Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Collaborative Campaign brings together Researchers from Columbia University and the Humanities Institute

Posted in From the Library, Humanities Institute on June 7 2017, by Vanessa Sellers

Photo of symposium participants
Participants of the workshop “Biodiversity and its Histories” gather in the Humanities Institute, Mertz Library, NYBG.

Over the course of the last three months, The New York Botanical Garden’s Humanities Institute and the Center for Science & Society at Columbia University have opened the front in a collaborative campaign for renewed dialogue about conservation, climate change, and the numerous other challenges that face the protection of biodiversity and the environment in the 21st Century.

On March 9, the Garden hosted three renowned speakers and a record number of attendees in the Ross Lecture Hall for the Fourth Annual Humanities Symposium, Threshold: Biodiversity, Climate, and Humanity at a Crossroads. Professor Shahid Naeem of the Earth Institute at Columbia University set the stage with a vivid and sobering description of the many problems that amateur conservationists as well as professionals face in the age of “The Sixth Extinction.” Professor Ursula Heise of the Department of English at UCLA and Professor John Nagle of the Law School at Notre Dame then followed with various challenges and solutions—Professor Heise with a plea for new narratives about extinction and biodiversity and Professor Nagle for a renewed look at previous models of protecting biodiversity, such as the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

Together with the questions raised by the audience, the contributions of Naeem, Heise, and Nagle made for a lively and stimulating discussion, an outcome that Sahar Hosseini, a Mellon Fellow in NYBG’s Humanities Institute, attributes to the way that the symposium “managed to bring to the table people from three different disciplines of the humanities, the sciences, and law.”

Photo of symposia
Participants enjoy an expert tour of the Native Plant Garden with Curator Michael Hagen.

The same spirit of interdisciplinarity guided the shared workshop that was held in the weeks that followed the Threshold symposium, on April 24–25, 2017. Born of a collaboration between the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge (UK) as well as Columbia University’s Center for Science & Society and NYBG’s Humanities Institute, the event brought together a range of scholars from around the world under the banner of “Biodiversity and its Histories.”

For two days in April, experts in biology, geology, geography, anthropology, and environmental history met and discussed a wealth of topics in the field of conservation, from the history of urban wildlife in the United States to the politics of parrot conservation in the Caribbean. The first day, held on campus at Columbia University, also included a tour of the biodiversity of Central Park, and the second, held at NYBG, featured a lunch at the Pine Tree Café and a guided walk through the Native Plant Garden. The workshop concluded with an open conversation about how to better understand, value, and foster biodiversity in the present as well as the historical past.

As they move forward, the Humanities Institute at The New York Botanical Garden and the Center for Science & Society at Columbia University hope to continue their collaboration and find new ways of fostering dialogue about some of the most pressing problems that we face as conservationists, citizens, and inhabitants of the world today.