Understanding the political economy and cultural forces that produce atmospheric warming is as important as a scientific understanding of its natural causes, according to Donald Worster, an internationally recognized scholar who specializes in environmental history.
Worster, Hall distinguished professor of American history at Kansas University, is director of the new Program in Nature, Culture and Technology. The program is designed to promote historical and humanistic perspectives on environmental issues in industrialized and developing nations.
To support the new project, the Rockefeller Foundation of New York recently granted $250,000 to the Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Center for the Humanities at KU and named the center a Rockefeller Residency Site. "The humanities can enrich understanding and add a significant perspective to environmental topics by raising humanistic issues," Worster said. "But they can do so only by pursuing their own kind of research and offering it to the public in a compelling form."
TWO VISITING fellows will be selected annually, beginning with the academic year 1992-1993 through the academic year 1994-1995. Although the fellows will not teach courses, they will do "serious humanistic scholarship or research on environmental issues," Worster said.
The fellows also will participate as faculty members in university activities, research, conferences and lectures and may be courtesy professors in the departments most closely related to their academic field.
An international search for visiting fellows will be conducted during this year or the first year of the grant. Other members of the program steering committee include John G. Clark, professor of history, who specializes in world and U.S. energy policies in the 20th century, and Steven P. Hamburg, university environmental ombudsman and associate professor of environmental studies and of systematics and ecology.
ANOTHER FACET of the project will be year-long seminars on topics related to humanities and the environment. The seminars will be for KU faculty and graduate students.
Worster said each year of the grant may have a theme. The first year's theme tentatively will be the cultural history of nature. Programs during the year will deal with the global impact of technology on the Western tradition of distinguishing nature from culture.
"That impact may be making the traditional distinction irrelevant," Worster said. "While examining this development, we will look at how different societies have perceived the natural world in the past, both Western and non-Western societies."
While the themes for the other years are still tentative, Worster said the core of the program would be interdisciplinary environmental history, with the fellows coming from related fields, including historical geography, literature, anthropology, politics of resource use and political economy.