"Expulsion from the Garden of Eden" by Thomas Cole, 1828. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Nobility for the environment

By

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

A prominent British biographer, broadcaster, eco-critic and Shakespearean is visiting Arizona State University this spring to elevate further the university’s already top-ranked humanities research.

From January to February 2019, Sir Jonathan Bate, professor and provost of Worcester College, Oxford University, is distinguished visiting professor in ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. He is consulting on an emerging medical humanities project, delivering several lectures on themes of sustainability and wellness — both on and off the ASU campus — and co-teaching an eco-literature course with ASU English Professor Mark Lussier.

“The presence of an international leader in green thinking and applied humanities,” suggested Lussier, who helped arrange Bate’s visit, “confirms the growing awareness of ASU as a location for the application of humanities solutions to complicated problems facing our cities, countries and world.”

Ideas planted — and growing — at ASU

This is not the scholar’s first visit to ASU. In 2015, drawing from research for his award-winning biography of Ted Hughes, Bate considered whether the famed British poet was an “Eco-Warrior or Eco-Worrier?” for the Provost’s Distinguished Lecture Series. Bate also spoke at a 2015 sustainability event, which, in part, planted the seed for his current visiting professorship and associated lecture series.

“Here at ASU, we have learned from humanities scholars the importance of human thought, behavior, creativity and imagination in making real progress toward a desirable, sustainable future for everyone,” said Christopher Boone, dean and professor in the ASU School of Sustainability. “We look forward to working with, and learning from, Sir Jonathan Bate.”

The 2019 lecture series “How the Humanities Can Save the Planet” will discuss how humanities thought can help generate imaginative solutions to environmental concerns. Bate is set to deliver three addresses: “Paradise Lost,” ASU’s annual Environmental Humanities Initiative Distinguished Lecture, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, which will explore how “fall” myths are related to sustainability; “The End of the World As We Know It” on Tuesday, Feb. 5, which will address apocalypse narratives; and “Living Sustainably” on Wednesday, Feb. 20, which will argue for the importance of a humanities-science marriage in solving ecological crises.

 / Courtesy photo
Sir Jonathan Bate

Bate and his wife, Lady Paula Byrne — a biographer, novelist and founding director of ReLit: The Bibliotherapy Foundation — will also each deliver talks for ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research series, “Humanities Interventions in Medical Environments.”

Topics include “Literature and Mental Health: The Warwick MOOC and/as Community Outreach and Medical Intervention” (Bate on Jan. 30) and “Bibliotherapy: Poetry, Practical Applications and Health Care Environments” (Byrne on Feb. 12). Other speakers in the series are Alison Essary, an ASU clinical professor of health care delivery; Lussier of ASU English; and Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavian, medical director of the Centers for Medicine and the Humanities at Mayo Clinic.

Nurturing sustainability philosophies

Bate’s residency is borne out of ASU’s commitment to sustainability research and practice, as well as the university’s leadership in the fields of environmental and health care humanities.

Jeffrey Cohen, the dean of humanities in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is among those whose work is situated in these cross-disciplinary fields. “What a thrill to have a pioneer of ecological approaches to the study of literature in residence with us this spring,” Cohen said. “Sir Jonathan Bate is exactly the kind of innovating polymath who will feel right at home at ASU.”

According to the National Science Foundation HERD survey, ASU ranks No. 4 in humanities research expenditures, ahead of Yale and Harvard. Specifically an international hub for environmental humanities research, ASU is the home of the Environmental Humanities Initiative directed by English professor Joni Adamson. Among other projects, the initiative helped establish the Humanities for the Environment network of global observatories.

Visiting scholar Bate was an “early adopter” of environmental humanities philosophies, reflected in two influential works of ecocriticism, “Romantic Ecology” (Routledge, 1991, Routledge Revival edition 2013) and “The Song of the Earth” (Picador/Harvard UP, 2000).

Sir Jonathan Bate speaks at ASU in 2015 / Photo by Bruce Matsunaga
Sir Jonathan Bate speaks at Old Main's Carson Ballroom during a visit to ASU in 2015. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga

Ecological principles and classical education

Bate has wide-ranging research interests not just in sustainability, but also in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, Romanticism, biography and life-writing, contemporary poetry, visual culture and theater history.

A literary scholar at heart, Bate is a Fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature, as well as an Honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. Bate has served on the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company, broadcast for the BBC, written for the Guardian, London's Times and Telegraph, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Times Literary Supplement, and has held visiting posts at Yale and UCLA. In 2006, he was awarded a CBE in Queen Elizabeth II's 80th birthday honors for his services to higher education. He has been vice president (leading the humanities) of the British Academy.

In January 2015, Bate became the youngest person ever to be knighted for services to literary scholarship.

His creative works include “Being Shakespeare,” a one-man play for Simon Callow, which toured nationally and played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe prior to three West End runs in London, as well as transfers to New York, Chicago and Trieste. He was consultant curator for the British Museum’s major Round Reading Room exhibition for the London 2012 Olympics Festival of Culture.

Bate will bring his considerable classical expertise to his and Lussier’s team-taught course, ENG 367: Environmental Issues in Literature and Film: Classic Texts & Contemporary Trends. The class curriculum will combine a revaluation of landmark works that helped define ecological thought (for example, Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”) with exploration of emerging forms and theoretical models.

Bate’s residency is supported by ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Institute for Humanities Research.

Top photo: Sir Jonathan Bate's Jan. 16 lecture will explore how “fall” myths — like the biblical Adam and Eve story — are related to sustainability. Image: "Expulsion from the Garden of Eden" by Thomas Cole, 1828. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons