Benjamin Morgan: In Human Scale: Climate Change and the Immeasurable

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


At a geological time scale, human activity is transforming the biosphere at an incredibly rapid rate. But in our everyday lives, we  experience these changes as slow or even imperceptible. This scalar disjuncture is a familiar problem for scholars in the sciences and in the policy community, who often seek to persuade the public that changes projected over the next century are catastrophically sudden. This talk proposes that humanities scholars may productively intervene in these debates by framing the conflict between human and inhuman time scales as an issue of historiography, representation, and value. How do quantitative metrics like degrees celsius or feet of sea-level rise become intertwined with non-numerical judgments of value? Can the narrative techniques of the novel, tragedy, or melodrama induce experiences of multiscaled historical consciousness that are salient to contemporary impasses? To explore these questions, this talk looks back to the nineteenth-century industrial origins of the climate change era, when novelists such as Thomas Hardy began to examine the human significance of new sciences of deep time and of the growth of fossil-fueled capitalism. Their work illustrates how methods and objects specific to the humanities can help us make sense of the inhuman scales of time that we continue to inhabit today.

Benjamin Morgan, PhD, from the University of Chicago's Department of English Language and Literature, comes to Duke as the final speaker in the series "Past Performance Is Indicative of Future Results." Professor Morgan's research and teaching focus on literature, science, and aesthetics in the Victorian period and early twentieth century. Particular areas of interest include nineteenth-century sciences of mind and emotion; aestheticism and decadence in a global context; and speculative and non-realist fiction, including gothic, science fiction, utopia, and romance. The lecture series is sponsored by Duke's Theater Studies department and the Franklin Humanities Institute. 

Smith Warehouse, Bay 4, Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall