Coffee Talk: “A Better World: Environmental Humanities”


Dr. Nancy Easterlin lectured at the event. Photo by Cassandra Jaskiewicz

On March 8, Dr. Nancy Easterlin spoke at the Women’s Coffee talk lecture series presented by UNO Women’s Center and Women Gender studies (WGS) called “A Better World: Environmental Humanities.” The event was loaded with refreshments, and the room was completely packed.

Dr. Lisa Verner welcomed guests and explained the history of International Women’s Day. It can be traced back to the early 20th century. In 1909 International Women’s Day was first observed. It was recognized by United Nations in 1975 and tied to various social protest organizations, including organized labor and anti-war movements. Verner then introduced Easterlin.

Easterlin, a research professor in the department of English and Women’s Gender Studies, has taught at the University of New Orleans since 1991. She combines literary research with cognitive and evolutionary psychology and is at the forefront of a new field: cognitive culture studies.

The talk was about how the humanities play a role in the struggle for a better future. She provided some history on the growth of humanities and the literary approach of eco criticism, while providing some literary examples of how place can affect the story

“It talks about all this interlocked dimensions of a person’s sense of well being and relationship to the environment,” Easterlin said. “And gender is a very big part of that.”

1990 the start of the movement of eco-criticisms also known as “the studies of literary in the environment” Easterlin explained. There is also an Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE).

This movement was inspired by Edward Abbey, Aldo Leopold Rachel Carson and Annie Dillard. These writers can be categorized as nature writers and environmental writes. Many of these stories are non-fiction “in the very origins of literature as an environment study in the 1990s, you see there was an emphasis on something that was pointing towards inter-disciplinary engagement,” Easterlin said.

A lot of the early courses for studying literature with the environment  emphasized “Dead white men” america’s western environment as nature appreciation. Then an argument that the definition of environmental writing needed to be expanded, “And the conceptualization of race, class, gender, which fed out into an engagement with environmental justice and environmental racism,” Easterlin explained

Ecocriticism slowly changes into environmental humanities as a interdisciplinary program in the the United States. These new classes of environmental humanities are  environment writing, ecofeminism, environmental history, evolutionary ecology, and environmental ethics.

“Interdisciplinaries have been made to bridge the gap between humanities and social sciences” Easterlin began “to better understand the shifts in disciplines and the emerging areas of study”

Place studies is another important academica area that had emerged as a result of the fragmentation of studies and is what Easterlin uses the most in her research. Easterlin defines place as a “space given meaning by and individual, group and cultural process.”

In literature thus allows for a unique analysis of the environment of the story with emphasis of home as a reference point. Areas of analysis include place attachment, relativity, and placelessness.

Easterlin used the literary work of Colm Tóibín, an Irish novelist, and literary works that focus on the western frontier to give examples on how this type of approach can be done. The relationship between people and place helps create the conceptualization of self and reality within fiction. It can show the relationship to community, if there is one, and the effects of the environment on the identity of a character.

The event wrapped up with a question and answer session.