In the 1960s, James Lovelock formulated his Gaia hypothesis about the symbiosis of the earth’s intersecting ecosystems. He posited a complex feedback loop that somehow maintained, as he put it, ‘an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet’. Little did he know then that forty years later, the catastrophic role of human agency in upsetting this symbiosis would gain such centrality in scientific debates. The human as geological agent is a relatively recent formulation. The idea of a new geological age, the Anthropocene, was proposed in 2000 by Nobel Prize winning geochemist Paul Crutzen. The issue of climate change today is no longer the prerogative of the sciences. It requires active intervention from humanists and social scientists, and it needs this intervention not just in apocalyptic, speculative, instrumental or creative modes, but in conceptually and critically informed registers.

What are the challenges to our critical frameworks in the humanities of this radical reconfiguration of human life on this planet? How do we think through the historical coordinates of ideas of self, society, development, freedom, knowledge and responsibility from the industrial age to the information age, especially when we now know what devastating impact these two ages of human development have had on the earth’s ecosystem? What insights can we gain from alternative ecological models of human habitation? What will an ecological enlightenment entail if it is not founded on the human being’s rational mastery over nature? What, in sum, is the calling of climate on the humanities, and of the humanities on climate change?

The Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University

The Humanities Research Centre was established in 1972 as a national and international centre for excellence in the Humanities and a catalyst for innovative Humanities scholarship and research within the Australian National University. As one of Australia’s prime gateways to humanities scholarship in the rest of the world, it promotes advanced research in the humanities through its Visiting Fellowship Program, and a range of conferences, workshops, seminars and symposia that it hosts under an annual theme.The HRC interprets the “Humanities” generously, recognising that new methods of theoretical enquiry have done much to break down the traditional distinction between the humanities and the social sciences; recognising, too, the importance of establishing dialogue between the humanities and the natural and technological sciences, and the creative arts. The Centre encourages interdisciplinary and comparative work, and seeks to take a provocative as well as supportive role in relation to existing humanities studies in Australia. It aims to give special attention to topics and disciplines which stand in need of particular stimulus in Australia. One of its central functions is to bring to Australia scholars of international standing who will provoke fresh ideas within, and beyond, the academic community.

The HRC established the Freilich Foundation for the study of bigotry and tolerance in 1995. It works closely with ANU’s recently established Digital Humanities Hub. Within the University, the HRC is now part of a group of five centres that sit under the Research School of Humanities and the Arts (RSHA). Threaded through our Centre programs are our disciplinary and interdisciplinary strengths in literature, history, art, philosophy, critical theory, Enlightenment and Romanticism studies, Postcolonial Studies and Indigenous heritage, art and culture. The HRC collaborates with Australian and international research centres, libraries and other cultural institutions such as the National Museum of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery. The Centre continues to strongly advocate the importance of humanities in the public sphere through its participation in key national and international networks such as the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), The Australian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres (ACHRC) and the Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes (CHCI).


Programs took place at the Humanities Research Centre (HRC), Roland Wilson Building

1:30 – 3:30 pm
Meetings of CHCI Member Initiatives

Digital Humanities Initiative (HRC Seminar Room)
Humanities for the Environment Initiative (HRC Theatrette)
Public Humanities Initiative (HRC Lady Wilson Room)

3:30 – 5:30 pm
Meetings of CHCI Member Groups

Associate Directors and Administrators Group (HRC Lady Wilson Room)
New Directors Group (HRC Theatrette)

6:00 – 8:00 pm
Opening Reception at the National Gallery of Australia
Co-sponsored by the Australian Academy of Humanities

Programs on 14 June took place in the Shine Dome, Australian Academy of Science

8:00 am
Registration/check-in and Coffee

9:00 am
Opening remarks by Ian Young, Vice Chancellor, the Australian National University, and Srinivas Aravamudan, President, Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes and Dean of the Humanities, Duke University

9:30 – 11:00 am
Plenary Lecture: Elizabeth Povinelli, Columbia University
Geontologies: The Promise of Indigenous Worlds in Augmented Reality
Chair: Iain McCalman

11:00 - 11:30 am
Coffee Break

11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Panel: Indigenous Habitations/Marine Ecologies

Poul Holm, Trinity College Dublin
Fishing Matters: Historical Perspectives on the Impacts of Fisheries on Ecosystems and Human Societies

Iain McCalman, University of Sydney
Managing the Sea: Indigenes, Castaways and Marine Environments at the Cusp of European Contact

Peter Veth, Australian National University
Indigenous Coastal Management: A Deep History

Chair: Margaret Kelleher, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

1:00 – 2:30 pm
Lunch with Member Breakout Groups
Great Hall, University House

2:45 – 4:15 pm
Workshop: Public Humanities

Sara Guyer, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Robert Phiddian, Flinders University and Australian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres
Moderator: Ian Baucom, Duke University

4:15 pm
Coffee Break

6:00 - 7:30 pm
Viewing of the Exhibition Antarctica
Introductory talk by Tom Griffiths, introduced by Caroline Turner, both Australian National University
Drill Hall Gallery, ANU Campus

7:45 pm
Annual Meeting Dinner ($75US additional fee)
The Lobby Restaurant

Programs on 15 June took place in the Shine Dome, Australian Academy of Science

9:00 – 10:30 am
Panel: Anthropocene, Biopolitics and Climate Ethics

Karen Pinkus, Cornell University
Fuels and Humans, Bios and Zoe

Libby Robin, Australian National University
Documenting the Anthropocene: Historical Reflections on Global Change

Alison Bashford, University of Sydney Spaceship
Earth: Malthus and the Anthropocene

Chair: Alan Chan, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

10:30 – 11:00 am
Coffee Break

11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Plenary Lecture: Ross Garnaut, University of Melbourne and the Australian National University
Can Humans Manage the Anthropocene: Australian Carbon Pricing in Context
Chair: Debjani Ganguly

12:30 – 3:00 pm
Lunch, followed by CHCI Business Meeting and Member Breakout Groups

4:00 – 5:30 pm
Plenary Lecture: Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago
Climate Change, Climate Justice, and the Anthropos of the Anthropocene
Chair: Michael Bérubé
House of Representatives Chamber, Old Parliament House

6:15 – 7:00 pm
Performance by harpist Alice Giles, Creative Arts fellow, Australian Antarctica Expedition, 2010-2011
Introduced by Kate Bowan, Australian National University
Band Room, ANU School of Music

7:00 – 9:00 pm
Closing Reception
Larry Sitsky Recital Room, ANU School of Music

Programs on 16 June took place at the Theatrette, Humanities Research Centre, Sir Roland Wilson Building

9:00 – 9:30 am Special Session: Results of the CHCI Program Planning Initiative (click here for update)

Srinivas Aravamudan, President, CHCI
James Chandler, Franke Institute for the Humanities, University of Chicago
Kathleen Woodward, Simpson Center for the Humanities, University of Washington
Debjani Ganguly, Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University

9:30 – 11:00 am
Group presentations by co-conveners of CHCI Program Planning Projects:

Humanities for the Environment
Integrative Graduate Humanities Education and Research Training(IGHERT)
Medical Humanities
Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging

11:00 – 11:30 am
Coffee Break

11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Building on the Planning Initiative: Future Projects

1:00 - 2:00 pm
Closing lunch

Click here for information on Re-Thinking Invasion Ecologies, a related, specially organized conference at the University of Sydney held on 18-19 June. Please note that this was not a CHCI program.