Iain McCalman awarded the prestigious Mellon CHCI award
22 February 2013
As the world grapples with the disastrous effects of global warming, one pioneering academic is leading a new international research network to meet the challenges ahead.
The milestone achievement will see Professor McCalman at the helm of innovative research into how insights from humanities scholarship can help counter climate change effects.
This landmark prize is the first major commitment to research in the burgeoning field of the Environmental Humanities in the Award's history. Environmental Humanities is a new theoretical approach that examines the significant role the humanities can play in meeting global sustainability issues, using knowledge gleaned from anthropic, historical and cultural perspectives in partnership with the natural sciences.
Professor McCalman said his three-year project addresses the growing recognition that dealing with environmental issues must necessitate "deep-seated cultural changes as well as technical and scientific ones".
"The current politically-driven backlash against Climate Change science within the Australia-Pacific region and elsewhere derives in part from the abandonment of long-cherished aesthetic, cultural, artistic, historical, and spiritual dimensions of environmentalism," he said. "Enabling environmental behaviour change is a human issue and one that needs vitally to encompass the insights and values of human cultures."
The award builds off the success of the faculty's Environmental Humanities Group, also led by Professor McCalman, which includes colleagues from Archaeology, English, Gender and Cultural Studies, Government and International Relations, The Macleay Museum and Sociology and Social Policy. McCalman said such work "helped to sow the seeds of this later project", and hopes his new endeavour could one day culminate in a University-wide Environment Centre.
"Given that the Mellon Foundation does not normally award grants outside of the USA, it was a signal honour for the University of Sydney and a testimony to the Mellon assessors' conviction that Sydney is amongst the foremost of world Universities in developing the international field of Environmental Humanities," he said.
The pilot 'Humanities for the Environment' project will combine the expertise of a team of international scholars at three project 'Observatories' - one each in North America, Europe and Australia.
As Director of the Australian node of this project, McCalman heads the study 'Caring for Country': The Humanities and the Shaping of Australia-Pacific Environmentalism in the Age of the Anthropocene, 1768-2012'. This research anaylses traditions of environmentalist thought and activism in Australia and the Pacific from European foundation to the present day to help shed light on how humans have dealt with planetary crisis and change.
McCalman said the study's global scope represents a step in the right direction for the humanities, which has traditionally been "more reluctant to develop large-scale international research projects" than the natural sciences.
"As almost all of our current and impending challenges are global as well as regional, the transnational approach of our Mellon Observatories project is both apt and essential," he said.
This work is one of four projects to receive funding under the US-based Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), with the prize bestowed with the support of the A.W. Mellon Foundation.
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