living within the earth’s natural limits.  Such areas as history, human geography, philosophy, ethics, literature and arts, ethnobotany, and law provide important venues for understanding environmental issues, but combining synergistic and novel insights of these fields in new ways is the promise of environmental humanities.  Natural sciences are also integral to environmental humanities, though not as ways to define environmental problems but as partners for enriching their humanistic understanding.

“The enormous scope and complexity of today’s environmental problems require knowledge derived from the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities”

Philippe Forêt

Co-Director SAGUF EH-CH, Researcher (associate), EBES, University of Zurich

Environmental Humanities

“The EH Working Group aims to join researchers from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences from several Swiss universities working on both sides of the Röstigraben”

Christoph Kueffer

Co-director SAGUF EH-CH, ETH Zurich