The environmental humanities are a booming field. With good reason: if climate crisis and large scale environmental destruction have taught us one thing, it is that these issues cannot be tackled without a sound insight into the role played by culture. Far from presenting us with merely technological or economical challenges, the environmental crisis reveals deep-seated problems in the ways we imagine the relation between human beings and the material world. First and foremost, therefore, the environmental humanities partake in a fundamental cultural critique.
This challenge led to the establishment of international academic associations in the 1990s, as well more local, regional approaches. The Benelux Association for the Study of Art, Culture, and the Environment (BASCE, pronounced baisy) was founded in 2012. It is an interdisciplinary tri-national platform through which all those who are interested in the environmental humanities can be informed about the latest national and international developments, as well as exchange ideas and plans for research projects. The platform, now hosted by the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis, may in the course of time become an affiliated organization of ASLE-UKI, EASLCE, and NIES, with which it will closely cooperate. The platform brings together teachers, scholars from various disciplines, artists, writers, environmentalists, students, and all those interested in the relation between art, culture, and environmental issues in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg.
Building on the modern environmental thought that responded to a growing sense of environmental crisis in the 1960s and 1970s (as expressed, for example, in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), the environmental humanities have grown into a broad, international, interdisciplinary field that relates to topics as widely diverse as interspecies justice, the environmental dimensions of historical phenomena such as nation-building, the role of grief and mourning in theories of the environment, the relation between queerness and veganism, bio-art, and the ecocritical analysis of literature and visual art. As a “meta-contextual” form of inquiry (Clark), ecocriticism is equally diverse in its theoretical approaches (that range from posthumanist new materialism to discourse analysis, visual analysis, or phenomenology) and the genres and media it comprises.
In the 1990s, environmental humanities associations were founded in the US and Europe, thus adding institutional solidity to a growing academic field. The U.S.-based association ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment), now has 1300 members in 30 countries. ASLE’s European counterpart and affiliated association, EASLCE (the European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture, and the Environment), is active in expanding the scope of ecocriticism in Europe, as is NIES (the Nordic Network for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies) in Stockholm and the Rachel Carson Center in Munich.
In the Benelux, we are also witnessing a growing interest in the environmental humanities. In January 2010, Radboud University (Nijmegen) hosted an international conference at which several Dutch scholars with an interest in ecocriticism met for the first time. One of the first humanities-master’s courses dedicated to the environmental humanities were taught at Leiden University in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. Most scholars, however, bring environmental issues as an additional theme in research or teaching that is primarily concerned with, for example, art, social geography, ecopoetry, philosophy (new materialism), sustainability, environmental history, posthumanism, science studies, gender studies, or postcolonialism. As the enthusiasm for the environmental humanities grows in the Benelux, the need for dialogue and collaboration grows too.
- To create a dynamic platform for the exchange of ideas, plans, and information about national and international developments;
- To support, strengthen, and expand the study of art, culture, and the environment in the Benelux, by stimulating collaborative publications and research projects, organizing lectures, workshops, PhD-seminars, and conferences, and by hosting a website;
- To work in close collaboration with our European sister-associations to support European research in art, culture, and the environment, with a special focus on Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourgian environments (in their global context);
- To make complex academic research accessible to a more general public (teachers, policy-makers, artists, and all those interested).