New Directions in Environmental History, Part 3: The Anthropocene in History

AHA Session 142
Friday, January 6, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom F (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
John R. McNeill, Georgetown University
From Forest to Farmland and Meadow to Metropolis; or, When Did the Anthropocene Begin?
Jed Kaplan, Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne
The Anthropocene and Histories of Inequality
Kavita Philip, University of California, Irvine

Session Abstract

This roundtable proposes to bring together historians and natural scientists for discussion of the concept of the Anthropocene. That term, now roughly 15 years in circulation, has spilled out of its original context into several branches of inquiry in the humanities, social sciences, as well as the natural sciences. Its meaning is still undergoing definition, and this roundtable will explore some of the contending definitions in play. The utility of the concept is also controversial in many precincts, and the roundtable will offer a variety of views on that issue.

The Anthropocene concept is inherently interdisciplinary. It refers to an interval of time in the history of the Earth, but one, unlike all the others, in which humankind’s actions serve to inaugurate and structure it. Thus the concept straddles human and non-human inquiry. The Anthropocene represents, among other things, a challenge to existing schemes of periodization not only within geology, but in environmental history and perhaps history in general. How should historians react to the challenge?

The discussion will feature three historians (McNeill, Philip and Thomas), a paleo-ecologist (Kaplan) and a geologist who serves as the chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (Syvitski). The roundtable’s chair (McNeill) is a historian but also a member of the Anthropocene Working Group, the body charged to recommend for or against the formal adoption of the Anthropocene into the geological time scale.