This new research initiative continues to link the consortium partners in a common commitment to intellectual exchange and dialogue, this time around a broad question that resonates with many contemporary humanist scholars—namely, what is the work of the humanities in a changing climate? This rubric is intended to be both intellectually focused and capacious. In its narrowest interpretation, it calls for collaborative work on climate change, arguably the most pressing grand challenge of our time. We seek collaborative research in the field of environmental humanities, broadly conceived, as well as the development of new humanities-centered paradigms for thinking through the limits and possibilities of climate change policy. We do so out of a conviction that the current climate crisis has deep historical roots yet to be fully tapped; that it calls for new philosophies and theories of the human and the anthropocene; that its fictions and visual cultures bear mightily on its material consequences, past, present and future; and that collaborative research on these questions and more is indispensable to scholarly expertise on the subject, in the humanities and beyond.
As a metaphor, climate change is pluripotent: it offers humanists the opportunity to think expansively about the meanings of “climate” and “change” as they manifest in their own research, and to bring their contributions to bear on cognate questions in the present. Thus “The Work of Humanities in a Changing Climate” also hails scholars who wish to consider the pressure of other forms of contemporary “climate change” on their fields of inquiry—from a changing racial climate to a changing economic climate to the changing notion of “the public” and what it means for the intellectual work environments of humanists.
Though the urgency of grappling with this variety of ecological and environmental changes is not unique to the HWW partners, institutions of higher education in the heartland are uniquely positioned to lead a national conversation on this given the way that the Midwest has been, and remains, a key site for the shaping of global ecosystems, whether economic, cultural or geophysical. And while proposals for “actionable research” and public policy platforms are most welcome, we also know that curiosity-driven research yields unlooked for insights that can prompt new ways of seeing and inspire innovative ways of approaching problems as well. This combination of research applicable to climate change and research that explores the wider context of “changing climate” allows applicants to identify those entry points that will enhance their current thinking and practice in sustained collaboration with consortium partners. Whether scholars who participate in the “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate” research initiative pursue specifically environmental studies topics or choose to interpret “climate change” broadly, they can do so at multiple scales and across an equally diverse set of times and places.