On May 20, 2016, more than 300 students, scholars, members of the general public, and NYBG staff poured into Ross Hall for Alexander von Humboldt: The History, Science, and Poetry of Ecology. There they listened intently to three remarkable interdisciplinary speakers: author Andrea Wulf, ecologist Stephen Kellert, and poet Susan Stewart.
The Symposium also coincided with—in fact, it officially opened—NYBG’s Science Open House, held from May 20–22, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the laboratories, Herbarium, and other scientific departments of this premier plant research institute. This annual weekend saw a vast increase in the number of participants enjoying the various tours and Garden-wide demonstrations, due in part to the excellent introduction provided by Barbara Thiers, Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and Vice President for Science, before the Symposium started.
On Friday, February 26, 2016, the Humanities Institute hosted the colloquium Ethical Spaces: Landscapes and Environmental Law. Promoting innovative thinking about the rapidly urbanizing world we live in, the discussion centered on land, law, and ecology, focusing on the four classic elements—air, earth, fire, and water. Featuring three experts from Fordham University, the discourse ranged from bird migration (air) to legal ramifications of land ownership and social vulnerability (earth, fire) and the many challenges facing New York City’s waterfronts (water).
On September 25, 2015, the Humanities Institute hosted a special Study Day for members of the Society of Architectural Historians. Celebrating its 75th anniversary, SAH has for many decades provided important leadership in furthering the understanding of architecture, landscapes, and urban planning, encouraging new design solutions and conserving the world’s cultural heritage. The Society aims to inspire critical thinking about the central role that architecture and landscape design play in the quality of everyday life.
On June 26, 2015, The Humanities Institute conducted its fourth seasonal interdisciplinary colloquium, in the Readers Room-Auditorium of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. With these more informal round table conversations the Humanities Institute has been able to start the process of reconnecting the various disciplines within the arts and sciences that form part of the environmental humanities: the complex relationship between nature, culture, cities, and society.
This Summer Colloquium’s topic, From the Garden of Eden to the Megalopolis: Mexico City Before and After Kahlo, was inspired by the Garden-wide Frida Kahlo exhibits and focused on the architectural and ecological historical development of Mexico City. The capacity crowd included a diverse mix of university faculty members and graduate fellows, art and architectural historians, as well as architects and urban planners, botanical and horticultural experts.
“We all need the living green or we’ll shrivel up inside. To make the modern city livable is the task of our times.”
– Jens Jensen
On Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, The Humanities Institute hosted New York City’s only screening of the award-winning documentary, Jens Jensen The Living Green. Followed by a panel featuring the film’s director and scholars in ecological landscape design, the event attracted more than 200 people in an exploration of the work of Jens Jensen (1860–1951) and its relevance to today’s urban environmental issues. Jensen was a passionate environmental activist and now, 50 years after his death, he is hailed as a pioneer of sustainable design, an early champion of native species, and a visionary landscape designer.
By exploring innovative approaches to studies in the environmental humanities, the Humanities Institute aims to bridge the gap between the arts and sciences. To further the connection between the disciplines, the Institute offers short- and long-term fellowship programs for students and scholars from a wide range of backgrounds and holds a number of events, including symposia, seminars, and colloquia.
Various seminars and colloquia, or dynamic “round table brainstorming sessions,” were held in July and September in which graduate students from New York universities and institutes of art and science—including the Bard Graduate Center, the Cooper Hewitt-Smithsonian Design Museum, and Fordham University—participated. The events featured a historic book and manuscript viewing in the Mertz Library’s Rare Book Room, followed by lively debate. During the discussions, students tried to define what form a humanities research center should take on to be most relevant in today’s rapidly changing world.
The audience asked insightful questions relating to the topic of women as architects and photographers—a topic linked to the Garden-wide exhibitionGroundbreakers. “Cities are the grand challenge of the 21st century, and for over one hundred years women have played a crucial, if under-celebrated, role in shaping and adapting our urban spaces,” explained Thaisa Way (University of Washington, Seattle). This award-winning landscape historian moderated the fascinating morning session that featured four experts in landscape scholarship and practice, including Susannah Drake (Founding Principal, dlandstudio, Brooklyn), Sonja Dümpelmann (Harvard Graduate School of Design), Linda Jewell (University of California Berkeley), and Mary Woods (Cornell University).