Posted 24 October 2014 9:20am

While humanity was in the past seen as having the potential for unlimited growth, an international meeting at the Australian National University promoted a paradigm shift that highlights that humanity is not about limitless freedom and invincibility, but requires us to think more closely about co-existing with other species that share this planet.

The 2012 Annual Meeting of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) was hosted by the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University (ANU), marking the first time that this global consortium has met in the southern hemisphere in over ten years, and the first time at ANU.  The Humanities Research Centre has an enviable reputation both nationally and internationally, which was crucial in the bidding process for this conference.  As the national capital, access to Canberra’s network of national institutions also played a role in bringing this conference for Canberra.

Dr Debjani Ganguly, Director of the Humanities Research Centre, said this meeting, which also received support from the Australian Academy of Humanities, was important as it brought academics and experts from different fields together to discuss issues that require a radical re-think.  The meeting’s theme and title, ‘Anthropocene Humanities’, refers to a concept propounded by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul J. Crutzen in 2000 to emphasise the central role of humankind in transforming the planet’s ecological and geological make up.  In recent years there has been a groundswell of interest among humanities scholars in addressing the challenge of climate change and other environmental problems.

“Our annual meeting was designed to generate a critical conversation on the timely and important topic of climate change,” she said, and noted that the three plenaries by Elizabeth Povinelli (Columbia), Ross Garnaut (Melbourne) and Dipesh Chakrabarty (Chicago) addressed serious epistemological, social-behavioural and policy changes posed by climate change.

And while Humanities Centers have been sites of innovation and experimentation in the new humanities for decades now, Dr Ganguly said a major highlight of the 2012 CHCI meeting was a forum to discuss several initiatives in global humanities funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, including initiatives related to environmental humanities, medical humanities, and religion, secularism and political belonging.  As these initiatives are of such a large scale and are of global relevance, each of the initiatives will be networked across at least three continents over the next three to four years, with major nodes being formed by clusters of Humanities Centres.

Highlights of another type were the meetings links to art and performance.  While an art exhibition on ‘Antarctica’, symbolizing the last frontier of human habitation on this planet, provided the visual links, a musical performance by ANU harpist, Alice Giles, Creative Arts Fellow on the 2010 Antarctica Expedition, provided an apt finale for the conference.

After enjoying Canberra’s winter sunshine, many of the delegates were planning to head further north and investigate Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef before heading home. 

Posted 24 October 2014 3:32pm

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