Calendar of Events

Spring 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015
Etienne Benson (History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania)
1970s US postage stamp with ecological theme
The Environment: Pasts and Futures of an All-Encompassing Idea
3:30 pm Curtin 175
Recorded video (Mediasite, with slides)
Recorded video (YouTube, without slides)

Over the past several centuries, the concept of the environment has loomed ever larger in attempts to understand the place of humanity in the cosmos.

In the mid-nineteenth century, scholars adopted terms such as milieu, environment, and Umwelt to help them explain the individuality and adaptability of living things, including humans. In the early twentieth century, debates over the relative importance of environment and heredity took on political significance as nation-states sought to manage the lives of their populations and secure them against perceived internal and external threats. In the late twentieth century, environment became the keyword of a social movement that saw humanity’s impact on its surroundings as a threat to its own survival and of that of the entire web of life.

Today, even as some activists and scholars herald the “death of environmentalism” and suggest that the concept of environment has outlived its usefulness, environment is becoming the focal point of a new institutional-disciplinary configuration called the environmental humanities. In this talk, Etienne Benson situates these recent turns within the long-term history of the idea of the environment, with particular attention to the techniques—scientific, literary, artistic, and otherwise—by which environments have been assembled out of the flux of shifting relationships in which all living things participate.


Brown bag lunch seminar
Friday, March 27
12 noon Curtin 939
Reading: Etienne Benson, “Environment between System and Nature: Alan Sonfist and the Art of the Cybernetic Environment,” communication +1, Vol. 3 (2014), Article 2


Etienne Benson is assistant professor of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include surveillance technologies and environmental monitoring, urban environments and sustainable infrastructures, history of ethology and behavioral ecology, and human-animal relationships. He is the author of Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife (2010).


Image: 1970s US postage stamp, Wikimedia Commons



UWM Year of the Humanities






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