LAWRENCE – The Carnegie Corporation of New York has selected a University of Kansas professor as one of the first recipients of its new fellowship for social sciences and humanities.
Greg Cushman, associate professor of history and environmental studies, is one of 32 scholars chosen from more than 300 nominees for the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship. The 2015 honorees are the inaugural class for the prestigious award.
“This is a tremendous honor for Greg and for KU,” said Don Steeples, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “Greg is an outstanding scholar whose work has garnered award after award. Recognition of this caliber provides further affirmation that our university’s researchers are among the top tier in the world.”
Cushman is an environmental historian who is known for his research on the human dimensions of climate change. His first book, “Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History” (Cambridge University Press, 2013), is one of the first studies to examine the environmental and cultural history of the modern world from the perspective of the whole Pacific Basin.
“Above all, I am honored to take part in a new grant program overtly created by the Carnegie Corporation to produce new insights into how we plan to face a long list of societal challenges,” Cushman said. “This isn’t just an honor for me, of course. It is a testimony to the amazing climate that exists here at KU for learning how societies engage with the natural world: from the Environmental Studies and IGERT C-Change programs, to my wonderful colleagues who study environmental history and humanities, to the many students who are planning to dedicate their lives to facing these problems head on.”
Cushman will use the Carnegie fellowship to complete a second book, “The Anthropocene and the Age of Revolution: A People’s History of the Earth Under Human Domination.” In the next few years, an international society of earth scientists is set to decide whether to declare that Earth is in the midst of a new epoch, the Anthropocene. The name of this epoch implies that human influence on the planet has been so significant that is has ushered in a new period of planetary history. Cushman’s book will explore the historical causes and human values that have brought human-nature relations to this juncture.
In contrast to scientific literature exploring the Anthropocene concept, which has emphasized the physical markers of human activity, as a “people’s history” this book will focus on the perceptions, motivations and decisions that have produced accelerating environmental change. The book’s emphasis on perspectives from the Global South and indigenous peoples will also make it distinct from other emerging scholarship on the Anthropocene.
“For a humanities scholar, it is so difficult and rare to obtain a grant that will help in so many ways with the completion of a project. As university faculty, our most precious — and often our most scarce — commodity is time,” Cushman said. “For example, this fellowship will enable me to spend extended time on Easter Island interviewing Rapanui elders about the challenges they and their people have faced in dealing with a degraded environment. It will enable me to examine closely how everyday things and activities we so often take for granted — such as the proliferation of concrete and cement structures — came into being and embody a completely different relationship with the planet when compared to our ancestors.”
Cushman has taught at KU since 2003 after he completed his doctorate in Latin American history at the University of Texas at Austin. He teaches courses on Latin America, science and technology studies, and the global environment—many of which involve interdisciplinary collaboration with natural and social scientists. His first book has been featured in Science, The Times Literary Supplement and on National Public Radio. It has received awards from the Agricultural History Society and the Southern Historical Association, and it was the inaugural winner of the Jerry Bentley Prize in World History from the American Historical Association.
The Carnegie Fellows will receive awards of up to $200,000 each, which will enable them to take sabbaticals in order to devote time to their research and writing. The fellowships aim to provide new perspectives on the program’s overarching theme for 2015: Current and Future Challenges to U.S. Democracy and International Order. Carnegie Corporation of New York was established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the Corporation's work focuses on the issues that Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: international peace, the advancement of education and knowledge, and the strength of our democracy.
The Department of History and Environmental Studies Program are part of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit. Through innovative research and teaching, the College encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers.