Human-environment intersections require investigation through research that is transdisciplinary and creative. While this has always been the case, our current context as researchers in a time period of anthropogenic climate change makes this even more imperative if we are to fully understand how the human present and future intersects with our past. In this talk, I interweave archaeological and Earth science data to consider how the intersections of long-held cultural beliefs and oral traditions conjoin with contemporary science and technology. My examples draw upon my fieldwork in highland western Panamá, a sacred site on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the Merapi volcano in Java, the Chaitén volcano in Patagonia, and contemporary New York City. Volcanism forms the main crux of my long-term interest as I view it as a proxy for radical environmental changes and geological transformations that humans have witnessed for millions of years. Drought, sea-level rise, and what is termed “managed retreat” have become increasingly important components of my recent research considerations. In researching environmental phenomena and radical environmental change, I regularly return to a phrase from Michel Serres’ The Natural Contract (1995: 3-4) in which he states, “Rare phenomena are striking, but they shouldn’t surprise us. Global history enters nature; global nature enters history: this is something utterly new in philosophy.” I suggest that what is uniform over wide temporal and geographical ranges in human existence is the deep, complex discomfort that we feel when the Earth system radically changes and we feel no sense of control.
Karen Holmberg is an archaeologist and volcanologist who looks at radical climate changes of the past to determine what they can or cannot tell us about our environmental present and future. She holds an MA, MPhil, and PhD from Columbia University and a BA from the University of Virginia. Her research has been funded by Fulbright, Mellon, Wenner-Gren, National Geographic, and Make Our Planet Great Again awards. She has taught at Brown and Stanford Universities. She is a Research Scientist at New York University (NYU), Scientific Director of the NYU Gallatin WetLab, and member of the *This is Not a Drill* working group on technology, the climate emergency, equity, and creative practice through the Future Imagination Fund at NYU-Tisch. She also serves as the Engineering Writing Fellow at Cooper Union. She is deeply interested in how creative outreach of science and engineering insights can contribute to more sustainable and equitable societies.
New York University