Environmental Humanities

Environmental humanities
Environmental humanities (Image: Alison Pouliot)
Environmental humanities
Environmental humanities (Image: Alison Pouliot)

Directors: Marc Hall, Philippe Forêt and Christoph Küffer

Members: Norman Backhaus, Christoph Brunner, Olivier Ejderyan, Rachel Falcooner, Johanna Fassl, Fabrizio Frascaroli, Flurina Gradin, Brack Hale, Dennis Hansen, Claudia Hegglin, Angelika Hilbeck, Katherine Horgan, Marc Hufty, Florian Knaus, Patrick Kupper, Lars Larsson, Rachel Nisbet, Alison Pouliot, Simone Quatrini, Veronika Rall, Christian Rohr, Beni Rohrbach, Manuela Rossini, Rory Rowan, Philippe Saner, Juanita Schläpfer-Miller, Emily Scott, Dan Tamir, Yvonne Volkart, Caroline Weckerle, Caroline Wiedmer

Current Situation: '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.

Selected Topics: Key research goals of environmental humanities include

  • evaluating alternative perspectives, narratives, and theoretical visions of such concepts as vulnerability, resilience, risk, nature-culture relationships, with a special focus on reflexivity, historical dimensions and local complexities
  • identifying how basic humanistic research can facilitate adaptive management, social consensus, and participatory problem solving for dealing with crises and disasters
  • critically analyzing environmental discourses related to ecosystem services or managing ecosystems in the Anthropocene (e.g., ecological novelty)
  • assessing local and traditional knowledge, or the role of metaphors and other narratives for communicating heterogeneous, uncertain and controversial knowledge
  • understanding the role of values and ethics in environmental decision making

Objectives of the Working Group: In Spring 2013, a new Working Group in Environmental Humanities was founded with the aim of strengthening this field in Switzerland while encouraging better networking and cooperative activities: holding periodic meetings and conferences, formulating key research agenda, coordinating and expanding EH course offerings at several universities, developing joint publications, organizing public outreach events such as film and lecture series. 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.

Further Publications

  • Kueffer, C., Hall, M., Forêt, P. 2014. Environmental Humanities. SAGW Bulletin 4/2014, 31-32. (link)
  • Forêt, P., Hall, M., Kueffer, C. 2014. Developing the Environmental Humanities: A Swiss Perspective. GAIA 23 /1: 67-69. Article (pdf)
  • Hall, M. & P. Kupper (eds). 2014. Crossing Mountains. The Challenges of Doing Environmental History. RCC Perspectives 4/2014. (link)


Marc Hall, Philippe Forêt und Christoph Küffer

  • Publications

Die grosse Transformation der Schweiz
  • 2016

Eine große Transformation der Schweiz: Auf Bewährtes setzen und mit Neuem experimentieren

Die saguf-Jahrestagung 2015 widmete sich den Möglichkeiten und Grenzen einer großen
gesellschaftlichen Transformation hin zu einer nachhaltigen Schweiz. Auf etliche Errungenschaften kann aufgebaut werden. Experimente und Neuorientierungen sind dennoch nötig.
Seeing the Environment through the Humanities: A New Window on Grand Societal Challenges
  • 2015

Seeing the Environment through the Humanities: A New Window on Grand Societal Challenges

The Environmental Humanities draw from insights of the human and natural sciences for proposing new concepts and solutions to society’s pressing environmental problems.
Developing the Environmental Humanities in Switzerland
  • 2015

Developing the Environmental Humanities in Switzerland: An Evaluation of Opportunities, Challenges, and Priorities in Research, Teaching, and Institutional Support

Solving or mitigating today’s environmental problems requires knowledge from the humanities, social sciences, and the natural sciences. This report focuses on the role of the social sciences and humanities in understanding of past, present and future human-environment relationships and informs about the current state and growth potential of the Environmental Humanities in Switzerland.