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The Role of the Humanities in the Anthropocene

Friday, 4 December 2020, 6 – 7pm

The Role of the Humanities in the Anthropocene

A panel discussion as part of the Beckett and the Anthropocene conference in association with Trinity Long Room Hub, the Serpentine Gallery, and Synchronicity Earth.

This panel will discuss the unique role that students and researchers in the Humanities can play in facing and overcoming the disastrous environmental consequences of the Anthropocene. We will be led by three experts representing different fields of action – the conservation world, the art world, and the academic world – in which the skills developed in the Humanities are at the front line.

The devastating loss of species and habitats. The poisoning and destruction of oceans and forests. The threats to biodiversity and the undeniably catastrophic climatic consequences of human activity on the environment. Given these – and other – symptoms of our current “ecocidal” behavior, it is not surprising that those of us living in the Anthropocene have been led to place our hopes on scientific or economic solutions: the belief that new technologies or financial incentives offer the most efficient means of avoiding self-destruction. But therein lies the rub: doesn’t this strategy implicitly entail the continuation of precisely the same anthropocentric thinking that is at the heart of the current ecological disaster?

It seems clear that a major issue in responding to the environmental consequences of the Anthropocene lies less in changing the tools and technologies we employ, and more in actually identifying and understanding our motivations and their effects. Lack of awareness regarding the threat – and its severity – is no longer an issue. Yet despite our knowledge of the facts, human behavior has not changed; this is a clear sign that we have yet to fully understand either our actions or ourselves.

The panel, chaired by Dr. Douglas Atkinson, is comprised of three experts representing three different theatres of engagement with the lack of genuine understanding on display in the Anthropocene. We will hear from voices representing the world of Conservation with Jessica Sweidan, from the Arts with Lucia Pietroiusti, and then from the University itself with Dr. Julie Bates, each of which will help us identify and explore the unique contributions that the Humanities, and students of the Humanities, can bring to the fight against environmental destruction. The floor will be open to questions from the audience at the end.


JESSICA SWEIDAN has been an active philanthropist for the last 20 years. With the creation of The Synchronicity Foundation in 2000, she oversaw donations to a range of projects that addressed social and economic justice; education, children’s welfare and the arts; healthcare, poverty alleviation, and refugees; and conservation. She launched Synchronicity Earth, a UK based charity, in November 2009 and her focus shifted to global biodiversity - raising awareness to support urgent, overlooked and underfunded conservation. More recently, she helped co-create Flourishing Diversity, a new network initiative centred on uplifting, aligning with, and evidencing the interrelation between cultural and biological diversity. Jessica is a Patron of Nature for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an Honorary Conservation Fellow at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts (RSA), on the Board of Trustees of Wildscreen, and a Strategic Advisor for the Environmental Funders Network (EFN), Action for Conservation and Conservation Optimism. She graduated in 1993 with a BA in Philosophy from Northwestern University.

LUCIA PIETROIUSTI is a curator based in London, working across disciplines at the intersection of art and ecology, mostly outside of the exhibition format. She is Curator of General Ecology at Serpentine Galleries. Pietroiusti founded and runs General Ecology, a strategic effort to embed environmental subjects and methods throughout the Galleries’ outputs and networks, and co-curates Back to Earth, gathering 65+ artist campaigns for the environment. She was the co-founder, and is currently co-curator and co-presenter, of the Serpentine Podcast. Outside Serpentine, Pietroiusti is the curator of Sun & Sea (Marina) by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė, the Lithuanian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. She is the Curator of POWER NIGHT at E-Werk Luckenwalde (2021) and one of the Curators of the 2020-2021 Shanghai Biennale (with Marina Otero Verzier, Filipa Ramos, You Mi, and Chief Curator: Andrés Jaque). Publications include More-than-Human (with Andrés Jaque and Marina Otero Verzier), and Microhabitable (with Fernando García-Dory), both forthcoming in late 2020/early 2021.

DR. JULIE BATES is a lecturer in the School of English in Trinity College Dublin. Her first book, Beckett’s Art of Salvage (Cambridge UP, 2017) was a study of the material imagination at play in his writing. She is a co-director of the Samuel Beckett Summer School, and has essays on Beckett published or forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre, Journal of Beckett Studies, Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui, and the Oxford Handbook of Samuel Beckett. A number of these publications draw on scholarship within Environmental Humanities and explore Beckett's writing as a challenge to the distinctions conventionally made between the human and nonhuman animal, and an interrogation of the limits of anthropocentrism. Julie’s non-Beckett research interests include contemporary Irish writing, with an essay in The New Irish Studies: Twenty-First-Century Critical Revisions (Cambridge UP, 2020), and contemporary art, with a co-edited special issue of Word & Image forthcoming on research emerging from the archives of Louise Bourgeois. Julie’s current book project is a study of the dynamic between place and practice in the work of the writer and artist Erica Van Horn, who runs Coracle Press with the poet Simon Cutts from their home in rural Tipperary.

Campus LocationTrinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute
Accessibility: Yes
Room: Online webinar
Event Category: Alumni, Arts and Culture, Conferences, Lectures and Seminars, Public
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Undergrad, Postgrad, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Public
Cost: Free but Registration Required

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