Ecological Temporalities Across Disciplines

Timescales Logo

Based on the Timescales conference from October 2016, a forthcoming volume assembles together academic pieces, personal essays, and creative works to explore questions of ecological temporalities across disciplines.

The University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

October 20-22, 2016


Ecological crises demand collaborative solutions across distant disciplines. New models for grappling with environmental disruption must account for the interaction of human and non-human systems—infrastructures that are both efficient and ethical, philosophies shaped by geological data, basic science that is informed by artistic expression. In recent decades, concepts like “Anthropocene” and “slow violence” have emerged in response to an increasing need to address the temporal aspects of global ecological concerns: Where in time do we place the origin of anthropogenic environmental change? How quickly (or slowly) do environments toxify, adapt, transform, or heal? How soon before we exceed irrevocable concentrations of atmospheric CO2, and what then?

These questions demand alternative modes of temporal engagement at the intersection of the arts, humanities, and natural and social sciences. The urgency of climate change means it is no longer sufficient for environmental scholarship to describe or explain our complex relationship to the natural world: it must—through visual modeling, storytelling, and public engagement—compel a response. Organized by the Penn Program inEnvironmental HumanitiesTimescales gathers local, regional, and international scholars, artists, and public-sector and grassroots activists to participate in conversations about the nature of environmental time that integrate diverse forms of knowledge. Featured speakers include:

  • Dagomar Degroot, Assistant Professor of Environmental History, Georgetown University

  • Wai Chee Dimock, William Lampson Professor of English & American Studies, Yale University

  • David Evans, Professor of Geology & Geophysics, Yale University

  • Ömür Harmanşah, Associate Professor of Art & Art History, University of Illinois at Chicago

  • Dale Jamieson, Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy, New York University

Reimagining traditional conference structures, Timescales combines robust transdisciplinary conversation between established scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates, with site-based events and engagements with art and activism oriented toward a broad public in the university and Philadelphia communities. DATE/UM, an archive-as-mobile installation, features the collaborations and interventions developed by an eclectic roster of academics, activists, artists, and various Philadelphia-based communities specifically around the problem of reconciling the various temporalities and ecologies of and within the Lower Schuylkill River (LSR) and its watershed, ultimately considering Philadelphia’s post-industrial landscape as actant rather than backdrop. Film screenings investigate perceptions of the nonhuman environment and clashes and co-minglings between urban and rural landscapes and livelihoods. Installations and events foreground sites of environmental violence, spurring dialogue on the ethics and politics of ecological reaction times.

The central conference, taking place October 20th-22nd, 2016 at the Kislak Center for Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania, will anchor public programming throughout the fall semester at our other partner centers, International House and Bartram’s Garden. Our inquiries together are meant to foster alternative temporalities at the intersection of the humanities and the natural sciences and so to reorient our ethical priorities.