2019W Term 2
Instructor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi
Class Meetings: TTh, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
In a widely-read essay, Dipesh Charkrabarty observes that “anthropogenic explanations of climate change spell the collapse of the age-old humanist distinction between natural history and human history” (Critical Inquiry 2009, 201). What, exactly, does Charkrabarty mean here by “natural history”? In pursuing this question, we’ll explore the history of this genre in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including Philemon Holland’s translation of Pliny and works by Francis Bacon, Margaret Cavendish, Thomas Browne, and Gilbert White, to get a sense of natural history’s goals, its adjacent fields of inquiry (antiquarianism, collections of wonder, experimental science, and encyclopedism), and its practitioners. We’ll then be in a position to assess this genre’s persistence in popular, artistic, and scientific writings about the Anthropocene, which is the new (and highly contested) name for our current geological epoch. Some of this writing even dates the emergence of the Anthropocene to the early seventeenth century. More broadly, we’ll want to ascertain how this body of writing incorporates and updates for the Anthropocene natural history’s abiding goals. Our primary readings here will include Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014) and Gregg Mitman, Marco Armiero, and Robert S. Emmett’s Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene (2018).