Creating Earth Futures: Exploring GeoHumanities Approaches to Global Environmental Change

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Geography


A recent article in 'Nature: Climate Change' (Castree et al. 2014) asked what kinds of global environmental change research for what sorts of earth futures? In other words it queried the questions and methods the research community should use to develop the knowledge required to understand and face the challenges posed by ongoing and uncertain changes in the earth's environmental systems. The paper notes challenges the science community face from global environmental change (hereafter GEC) as both a complex research problem requiring multiple perspectives beyond those of science, and as a pressing issue that demands the gap between knowledge and action be closed. The solution its authors proposed was a more robust engagement with social science and humanities research perspectives. While they note that GEC research does recognise the value of interdisciplinarity, they find the current field to be based on limited conceptions of social science and to virtually ignore the humanities.

The aim of this fellowship is to investigate and promote the value of arts and humanities approaches to GEC research. It does so not only to assert the value of these approaches, but also as part of the wider advancement of the interdisciplinary field known as the GeoHumanities.

GeoHumanities is not a new field, but recent years have seen a convergence of arts and humanities scholarship and practice with geography's interdisciplinary concerns with environment, place and community. Key to current GeoHumanities work are creative research approaches that either produce art and/or use arts based research methods to generate 'data'. This might include, for example, a geographer-artist generating sound maps to explore the effects of sea-level rise or the development of community-based participatory-writing and performance workshops to explore local flood experiences and questions of water and citizenship.

While not as established as the fields of Medical Humanities or Environmental Humanities, GeoHumanities is becoming an increasingly formalized research terrain through edited collections, a new journal and a series of events, research projects and centers. As yet however, it lacks the critical commentary and strategic reflection found within more established fields. In response, this fellowship is designed to advance the GeoHumanities at a crucial point in its evolution and it will do so though exploring the value of arts and humanities approaches, specifically creative research approaches, to GEC research.

The fellowship will be delivered through three work packages of activities:
1)GeoHumanities Ethnographies: Ethnographic research on creative approaches to GEC, including projects in the global north and south and an artist residency instigated as part of the fellowship.
2)Networking GeoHumanities: An online forum and series of events designed to develop much-needed advocacy of creative approaches to GEC within and beyond that research community. This includes organising a series of early career collaborations to support the next generation of scholars and practitioners to develop new creative projects in this field.
3)GeoHumanities At Large: An exploration of audience engagement with creative approaches to GEC, and public advocacy for these approaches.

Working with two fellowship partners (an arts organisation engaged with GEC and a research networking organisation) these activities will;
a) generate intellectual leadership on the form and import of creative research approaches to GEC
b) advocate for creative research approaches within and beyond the academy by creating spaces for dialogue
c) respond to widespread calls for an evidence base around the effects of creative approaches to GEC on their publics

Together these activities will shape research agendas in GEC and in the emerging interdisciplinary field of the GeoHumanities, and advocate for such agendas within and beyond the academy.

Planned Impact

In line with the fellowship's goals to investigate and promote creative research approaches to global environmental change (GEC) and to use these findings to advance the wider interdisciplinary field of the GeoHumanities, it will deliver impact in three key areas:

1) Exploring the potential of creative approaches to assemble publics and engage wider stakeholders with questions of GEC
A recent Arts Council England evidence review noted the lack of evidence of how arts and culture impact on people's engagements with and understandings of the environment.

2) Promoting the potential of creative research approaches to GEC to the wider scientific community
Creative research approaches have much to offer those concerned with GEC, currently however they are rarely engaged by the wider science community, especially those working beyond academia.

3) Examining the form of research ecologies and infrastructures that can best support creative research approaches
We have yet to understand the research cultures and politics that are best able to support and enable the kinds of creative research approaches and collaborations that are the focus of this fellowship.

In order to respond to the issues in these three areas and maximise the impact of the fellowship the PI will work with two project partners; the arts organisation Tipping Point who support and develop creative engagements with GEC, and The Cultural Capital Exchange a leading research mediating organisation concerned to bring arts and academia together. As the Pathways to Impact document details, impact will be delivered across all three fellowship work packages (see objectives above). Key impact activities include events in the GeoHumanities Network targeted at beyond academy stakeholders and the production and dissemination of two project impact reports, 'Audiencing Creative Earth Futures' and 'Supporting Creative Collaborations: Artists in the Academy'.

The key non-academic beneficiaries are as follows;
1) Arts organisations and creative practitioners interested in GEC and public engagement
There is a clear need for further evidence of the impact of arts and culture on the public's understanding of environmental issues and sustainability. The fellowship will contribute to this evidence base through exploring how creative research approaches engage publics. This evidence will help enable best practice and advocacy for creative approaches to GEC in the context of competitive arts funding climates that often require artists and organisations to seek funding from non-traditional arts sources.

2) Arts and Science organisations and practitioners interested in GEC and the GeoHumanities
Key to the fellowship is the GeoHumanities Network that will build an international and interdisciplinary network of creative practitioners and organisations, academics and science community stakeholders. It will particularly target the wider GEC science community. The on and off-line activities of the network will generate spaces for dialogue helping to cohere but also to promote and expand the community, collectivly exploring strategies and discussing challenges.

3) Those interested in the relationship between creative practices and academic research e.g. practitioners and funders
In an era when creative practitioners are engaging with the academy in increasingly formalised ways, whether this be through artistic residencies, fellowships or practice-based PhDs, an increasing number of individuals and organisations are concerned to understand, strategize and improve the place of artists in the academy. The findings developed during the fellowship will be of interest to them.

4) Those interested in art and public engagement
The wider community concerned with the cultural value of arts practices (e.g Arts Council, arts organisations, government and funders-AHRC, and science agencies) will be interested in the fellowship's evidence base around public engagement.


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Title -GeoHumanities Mappazine 
Description This 'mappazine' is a creative-critical account of the ideas and themes of GeoHumanities research being conducted at RHUL. A limited edition of 1000 were produced with Luce Choules from folded sheet. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The GeoHumanities have become more broadly understood. 
Title The Artificial Cave 
Description These workshops were produced in collaboration with artists Flora Parrott and Miriam Burke for academic and non-academic audiences at Tate Modern: Exchange, where it reached an audience of around 200, with a round 100 participants during a day of activities. The activities involved artistic explorations of and the staging of encounters with environments, whether through practices of knitting and crochet or through the making of 'cave' spaces using everyday materials. The workshops were designed to be very interactive and to encourage the building of environmental encounters not just reflections on them. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The activities were very well received by audiences. The Tate event drew alot of praise with feedback including ' this has been a brilliant experience ' ' very thought provoking' ' my favourite Tate workshop ever' . We have been invited back to discuss future workshops 
Title These Pits and Abysses 
Description A collaboration with artist Flora Parrott, this performance lecture involved the creation of an set of environments based on our experiences of underground spaces. Scientists and social scientists where they invited to present their work on caves and undersea environments within this space. I also presented my own research on cave spaces and interdisciplinary investigations. The performance was attended by almost 60 people and was in the Arts cafe in the Bussy Building, Peckham London. It is accompanied by documentation and eventually a collaborative article. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact - The collaboration led to Flora Parrott applying for and starting an AHRC funded PhD - the collaboration continues with further work in this area 
Description We developed about art and the environment some findings into a series of workshops held at Tate Modern that engaged communities with concerns around environmental change.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Phillip Leverhulme Prize
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 08/2019