The Lithuanian EU Presidency’s Conference on Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities concluded two short days ago in Vilnius, Lithuania. The leaders and the many student volunteers of Mykolas Romeris University were gracious hosts for the hundreds of researchers, research administrators, and European Commission representatives who descended on their fair city. Those of us who were present from the European Environmental Humanities Alliance noted that the discourse of involving SSH at the outset of funding research programs to address society’s grand challenges affirmed with the transdisciplinary, open-spirited intellectual enterprise of EH researchers in Europe.
Indeed, the Science Europe publication “Humanities in the Societal Challenges,” released to coincide with the conference, also reflects the connection of Environmental Humanities with responsiveness to Europe’s grand challenges. The report includes twelve concrete cases of research that address issues such as green transport, histories of climate migration, and analysis of the unintended consequences of river management. It is fair to describe seven of the twelve as “Environmental Humanities” projects, with lateral connections between EH and others via issues of justice, health disparities, and designing the built environment.
How will we realize livable environmental futures, beyond the horizon of 2020?
This is not a question that can be answered solely by technology and economy. How we transform environment and society is equally and fundamentally a question of values, narratives, practices, and imagination.
The symbolic power of the Vilnius Declaration comes from its crystallization of the principles of openness and commitment necessary for realizing the “value and benefits of integrating Social Sciences and Humanities” into Horizon 2020. The Declaration is also a call to the Humanities to be bold enough to propose and join major collaborative projects of synthesis.
After Vilnius, the European Environmental Humanities Alliance has a mandate for its socially-responsible, transdisciplinary paradigm. We also have a more urgent awareness of our need to represent at the European level our expertise and practical value.
European Humanities for the Environment
Humans are the key factor in both creating and solving the challenges of global environmental change. The emerging field of the Environmental Humanities represents an under-utilized resource of knowledge, activity and practice that can and must be activated and integrated with the other sciences to guide a more humane transformation of environment and society.
Research outcomes will benefit
Complex problems require all relevant knowledge bases. The quality and usefulness of knowledge is enhanced as the informational basis of concrete issues increases and interpretative knowledge is added to social and natural sciences.
Knowledge of environment and society will be qualitatively enhanced
Humanities research interprets modes of human perception and experience, clarifies and critically assesses underlying assumptions in other sciences, harnesses social engagement, and shapes critical awareness via cultural analysis, public debate and creative expression in ways that will help European citizens negotiate the troubled present and uncertain future of our environmental legacies.
Society will gain from a more successful integration of scientific and human study
Integrated research on global environmental change from the full spectrum of the environmental humanities and social sciences meets the demands for innovative paradigms of knowledge production coming from major international initiatives such as Future Earth (amalgamating ICSU, ISSC, UNESCO, UNEP, UNU, WMO and the Belmont Form), thus helping to realize the goals of transformative, integrated science called for in key visioning reports such as the Transformative Cornerstones of Social Science Research for Global Change (ISSC, 2012).
Researchers at centers, institutions, and networks throughout Europe have already been active developing histories, theories, and interpretations relevant to many of these challenges (see reverse).
We assert that the Environmental Humanities must engage with the wider scientific community — as well as with educational institutions and other key sectors of society — to re-think what it truly means to be human when “Anthropos” (the human being) is coming increasingly to be understood and acknowledged as the defining component of a new geological era, the Anthropocene.
This declaration has been prepared for initial presentation in Vilnius at the “Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities” conference organized by the Lithuanian EU Presidency at Mykolas Romeris University, September 23-24, 2013.
Coinciding with the Vilnius conference, the European Environmental Humanities Alliance has launched an interim website to report on developments occurring within the Alliance and to serve as a point of contact with potential European partners and relevant agencies during the forthcoming visioning process.