Bristol Benjamin Meaker Distinguished Visiting Professor Julia Adeney Thomas, University of Notre-Dame, USA


V‌isit dates to be confirmed for 2021/22


Professor Julia Adeney Thomas is a historian of the Anthropocene and associate professor at the University of Notre Dame.  Through the generosity of the Bristol Benjamin Meaker visiting professorship, she joins Dr. Marianna Dudley, Dr. Daniel Haines, and the team at the Centre for Environmental Humanities in their effort to put our environmental challenges at the center of public conversations and scholarship. 

Few today doubt that the Earth System is under assault.  Almost daily, bad news about rising seas, habitat destruction, warmer temperatures, and disappearing topsoil rolls in.  But "Mobilizing History for the Anthropocene: Strategies of Resilience Past and Present" is determinedly hopeful.  Working with colleagues across the humanities and the sciences, Julia looks forward to outlining ways to go forward toward resilience with decency.   

Julia grew up in the coal country of southwest Virginia, and her sharp interest in environmental questions comes from her love of those mountains. As an intellectual historian of Japan, she has written about concepts of nature and the Anthropocene, political thought, historiography, and photography as a political practice. Her publications include Reconfiguring Modernity: Concepts of Nature in Japanese Political Ideology (winner of the AHA John K. Fairbank Prize), Japan at Nature's Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power, and Rethinking Historical Distance as well as over thirty-five essays including three ("The Cataracts of Time: Wartime Images and the Case of Japan," "Not Yet Far Enough: The Environmental Turn" and "History and Biology in the Anthropocene: Questions of Scale, Questions of Value") in the American Historical Review.  Her current projects include Visualizing Fascism: The Twentieth-Century Rise of the Global Right (Duke 2020), The Anthropocene (co-authored with geologists Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams, Polity, forthcoming) and The Historian's Task in the Anthropocene (under contract with Princeton University Press.)   


While in Bristol, Julia will work with Dr Marianna Dudley (Department of History), the members of the Centre for Environmental Humanities, and colleagues from the Sciences, on the project: ‘Mobilizing History for the Anthropocene: Strategies of Resilience Past and Present’. The broad aim is to demonstrate the value and potential of Anthropocene history to inform current research and policy, and start fruitful conversations across disciplines to initiate more collaborative thinking around Anthropocene histories at Bristol. The Anthropocene is the name given to the new geological epoch we find ourselves in, in which human activity has altered the functioning of the Earth System. Recognition of this new Epoch brings with it the urgent need to respond. Creating resilient societies within the ecological constraints of the Earth System is our century's most urgent challenge, and yet rarely do the different disciplines come together to share ideas about how this goal might be accomplished. Scientists tend to look to technological solutions, while humanists speak of meaning and social scientists examine political and economic models and policies. When the disciplines do come together, the focus is usually on Western societies. Julia’s next book project, which she will work on while at Bristol, conjoins scientific and social knowledge to explore what a resilient society might look like using the non-Western example of Tokugawa Japan (1600-1868). During this extraordinary period of peace, Japan was a resilient, highly functioning society. At peace for more than two hundred years, the country lived largely within its ecological bounds, neither importing food nor exporting people, at one of the highest levels of well-being in the world and with increasing equality between the Neo-Confucian samurai elite and the peasant class. In this historical arena, we can test ideas about stabilizing feedback loops in every sector of society from agricultural production and forestry to architecture, values, customs, gender-relations, and modes of political control. In addition to this work, a series of workshops will run, bringing together colleagues at multiple career stages from the Arts, Humanities and Sciences to develop shared methodologies and deepen our understandings of the possibilities, and challenges, of Anthropocene history.

Professor Thomas is hosted by Dr Marianna Dudley, History

Planned events include:

Public Lecture
Anthropocene History: New Practices for the New Epoch

Departmental Lecture (School of Humanities/History)
Practicing Hope in Anthropocene: Japan as a Case Study

Postgraduate Seminar
Working with Scientists: Why Historians Must Help Frame the Anthropocene Crisis

Dates, times and venues will be confirmed in due course