Beyond Beauty: Exploring the Environmental Humanities is a series of public discussions with leading scholars from the National Humanities Center and Brooke Andrade, director of the Center’s library. These informal dialogues ask: How do humanities scholars approach environmental topics? How does their work complement and complicate the work of scientists? And what does their research, analysis, writing, and teaching add to the ways we understand environmental issues?

Join us for these public discussions with leading environmental humanists as we explore how they became interested in their fields, what fuels their passion for their subjects, the questions that intrigue and perplex them, and the ways their work influences how they think about the world.

Meeting Room A

  • The Politics of Music in Korea
    February 3, 2018
    2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
    - Keith Howard: Emeritus Professor, Department of Music, School of Arts SOAS University of London  

    Keith Howard’s research on Korean music began with the aim of discovering how people used music at a time of rapid change: his doctoral work was on the folk music of a geographically isolated island, and its preservation. However, his wide-ranging scholarly interests in specific fields of study have led him to pursue a variety of intriguing topics throughout his career. He learned to perform percussion and melodic instruments, working with celebrated musicians, resulting in two books on the construction, repertoire, and pedagogy of musical instruments. Later work on shamanism and ‘comfort women’ led to further books, cementing his reputation as an anthropologist as well as an ethnomusicologist. More recently, he has worked extensively on North Korea as well as South Korea, and has published on composition, pop music, political ideology, and their historical contexts.   Professor Howard is particularly interested in how people use and talk about music, and his work explores music and religion, composition, education, preservation and sustainability, commodification and commercialisation, traditions, and musical futures.

 His current project involves research on North Korean music and dance and, returning to his initial training in Western music, on early keyboard instruments.  

  • Health, Gender, and Nation-Building in Latin America
    February 17, 2018
    2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
    - José Amador: Associate Professor, Global and Intercultural Studies Miami University  

    José Amador's work examines Latin American history from transnational and interdisciplinary perspectives, but his primary research interests include the cultural history of medicine, the history of racial formation, Caribbean history, and, more recently, transgender studies. Professor Amador's first book, Medicine and Nation Building in the Americas, 1890-1940, argues that the circulation of public health initiatives launched in the colonial periphery were central to the making of modern national culture in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. His current project explores transgender activism and health rights in Brazil.  

  • Understanding Modern Slavery
    February 24, 2018
    2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
    - Laura Murphy: Associate Professor, English Literature Loyola University New Orleans  

    Laura Murphy studies historical and modern slavery and postcolonial studies and applies her research in a variety of projects. She is the lead researcher for Loyola's Modern Slavery Research Project, and recently co-authored a report entitled "Human Trafficking and Exploitative Labor Among Homeless Youth in New Orleans.” She won the 2014 African Literature Association First Book Prize for Metaphor and the Slave Trade in West African Literature, which examines the coded ways West African writers have memorialized the trauma of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.   Her book Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives explores human trafficking through the first-person testimony of nearly forty people who have been enslaved in the last twenty years. She is currently working on a new book, The New Slave Narrative, a literary critical analysis of the reemergence of the slave narrative tradition in the late twentieth century.  

  • Women, Violence, and Culture in Contemporary India
    March 3, 2018
    2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
    - Harleen Singh: Associate Professor, Literature and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Brandeis University

      Harleen Singh works on questions concerning history, politics, and identity in literature and film, and her work, which includes texts in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi, is interdisciplinary at its core. Her book The Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History, and Fable in India interprets the conflicting, mutable images of a historical icon as they change over time in literature, film, history, and popular culture, and she has published articles on novels from India and Pakistan, on Indian film, and reviewed books on hip-hop music, sexuality, and feminism. Her current book projects include a critical translation of Amrita Pritam's seminal partition novel, Pinjar, and a new monograph titled Half an Independence: Women, Violence, and Modern Lives in India.  

  • Sorcery, Celebration, and Religious Life in Rural Cuba
    March 11, 2018
    2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
    - Todd Ochoa: Associate Professor, Religious Studies University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Todd Ochoa’s research focuses on African-inspired communities in Cuba. His first book, Society of the Dead, is an ethnography of a Cuban-Kongo society of affliction, and its healing-harming practices at the turn of the twenty-first century. Society of the Dead is an engagement with anthropology’s rendering of sorcery, and an exploration of sensation, transformation, and redemption in the African Diaspora.   Professor Ochoa is currently working on his second book, about a community in rural central Cuba and the healing feasts held there, called bembés, which focus and intensify life among the town’s inhabitants. Please note that this talk will be in Meeting Room B  

  • Exploring the Phenomenon of Mass Performance
    March 31, 2018
    2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
    - Kimberly Jannarone Professor, Theater Arts, and Affiliate Faculty, Digital Arts and New Media MFA Program and History of Consciousness PhD Program University of California, Santa Cruz  

    Kimberly Jannarone's research interests include theater and performance history, directing, and translation, and a central focus of her work is the politics of the audience/performer relationship. Her first book, Artaud and His Doubles, interprets the theater of Antonin Artaud in the intellectual and political history of interwar Europe. She also edited Vanguard Performance Beyond Left and Right, which examines avant-garde innovation in the service of right-wing regimes. True to her background in theater, Professor Jannarone has produced and directed collaboratively devised pieces, including The Odyssey and the Gynt Project, with the UCSC Theater Arts and Digital Arts and New Media programs. She is currently working on a new book examining mass performance.  

  • Landscapes of Inequality
    January 12, 2019
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - Landscapes of Inequality: Colombia’s Agricultural Heritage

    Shawn Van Ausdal Associate Professor of History and Geography at the Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia.

    Van Ausdal’s current project is a revisionist history of cattle ranching in Colombia between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. It begins with a deceptively simple question: why is so much of Colombia covered in grass? Although much of the nation’s history and identity are wrapped up in coffee, grass dominates the majority of Colombia’s agricultural landscapes. By the 1950s, cattle occupied 30 million hectares while farmers cultivated less than three million, a grass-to-crop ratio on par with the steppes of Central Asia. The pervasiveness of grass is all the more surprising since so much of it is a social artifact. By the mid-twentieth century, over two-thirds of the forage in the heart of the country was purposely planted, much of it cleared out of the forests that still dominated the countryside a hundred years earlier. These new landscapes of grass were also central to a story of inequality: 3.5 percent of landowners controlled two-thirds of Colombia’s agricultural land in 1960. Surprisingly, many analysts ignore the role of ranching in the formation of the latifundio. In Colombia, however, landed elites were ranchers not farmers: grass (and forest) covered over 90 percent of their estates while crops barely accounted for 4 percent.
    With a doctorate in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, his research lies at the intersection of environmental history, agrarian (and food) studies, and development geographies.  

  • National Parks in Colombia
    January 19, 2019
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - Nature, Citizenship, and the Creation of Colombia’s National Parks

    Claudia Leal Associate professor at the Department of History at Universidad de los Andes.
    Leal’s project focuses on four emblematic cases to tell the story of national parks in Colombia as a process of territorial state building. Parks show how the state, through efforts to manage and create a national territory, reconfigures itself and produces space. It does so by extending its reach into new places and by accepting a new responsibility—caring for nature—that widens its scope. Such physical and conceptual expansion redefines citizenship and alters state legitimacy. Through an ethnography of the state at the local and national level, this environmental history reconstructs the building of national natures in Latin America.


    Leal holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of California at Berkeley, but passes for a historian who likes to think about the environment. Although she identifies with mountains, she has done most of her research on rainforest regions and on the role of “race” in the process of nation building in Latin America. 

  • Conservation and Controversy
    January 26, 2019
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - Forty-Seven Percent of the West: Congressional Conservation During the Long Progressive Era

    Joseph E. Taylor III , Professor of History Simon Fraser University
    Taylor’s project “47 Percent of the West” traces Congressional negotiations over federal conservation legislation from 1890 to 1939, especially the revenues from federal lands. By addressing the full scope of concerns animating House and Senate members during the long Progressive Era, it speaks to past and current narratives about western federal lands, an issue that has sparked growing violence during the last four decades. By revisiting the legislative process, it also reminds readers that a political economy has always inhered in these lands, and that conservation was about both preventing environmental abuse and promoting social services by federal, state, and county governments.


    Joseph trained as an Americanist. His primary fields of research have been the North American West and environmental history. He has published scholarly articles and books on the history of the fisheries, outdoor recreation, gentrification, and conservation. His digital mapping project, titled “Follow the Money,” can be found at followthemoney.stanford.edu, and he has written for High Country News, BlogWest, and news media.

  • The Future We Want
    February 2, 2019
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - The Future We Want

    Joni Adamson Professor, English and Environmental Humanities, Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
    In Joni Adamson’s new book, she looks to connect the work in her first book, on global indigenous oral traditions and environmental justice, to her recent work on indigenous cosmopolitical movements for intergenerational justice and her contributions to the expanding subfields of multispecies ethnography, biosemiotics, and food cultures, food literatures and film, and food justice. In particular, she is exploring how global indigenous communities have claimed the relevance of “cosmovisions” or “futurisms” for their own social justice and environmental movements. She also is exploring how creative works in these arenas emerge from ancient cosmologies, then often take the form of speculative or climate fictions and films (recently dubbed “cli-fi”) that advocate for plausible, desirable futures, or “futures we want,” rather than futures that devolve into apocalypse.


    Adamson directs the Environmental Humanities Initiative (EHI) at the Wrigley Institute and ASU’s undergraduate Environmental Humanities Certificate. She is the author and/or co-editor of many books and volumes that helped to establish and expand the environmental humanities and environmental studies

  • The Lasting Environmental Impact of the Great War
    February 9, 2019
    2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
    - A Global Environmental History of the First World War

    Tait Keller Associate Professor of History at Rhodes College
    Keller’s new book, Green and Grim, will be the first global environmental history of the Great War, focusing on how energy geopolitics linked the battle lines and home fronts with industry and agriculture in ways that transformed the environment around the world. In 1914, agriculture, industry, and warfare formed a violent triad geared for the production of destruction. While combat caused devastation, the resulting damage to nature was short-lived. Major environmental change occurred behind the lines, away from the killing fields. By understanding how warfare and energy extraction coevolved over the course of the First World War we can better appreciate the intersections of armed conflict, human victimization, and environmental exploitation during the twentieth century.


    Tait Keller is an Associate Professor of History and former Director of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. His research focuses on environmental change in times of crisis and conflict. He is currently working on his book project, A Global Environmental History of the First World War, which is under contract with Cambridge University Press. He has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research, the European Commission, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Keller has given invited lectures in Africa, India, Turkey, across Europe, and throughout the United States. He earned his BA in History at the University of Rochester and his MA in German and European Studies and PhD in History at Georgetown University.

  • Endangered Species, Imperiled Ways of Life
    February 23, 2019
    2:00 pm - 4:30 pm
    - Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies and Globally Entwined Lives

    Julie Velásquez Runk Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Georgia & Research Associate, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
    Runk’s current project, “Entangled Rosewood” uses loss as a means to reflect on who we are (being) and how we are in relationship with others and place (belonging). Runk argues that Panama’s volatile rosewood logging, following Chinese demand, challenged indigenous Wounaan to confront marginalization from rocketing economic growth and assert powerful ideas around being and belonging. Assembling years of data—histories, stories, logging permits, port data, video walks, and museum photos—she confronts the separation of Amerindian reality from globalization and politics. This collaborative book project illustrates radical hope within ontological precarity and reveals global processes that shape disparity and struggles for equality.


    Velásquez' research uses interdisciplinary approaches to how people use and manage their landscapes, how that relates to science, conservation, indigenous knowledge, and policy, and how people cope with variability and change. She grounds this work in political ecology, science and technology studies, human geography, environmental humanities, and collaboration.

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