Rob Nixon: Defining the environmental humanities

May 30, 2013

This week, University of Wisconsin-Madison English professor Rob Nixon receives the 2013 biennial award for best book in environmental literary studies  from the American Society for Literature and the Environment, for his 2011 book “Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.”

It’s the fourth award for Nixon’s book, which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2011. Other awards include: the 2012 American Book Award, the 2012 Sprout Prize from the International Studies Association, and the 2012 Interdisciplinary Humanities Award.

The book tackles grim topics such as radiation contamination, toxic drift, and the destruction of ecosystems and communities to make way for dams or mines.  By framing a discussion of “slow violence” — insidious, long-term threats to people and landscape — against a global body of literature, Nixon reveals the critical role of writer-activists in the fight for environmental justice around the world.

Rob Nixon
Rob Nixon

Nixon, who holds the Rachel Carson and Elizabeth Ritzmann endowed chair in the English department and is a faculty affiliate of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, will accept the award in person this week at the biennial American Society of Literature and the Environment conference at the University of Kansas, where he will also deliver the keynote address.

He says he is “delighted” with the latest recognition for “Slow Violence” from a growing, vibrant community of scholars and writers that reflects the interdisciplinary and international nature of the environmental humanities.

“I’ve been pleasantly startled by the response the book has received, particularly the recognition of its interdisciplinary ambitions,” he says.

Nixon’s next book will deal with the Anthropocene — the notion that we have entered a new epoch in which one species, Homo sapiens, has had such a profound effect on Earth’s physical systems that it is no longer possible to study or consider those systems as separate and independent of human beings.

“As a storyteller, I’m fascinated by the imaginative, narrative, and ethical dimensions to the Anthropocene — by the promise and the possible pitfalls of the term,” says Nixon.

The topic falls squarely within the interdisciplinary realm of the environmental humanities. This fall, Nixon will run a faculty development seminar on the changing face of environmental studies in the time of the Anthropocene, with support from the College of Letters & Science, the Institute for Research in the Humanities, and the Center for the Humanities.

This post originally appeared on the College of Letters & Science News & Notes.