by Joni Adamson
Rumors of “fading interest” in the humanities at institutions of higher education appear frequently in the media. However, statistics show that the number of students taking degrees in the disciplines traditionally focused on the study of human culture has remained constant since the 1980s (Bérubé 2013; Lewan 2013; Paul and Graff 2012). Moreover, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, business and education leaders are declaring the “environmental humanities” (history, philosophy, aesthetics, religious studies, literature, theater, film and media studies informed by the most recent research in the sciences of nature and sustainability) crucial to addressing the anthropogenic factors contributing to increasingly extreme weather-related events (drought, fire, hurricanes, melting glaciers, and warming and rising oceans) (Nye et al. 2013; Braidotti et al. 2013).
Keywords for Environmental Studies analyzes the central terms and debates currently structuring the most exciting research in and across environmental studies, including the environmental humanities, environmental social sciences, sustainability sciences, and the sciences of nature.
A book of this scope, exploring topics this complex and urgent, requires the time and effort of a great number of good-willed people if it is to be done well. All the contributors who accepted our invitations to write, and many other experts in their disciplinary fields who, for various reasons, could not accept our invitations, were generously willing to talk at length with us about the project. Each played a significant role in shaping the book by helping us construct an initial list of over 180 possible terms and then identify names of people qualified to write the essays. Later, they helped us decide how to narrow our list to sixty. We thank each of them for their time, expertise, and influence on our thinking, although all decisions on the final list of keywords were ours alone.
This volume creates a new “state of the field” inventory and analysis of the central terms and debates currently structuring the most exciting research in and across environmental studies, including the environmental humanities, environmental social science, sustainability sciences, and the sciences of nature. Inspired in part by Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler’s Keywords for American Cultural Studies, and linked to that volume through Vermonja Alston’s essay, “Environment,” which she revisits and expands here for Keywords for Environmental Studies, we, and each of our contributors, aim to show how, in its broadest sense, the term “environment” enables “a questioning of the relations of power, agency, and responsibility to human and nonhuman environments” (Alston 2007, 103).
Like the other volumes in the series, Keywords for Environmental Studies is designed for use in a broad range of teaching environments, both disciplinary and interdisciplinary. It can also be adapted for use at a variety of levels, from introductory undergraduate courses to graduate seminars. While every essay in the volume has been prepared by a field expert, they are all also written in clear prose crafted to be understood by non-experts.
In our Note on Classroom Use, we outline a variety of ways you might use Keywords for Environmental Studies in the classroom, particularly in developing syllabi and formulating student activities and assignments. In what follows, we provide a broad range of sample discussion questions that you can use to stimulate student conversation and hopefully encourage action.