A Unique Contribution: Arts and Humanities Research and the Environment

Cover of the AHRC Environment Report

Environmental change is among the great challenges of our age. This AHRC publication looks at our contribution into this research area highlights how the arts and humanities can provide new perspectives on the weather, climate change, and natural history, each with important implications for the way we engage people in caring for and protecting their environment.

To coincide with the publication of the report Rodney Harrison, Professor of Heritage Studies at University College London and the AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellow, looks at how we can build on the achievements of the AHRC's research funding into the environment.

Professor Rodney Harrison
AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellow, Professor Rodney Harrison

The Working Group on the Anthropocene, an international network of academics, recommended in 2016 that we should designate the current era as the ‘Anthropocene’, a new geological epoch in which humans are recognised as the primarily force of global geological and environmental change.

The move spearheads a new understanding of the complicated inter-relationships of humans and their environments. From extreme weather to climate change and ‘nature’ itself, the arts and humanities are uniquely placed to explore these connections, as well as the role of humans embedded within — rather than separated from — the natural world.

The AHRC’s Future Heritage Research Strategy takes forward the findings of a previous decade of investment in this area to prioritise exploring the interconnections of natural and cultural heritage, suggesting the need for a more complicated, hybrid view of heritage “naturecultures”, and in doing so foster and encourage innovative interdisciplinary research across the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences.

Like the research presented in the AHRC Environment Report, the Strategy also recognises the growing interconnections with policy and practice, both in the UK and internationally, and increasing moves towards research co-production with heritage institutions, practitioners and communities. Such opportunities for pathways to research impact have important potential benefits both within the environment and heritage sector, and beyond.

By fostering and developing international collaborative opportunities and increasingly transnational research agendas, the AHRC — through its investments both in relevant funded themes, in the Heritage Priority Area and more generally — aims to further develop heritage research as an innovative and broad cross-disciplinary field to strengthen cross-disciplinary links between the arts and humanities and the sciences, broaden engagement across arts and humanities disciplines in heritage research, and support research innovation and ambition and challenging, critically reflective research.

It does so through prioritising research on, for example: the values of natural and cultural heritage; new forms of community engagement; sustainable management practices; practices of use and re-use; intangible, emerging, hidden and contested heritage; changing heritage economies; heritage and conflict; and global heritages and international development.

Funding opportunities provided by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) will become increasingly important in driving international, challenge-led research which acknowledges and investigates the interconnections of humans and their environments.

The GCRF provides considerable impetus to explore and demonstrate the significant contributions that the arts and humanities might make towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals.

The research profiled in this publication provides a meaningful indication of this potential. Such approaches will be key to building more sustainable futures in the Anthropocene.

Rodney Harrison, Professor of Heritage Studies at UCL and AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellow.

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