Symposium to address “age of humans”


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Historians, writers, scientists, and performers from all over the world are gathering in Iowa City today to address what is called the “Anthropocene,” or the age of humans.

The University of Iowa will welcome scholars from several different fields of study to partake in a symposium addressing “Energy Cultures in the Age of the Anthropocene.”

“We’ve become a geological force of nature,” said Tyler Priest, a UI professor of history and geography. “This idea of large-scale human impacts on environments and ecosystems … is the center of Anthropocene.”

Priest is one of the three organizers of the event, with Bradley Cramer, a UI assistant professor of geoscience who researches bio-chemostratigraphy, and English Professor Barbara Eckstein.

Cramer said the word “Anthropocene,” broken down morphologically, is defined by “Anthro-“ humans, and “-cene,” a term used by geologists to describe a geologic era.

Literally defined, the Anthropocene describes an “Age of Humans.”

The symposium will take place at various campus facilities over the course of three days, ending on Saturday with an original choreographed dance by UI Associated Professor Jennifer Kayle and musical performance at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St.

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies hosts a symposium annually that assembles a variety of speakers, panelists, and artists to spark conversation and interest about a particular contemporary movement.

One of the main goals of this symposium, Priest said, is to draw attention to idea that issues involving energy and the Earth are not exclusive to the “hard sciences,” but that the Anthropocene is characterized by human interactions with the planet and one another.

These interactions, Priest said, would be best expressed not by geologists or chemists, but writers, poets, and historians.

“We began working on the symposium in the fall of 2013,” Cramer said. “Ty [Priest], Barbara, and I each had the opportunity to bring in a keynote speaker that covered our field. I chose Lonnie Thompson.”

Thompson, a distinguished earth-science professor at Ohio State University, will be one of the keynote speakers, describing his research on ice-core climatology.

“I’ve spent a lifetime with data looking for change over time by interacting with the physical world, but now I am looking forward to the change brought about by people,” Thompson said. “I want to see about humans … and see the interface between the science and humanities to get a global perspective.”

The event will feature three keynote speakers, the first of whom is Thompson.

On Friday, Charles Mann of The Atlantic will speak, and Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and poet, will speak on Saturday.

The event will also include three panels on which scholars of the different areas may converse.

The panels include titles such as Cultures of Energy in Transition, Energy Inequalities, and Imagining the Future of Energy and the Anthropocene.

On Saturday morning, Jeff Biggers, an Iowa City author and journalist, will give a “monologue with commentary” on bridging the gap between the sciences and humanities.

The symposium will begin today at 3:45 p.m. in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber.

“If we define this as the human era, we need to ask where did this era begin and, perhaps more frightening, where and how it will end,” Priest said.

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