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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of History


After Nature Workshop

AFTER NATURE: POLITICS AND PRACTICE IN DIPESH CHAKRABARTY’S FOUR THESES OF CLIMATE HISTORY 
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA HISTORY CENTER /PROVOST'S INSTITUTE FOR VISITING SCHOLARS

FEBRUARY 26-28, 2015

In series of recent articles and lectures, our 2015 Provost Visiting Scholar, Dr. Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago, has argued that the nineteenth-century division between natural history and human history has begun to collapse in an era of anthropogenic climate change and species extinction.  Human beings, he asserts, now exert a geophysical agency comparable to the asteroids that may have wiped out the dinosaurs at the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary 66 million years ago or the cyanobacteria that prompted the Great Oxygenation Event over 2.5 billion years ago.  Imagining this scale of human agency, he argues, stretches our understanding of what it means to be human far beyond the hermeneutic practices that have guided historical and cultural interpretation since the early nineteenth century.  

This workshop will provide a forum for discussing the implications of Dr. Chakrabarty’s scholarship for research and teaching in environmental studies.  The organizers bring together distinguished scholars from USC, the Rachel Carson Center alumni fellowship network, Duke, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to share ideas about how the environmental humanities are reshaping our understanding of “nature” and what this process might mean for teaching and research across university curricula. Our interdisciplinary panels are designed to encourage new intellectual synergies between the humanities (history, literature, political philosophy, religious studies), the social sciences (geography, ethnography, policy studies), the natural sciences (geology, conservation biology) and applied professional fields (law, business, environmental management). 

Dr. Chakrabarty’s work raises a number of questions that invite multi-disciplinary reflection about the new geophysical agency of human begins, including: 

  • How will the geophysical entanglement of humans and the rest of nature change the contours of scientific and humanistic knowledge?
  • Has the expansion of human freedom over the past 250 years been a devil’s bargain due to the burning of fossil fuels?
  • What does it mean to speak of the “human” as a species or geological agent in a world divided by sharp inequalities of wealth and the legacies of imperialism? 
  • Does the Anthropocene spell the end of sustainability, as some scholars have argued? If so, what concept should replace it?

The workshop is based on a set of shared readings and lectures from Dr. Chakrabarty, including:

1) “The Climate of History: Four Theses” (2009)

2) “Postcolonialism and Climate Change” (2012)

3) Keynote Lecture: The Anthropocene Project, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2013)

The lecture has recently appeared as an article “Climate and Capital: On Conjoined Histories” (2014)

4) “The Geophysical Agency of Humans and Climate Change (2014)

 

PDF icon WORKSHOP SCHEDULE.pdf