In the years since climate change first emerged as a problem, most of the relevant research has focused on how it will affect the material conditions of life on this planet. Indeed, vast amounts of work have been done by way of charting its causes and foretelling its likely effects on our collective future. But as the problem has intensified along with our difficulties in dealing with climate change, scholars working across the disciplines have begun to realize that climate change, though first noticed by atmospheric researchers, is not solely an object of scientific concern. An example of what Timothy Morton has termed a “hyperobject,” it is in fact a problem that troubles the foundations of all our intellectual spheres.
Accordingly, this seminar explores the effects of climate change on inquiry in the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities, with particular attention to the ways in which scholars in these disciplines are adapting to climate change as a problem in their work. Perspectives from climate scientists will, of course, be included in our conversation as a way of grounding the discussion in a scientific account of the phenomena. But the goal of the seminar is to take stock of how climate change has excited a fundamental rethinking of core concepts across disciplines. What, for instance, does climate change mean for those working on the anthropology of science? And, more particularly, for those working on history of the national security state? How, moreover, have legal scholars responded to the ethical and legal questions posed by climate change? Are our existing understandings of justice and responsibility adequate to understanding the problem of climate justice? Or is justice a category that, in the context of climate change, needs to be rethought?
Beyond the fields of law and social science, the seminar also explores the impact of climate change on fields less commonly associated with climate change as a problem, namely history, theology, and literary studies. The earth’s climate has had an undoubtedly important impact on the history of human civilization, but thinking through the relationship between climate and history remains difficult, to say the least. How should we begin to understand the relationship between historical time and geologic time? And between geologic processes and human agency in the world? Religion is frequently described as contributing to inaction on climate issues. But is this the only way in which the major religious traditions can be construed? Are there religious environmentalisms too? And while literary studies has in recent years begun to occupy itself with environmental questions, literary eco-criticism still remains by and large out-scaled by the magnitude of a warming planet. What does eco-criticism look like in the era of climate change? Can literature help us imagine our species-being differently? Or is the literary imagination overwhelmed by a problem of this scale?
If climate change is a serious problem for the future of the global environment, it is also a serious problem for human thought. In such a context, none of the projects suggested here can represent anything more than a brief experiment in thinking through the challenges that climate change poses for the categories through which we understand our world. But as the pace of climate change intensifies and the consequences of inaction become more and more severe, the project of re-calibrating our concepts in ways appropriate to the problem is not one that can be easily left aside. Our goal for the seminar, in the end, is therefore to begin charting the ways in which we might think about climate change and its effects on our intellectual and cultural life.
Presenters include Dipesh Chakrabarty (History), Eric Slauter (English), Elisabeth Moyer (Geophysical Sciences), Eric Posner (Law), Joseph P. Masco (Anthropology) and William Schweiker (Divinity). Discussion Leaders include Eric Slauter (English), and Gary Herrigel (Political Science).
- For Background on the Physics of Climate Change:
From Professor Moyer: If you have not yet been introduced to the physics the underlie global warming, I'd strongly recommend doing a little pre-seminar reading. I would recommend either of two books by David Archer, both available on Amazon for quite reasonable prices. If you want an option with no equations, I'd recommend "The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 years of Earth's Climate." If you're OK with a bit more in terms of equations, "Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast" is written as an introductory text for undergraduate non-science majors.
- Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill, “The Anthropocene:
Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” Ambio 36, no.
8 (2007): 614–21. [Download]
- An account of the science behind the idea of the anthropocene.
- Ursula Heise, Sense of Planet, Sense of Place: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (New York: Oxford UP, 2008), 17-66. [Download]
- An examination of planetary imagination in a time of climate change.
- Dale Jamieson, “Climate Change and Global Environmental Justice,” Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance,eds. Clark Miller and Paul Edwards (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001): 287-307. [Download]
- An overview of the links between climate change and environmental justice.
- Peter Manley Scott, “The End of Nature and the Last Human? Thinking Theologically about ‘Nature’ in a Postnatural Condition,” Without Nature? A New Condition for Theology eds. David Alebrston and Cabell King (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010): 342-362. [Download]
- An analysis of the problems a “postnatural condition” poses for Christian theology.
- Ronald E. Doel, “Constituting the Postwar Earth Sciences: The Military’s Influence on the Environmental Sciences in the USA after 1945,” Social Studies of Science 33.5 (October 2003): 635-666. [Download]
- An argument about the ways in which Cold War defense policies propelled the development of the earth sciences.
Readings related to Elizabeth Moyer's Presentation:
- One thing that I want to emphasize in my discussion is the utter dependence of human civilization on energy use, and the long history of increasing energy use. I recommend a chapter by the historian Fernand Braudel from "The Structures of Everyday Life" on the pre-industrial revolution grown in energy use. It can be downloaded at http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~moyer/GEOS24705/Readings/BraudelStructurescompressed.pdf (which is also accessible through http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~moyer/GEOS24705/2012/). The chapter can be skimmed, but it's definitely worth reading the beginning (from "The key problem: sources of energy" on p. 336 to the end of "The human engine" on 340), the section on the wood crisis in 17th-18th century Europe, and then the final conclusions (p. 371-372).
Readings Related to William Schweiker's Presentation:
Rev. William Schweiker, "Global Problems, Global Responsibilities: Accepting and Assigning Liabilities for Environmental Harms," Journal of Law, Philosophy and Culture, Vol. III, No. 1 (2009), pp. 341-359.[Download]
"Anthropocentrism," "Climate Change," "Ecocentrism," "Ethics, Environmental," and "Responsibility," Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability: The Spirit of Sustainability, eds. Willis Jenkins and Whitney Bauman. Vol. 1 (2010). [Download]
Thursday, April 18, 2013
8:15 a.m. Shuttle leaves Ramada Inn Lakeshore for the Bartlett Hall (5640 South University Avenue).
8:45 a.m. Check-in, coffee
9:00 a.m. Welcome and Opening Remarks
- Elizabeth O'Connor Chandler, Director, Midwest Faculty Seminar
9:15 a.m. A historical perspective on climate change, energy use, and the rise of industrial civilization (with a brief review of climate change physics)
- Elisabeth Moyer, Geophysical Sciences
10:30 a.m. Coffee
10:45 a.m. Climate Security: From Nuclear Science to Geoengineering
- Joseph P. Masco, Anthropology
12:00 noon Lunch (on your own)
- Preparing Future Faculty Luncheon (for those taking part) 12:15-1:30 at Bartlett Hall
2:00 p.m. Walden's Carbon Footprint
- Eric Slauter, English
3:15 p.m. Coffee
3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Participant Discussion Groups
- Group A, led by Gary Herrigel, Regenstein 403
- Group B, led by Eric Slauter, Regenstein 405
5:05 p.m. Shuttle leaves Bartlett Hall for La Petite Folie
5:30 p.m. Reception and Dinner at La Petite Folie.
- 8:00 p.m. Shuttle leaves La Petite Folie for the Ramada.
Friday, April 19 2013:
8:15 a.m. Shuttle leaves the Ramada for Bartlett Hall (5640 South University Avenue).
9:00 a.m. Human History On An Extended Canvas
- Dipesh Chakrabarty, History
10:15 a.m. Coffee
10:30 a.m. Climate Change and Law
- Eric Posner, Law
11:45 a.m. Lunch and Report on Discussion Groups (Lunch will be provided)
12:15 p.m. to 2:00pm Participant Discussion Groups
- Group A, led by Gary Herrigel, Regenstein 403
- Group B, led by Eric Slauter, Regenstein 405
2:05 p.m. Free Afternoon (Shuttle leaves Bartlett Hall for the Ramada.)
Saturday, April 20, 2013:
8:30 a.m. Shuttle leaves the Ramada for the Bartlett Hall (5640 South University Avenue).
9:15 a.m. Ethics and Climate Change: The Challenges and Possibilities
- William Schweiker, Divinity
10:30 a.m. Report on Discussion Groups
10:45 a.m. Participant Discussion Groups and Wrap-Up
- Discussion groups will meet as one in the Franke Institute
12:00 p.m. Adjournment
- (Shuttle leaves the Bartlett Hall for the Ramada at 12:10 p.m.)
12:30 p.m. Special Programs College Fair
- (Those taking part will walk together to Cobb Hall)
1:35 p.m. Second Shuttle takes College Fair Participants to the Ramada
We are pleased that you will be joining us for a Midwest Faculty Seminar. To make your stay at the University of Chicago as pleasant as possible, we have tried to anticipate the questions you may have regarding the organization of the seminar and your accommodations. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 773.834.4439 or at Teaching@college.uchicago.edu
Location: The seminar will meet on the University of Chicago Campus, often in the Franke Institute or the Classics building. Please refer to the campus map for directions: http://maps.uchicago.edu/campus.shtml. Seminars begin at 8:45 a.m. on the Thursday of the conference and conclude by 12:00 p.m. on Saturday. Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance should call us at least one week in advance of the seminar.
Schedule: A seminar schedule will be sent to you via email and regular mail at least two weeks prior to the seminar. Click here to see a sample schedule. Please note that the seminar begins at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday and will end by 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.
Accommodations: All seminar participants who request housing will stay at the Ramada Inn-Lakeshore, 4900 South Lake Shore Drive, approximately 10 blocks from campus. The phone number is (773) 288-5800. The hotel fee is paid for by the Midwest Faculty Seminar. You will, however, be responsible for incidental charges such as telephone usage and meals (to be paid during your stay). If you have requested a single room, you will be asked to pay for half the costs of the room (approximately $50/night or $150/total). If applicable, you will receive an invoice once hotel reservations have been finalized.
Unless otherwise specified, a room has been reserved for you to check in on Wednesday before the conference, after 3pm, and out on Saturday, by noon. You will need to check out before you come to the seminar on Saturday morning, but you will be able to leave your bags at the front desk in case you need to leave from the hotel (i.e. if you need to catch an airport shuttle). You may also bring your bags to campus if you plan on leaving town directly from the University. If you are planning to arrive or depart at different times, please let us know in advance
Daily shuttle service to and from the campus will be provided by the hotel (see sample schedule for times).
Transportation: For those flying into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Omega Limousine Service is an inexpensive method of traveling to the Ramada Inn-Lakeshore. If you wish to make reservations or have further questions about their regularly scheduled airport routes, please call Omega Limousine Service at (773) 734-6688 or book online at http://omegashuttle.com/ . For those flying into Midway Airport, a taxicab is most convenient and will cost approximately $30.
Parking: Parking at the hotel is free, though if you wish to drive to campus, a public parking garage is located on the southeast corner of 55th Street and Ellis Avenue. The rate is $4 per hour with a $20 maximum fee. Parking in this garage is free from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. and on weekends. There is ample free parking surrounding the university, though if you don’t arrive early in the morning it can be very difficult to get a spot. Parking is generally most plentiful on the Midway, which is directly south of the university, between 59th and 60th Street.
Meals: Following the final session on Thursday, all participants are cordially invited to a dinner. On Friday, lunch will be provided. Please let us know as soon as possible if you have any special dietary needs so that I can plan the lunch with the caterer. Participants are responsible for all other meals, though we will have coffee, tea and water available throughout the three days and will have light breakfast items available on Saturday morning. Breakfast is not included in the hotel service. Please plan accordingly.
If you have any questions regarding the above, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or by email at email@example.com. We look forward to meeting you at the next Midwest Faculty Seminar.
J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace November 8-11, 2012
J.M Coetzee has long been a towering figure in the postcolonial canon. Few of his novels have garnered as much attention, however, as has his last South African novel, Disgrace. The story of an aging English professor and the aftermath of an ill-advised tryst, it is also a searing engagement with the politics of South Africa's post-apartheid transition and the complexities and traumas inherent therein. This seminar considers Disgrace as a text of that transition, focusing on heretofore under-discussed aspects of the novel and the questions with which it deals, such as its relation to Romanticism and the Russian novel, its importance to the history of the pastoral in South Africa, and the implications of its treatment of sexual violence for changing conceptions of rape under international law.
Between Cognition and Culture: The New Sciences of the Mind January 10-12, 2013
For years, received understandings of the nature of cognition have tended to view the mind as something akin to a central processing unit that sends and receives signals between the center and periphery on the basis of entirely fixed rules. Of late, however, scholars working in fields as varied as neuroscience, developmental psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, and literary theory have moved towards the idea that cognition relies for its foundation not so much on the brain, but on the network of receptors that make up a sensorimotor system. This seminar looks at the various implications of this account, focusing first on its challenge to the distinctions between mind and body and perception and action, and on the proposition that thinking beings should first and foremost be understood as (inter)acting beings. It also considers, however, the implications of this stance for fields not directly involved in the work of neuroscience, such as philosophy and economics, and art and literature as well.
Islam in/and the West February 21-23, 2013
The "clash of civilizations" thesis made famous by Samuel Huntington has come to inform a great deal of discussion about the history of Islam and its interactions with the peoples of Europe and beyond. But as many scholars know, and as increased immigration from Islamic countries to the West makes clear, the place of Islam in the West is much more complicated than such a heuristic would have us believe. This seminar attempts to think beyond the “clash of civilizations” thesis to look at a variety of intersections and interactions between Islam and the West, with a particular emphasis on identity formation, migration, and cultural and social accommodation in varied locations throughout Europe and the contemporary United States. How do these communities navigate their relationships with neighbors from different religious groups? How do they understand themselves and their participation in their separate public spheres? What defines the place of Islam in the West in historical terms? And how can the history of Islam in the West help us to understand its possible futures?
Climate Change Across the Disciplines April 18-20, 2013
The problem of climate change has of late become the source of numerous critically important academic debates. Often, however, academic discussion of the topic has been limited to the biological and physical sciences, those areas of inquiry that have done the most to bring its challenges into view. This seminar therefore proposes to examine the problem of climate change from the perspectives of the humanities and the humanistic social sciences in order to better understand the problems climate change poses for the project of humanistic inquiry. How does anthropogenic climate change challenge the way we think about ethics, politics and history? In what way does a problem like climate change alter our approaches to the study of literature and other cultural objects? Are the disciplines as constituted adequate to the task? Or does climate change foretell not just substantial changes in the way we organize our economic life, but in the way we organize our forms of knowledge as well