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Title: Confluence of arts, humanities, and science at sites of long-term ecological inquiry

Author: Swanson, Frederick J.;

Date: 2015

Source: Ecosphere

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: Over the past century, ecology, the arts, and humanities diverged, but are now converging again, especially at sites of long-term, place-based ecological inquiry. This convergence has been inspired in part by the works of creative, boundary-spanning individuals and the long-standing examples of artshumanities programs in intriguing landscapes, such as artist and writer residencies of the National Park Service and the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic program. In the past decade many US biological field stations, marine laboratories, and Long-Term Ecological Research sites have substantially increased the presence of arts and humanities in their programs for reasons both practical (e.g., public outreach, increasing student and class offerings) and fundamental (e.g., foster creativity within individuals and research teams, collect a record of artistic/humanities engagement with place). Motivations include communicating about science agencies’ missions, the scientific process, and science discoveries to the public who support the research work. The overarching accomplishment of this work has been to advance near-term ‘‘science outreach,’’ but some of this work can be viewed as ‘‘basic’’ arts and humanities in the sense that its impacts won’t be known for a long time. A next challenge is for interdisciplinary teams to address complex problems, which falls in the ‘‘intellectual merit’’ realm of the National Science Foundation evaluation criteria. The growing body of works at the ecology-arts-humanities interface will be a valuable resource for future study of science-society-nature relations. These efforts potentially contribute to initiatives emerging from the ecological sciences community that seek greater connection with society— initiatives promoting sustainability and stewardship, and the practice of science citizenship, such as development of future scenario projects and regional conservation plans. Despite the large number of programs undertaking these collaborations, their existence is a well-kept secret with little representation on individual site websites and no organized network to support the work. The strong, grassroots emergence of arts, humanities, and science collaborations at sites of long-term ecological inquiry signals a recognition that these are places of cultural as well as scientific work. Their appearance late in ESA’s first century may foreshadow an important role for such endeavors in the next century of ESA.

Keywords: art, artists in residence, ESA Centennial Paper, field stations, humanities, long-term ecological research, marine laboratories, writers in residence.

Publication Notes:

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Swanson, Frederick J. 2015. Confluence of arts, humanities, and science at sites of long-term ecological inquiry. Ecosphere. 6(8): art132-.


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