The term “environmental humanities” was coined early in the new millennium. It describes diverse forms of research, teaching, and public outreach spanning several humanities disciplines, from philosophy and anthropology to history and large parts of human geography. Historically, the humanities have explored
people’s distinctly “human” characteristics over and above their shared biological capacities. For most of their twentieth-century history, humanities disciplines tended to bracket environmental issues: like the social sciences, they mostly analyzed human ideas and activities separately from nonhuman things such as climate, water, and forests. The environmental humanities challenge this bracketing, noting that our “humanity” is achieved in relationship with the biophysical world, in both a symbolic-hermeneutic and a material sense.
In recent years, the environmental humanities have grown in size. They have also become more institutionalized within and between numerous countries. Additionally, significant and ongoing attempts to make them more visible and influential have occurred. In large part, this is because escalating human impacts
on the Earth have instilled real urgency among many humanists. They wish to shape the “conversation of humankind” that will, they hope, be sufficiently rich and inclusive to allow humanity to navigate through what is called “the Anthropocene.” According to a number of geoscientists, this is the new planetary epoch humans have inadvertently created. As the epoch unfolds, it could threaten human wellbeing on a very large scale, having already involved massive change to the nonhuman world. This entry offers a comprehensive overview of the environmental humanities. It first defines and traces their evolution since the late 1960s before explaining their recent expansion. It then identifies arguments in favor of the environmental humanities. It goes on to consider recent recommendations made about their future trajectory. It ends with a brief
discussion of how geographers are shaping this large and complex field of research, teaching, and public outreach. No one discipline dominates work in the environmental humanities, but geographers have been key players for some time and will remain so for the foreseeable future