Long-term grant from Volkswagen Foundation

LMU’s Rachel Carson Center has received a 7-year grant from the Volkswagen Foundation, which for a project which will further strengthen its research into the social and cultural dimensions of environmental change.

In the context of its “University of the Future” (Hochschule der Zukunft) program, the purpose of which is to stimulate and support new developments in the Humanities, the Volkswagen Foundation has announced the award of a grant worth 1 million euros over a period of 7 years to the Rachel Carson Center (RCC) at LMU. The grant will be used to design a new Master’s study program that focuses on the interface between environmental and social sciences, and to develop innovative approaches to the teaching of this inherently interdisciplinary field. In addition, the award will provide funding for workshops, visiting professorships, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), field seminars, digital multimedia presentations and exhibitions.

“The ultimate goal of the project is to consolidate the position of LMU Munich as Germany’s – or indeed Europe’s – premier site for the study of Environmental Humanities,” says Professor Christof Mauch, the Director of the RCC. During the past decade, particularly in the English-speaking countries and in Scandinavia, the subject has become enormously popular, and now enjoya a level of success comparable to that of the Digital Humanities, he adds. A number of new centers and study programs devoted to the Environmental Humanities have been set up around the world. However, in German universities, relatively little work has been done on the relationship between the environment and contemporary societies, and the task of cultivating values and attitudes that are compatible with an environmentally sustainable future.

Indeed, LMU is the only university in Germany that offers a doctoral program in Environmental Humanities. The new grant from the Volkswagen Foundation will make it possible to broaden the range of topics covered by the curriculum and open up new areas of research. A working group which will include ethicists, geographers and biologists, as well as ethnologists, literary scholars and historians will coordinate the project. The interdisciplinary character of this committee reflects the fact that, whether one considers the repercussions of global warming or the rampant loss of biodiversity, ongoing environmental change will have an enormous influence on human habitats around the globe over the coming decades. This underlines the importance of studying the effects of human societies and their values and visions on the environment not only from the perspective of biologists, geologists and engineers, but also from cultural and sociological standpoints.

Next month, the new project will be officially initiated with a workshop, which will be attended by an international line-up of leading scholars in the Environmental Humanities, who have already established the subject successfully in their own institutions or are planning to do so. “We aim to be both creative and exceptional,” says Christof Mauch, “but we are also aware of the need for national and international cooperation, for the scale of the environmental challenges that confront us transcends national borders.”

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