Past Events & Symposia

Threshold: Biodiversity, Climate, and Humanity at a Crossroads

Thursday, March 9, 2017
Arthur and Janet Ross Hall; 10 a.m.

Presented by the Humanities Institute in collaboration with the Center for Science and Society of Columbia University

Humanity has reached a crossroads in the effort to combat climate change and protect biodiversity. As Earth’s temperature rises closer to the danger limit set forth by scientists and world leaders in the Paris Agreement, so does the risk of a range of truly catastrophic events, including extreme weather, rising sea levels, and mass extinctions. How have we come so close to such a critical threshold? How can we stop ourselves from crossing it?

In Threshold, three renowned scholars will discuss the implications of the climate crisis for the future of life on Earth. By exploring the variety of scientific, cultural and political relationships between humanity and biodiversity over time, these experts will address the elements needed to respond to the most daunting challenge in human history. Threshold will conclude with a panel discussion and questions from the audience on the prospects for a new environmental ethic for the 21st century.


Shahid Naeem is Chair of Ecology in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University, and Director of Science in the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability, a multidisciplinary consortium aimed at the promotion of research related to environmental sustainability. Naeem has contributed numerous articles, papers and publications to important ecological journals and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ursula K. Heise is the Marcia H. Howard Chair in Literary Studies in the Department of English and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. Author of several books, including Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (2016), she co-edits The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities. Heise was a Guggenheim Fellow and President of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.

John Nagle is the John N. Matthews Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana where he teaches courses on environmental law, legislation and property in the United States and China. He received various Distinguished Lectureship awards to teach in China and has (co)authored more than 10 books and has published extensively in prestigious legal journals, including the Yale Law Journal and University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

Great Collections and the Art of Nature

Friday, January 27, 2017
Humanities Institute LuEsther T. Mertz Library; 2–3:30 p.m.

Presented by the Humanities Institute—LuEsther T. Mertz Library
In conjunction with the exhibition Redouté to Warhol: Bunny Mellon’s Botanical Art, curated by Lucia Tomasi, Susan Fraser, and Tony Willis

Hosted by the Humanities Institute—LuEsther T. Mertz Library, this Colloquium is organized in conjunction with the exhibition Redouté to Warhol: Bunny Mellon’s Botanical Art, and focusses on the theme of great collectors and exceptional botanical art collections. Open to the public, this round-table will feature presentations by various experts who will each discuss, in different ways, the remarkable art of botanical collecting and some of its most famous protagonists, throughout the 20th-century and up to the present.


Sir Peter Crane, President, Oak Spring Garden Foundation: Oak Spring as a New Research Center

Therese O’Malley, Associate Dean, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art: Great Collectors of Botanical Art and Their Legacy

Lugene Bruno, Curator of Art & Senior Research Scholar, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University: Rachel Hunt’s Botanical Art Collection as a Modern Research Center

Elizabeth Eustis, Independent Scholar, contributing author Flora Illustrata: The David L. Andrews and Elizabeth Kals Reilley Collections in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of The New York Botanical Garden


Alexander Von Humboldt:
The History, Science, and Poetry of Ecology

May 20, 2016
Ross Hall; 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Andrea Wulf, author of one of the New York Times' Ten Best Books for 2015, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, kicks off our symposium celebrating the visionary naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859). Among other accomplishments, Humboldt was the first to predict human-induced climate change, and wrote narratives that influenced great minds from Goethe to Darwin. Celebrated poet Susan Stewart and distinguished ecologist Stephen Kellert join Wulf to explore the rich and wide impacts of Humboldt's life and work.

Summer Colloquium:
From the Garden of Eden to the Megalopolis:
Mexico City Before and After Kahlo

Learn more about this past event.

Friday, June 26; 2–4:30 p.m.
In the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Reading Room
Join us at The New York Botanical Garden for an afternoon of lively discourse on landscape architecture and ecology in Mexico City, inspired by the Garden-wide exhibition, FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life. Featuring experts in environmental studies and urban planning, the roundtable is meant to create a forum for new thinking about nature and rapidly changing modern environments.

Dr. Vera Candiani, Princeton University
Dr. Kathryn O'Rourke, Trinity University

The Healing Properties of Plants: Art, Culture, Science

Friday, February 20, 2015; 2–4 p.m.
In the Mertz Library Reading Room

The Humanities Institute is hosting a Winter Colloquium in collaboration with The New York Academy of Medicine. The colloquia will bring together students and teachers from a wide variety of interdisciplinary backgrounds to discuss medicinal plants and their intersection with art, culture, and science. Several NYBG botanists, researchers, and current Visiting Scholars at the Humanities Institute, will join the conversation as well as students and professors from surrounding academic institutions, including Fordham University, Columbia University, Bard Graduate Center, Montefiore Medical Center, among others.

The colloquia will be followed by light refreshments in the Mertz Library's Rotunda, a viewing of the exhibition Flora Illustrata: A Celebration of Botanical Masterworks, and an in-depth tour of the exhibition Wild Medicine in the Tropics in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

The Humanities Institute hosts quarterly colloquia to engage young scholars and scientists from different interdisciplinary backgrounds to promote the discussion of environmental humanities and its influence on today's urban living experience. Learn more about past colloquia on NYBG's Blog, Plant Talk.

To attend the colloquia, please RSVP to by February 15, 2015.

Jens Jensen The Living Green

Award-winning Documentary Film Screening and
Panel Discussion

6:30–8:30 p.m. (Doors open at 6 p.m. Light refreshments available for purchase.)
Join us for the New York premiere of this award-winning documentary on Jens Jensen (1860–1951)—the Danish immigrant who rose from street sweeper to "dean of American landscape architects" and passionate environmental activist. Half a century after his death, Jensen is now hailed as an early champion of community gardens, neighborhood parks, native species, and sustainable design. After the screening, a panel explores Jensen's work and relevance to today's urban environmental issues.

Non-Member $19 / Member $15 / Full-time students with valid ID $10 at the door
Register here

Support provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Cosponsor: Library of American Landscape History

"A beautifully-made film about a man whose ideas for public space perfectly fit the time we live in." —Piet Oudolf

"A thoughtful, compelling and inspiring documentary." —Chicago Tribune