Beyond Despair: Galvanizing Social Action through Environmental Humanities

October 30, 2019

students at the Story+ symposium
Team members Margot Armbruster, Anna He and Sarah Heilman during the Story+ Symposium (Photo: Jennifer R. Zhou)

When undergraduate student Anna He ’22 first came to Duke, she knew she wanted to study science. “As I was sitting in these science lectures, I felt like something was missing,” she recalls. “[There are] so many layers of cultural, social and political aspects that I knew I wanted to explore the environmental humanities.”

To help others understand critical environmental issues and inspire social action, she got involved in a Story+ summer research project with a focus on creating narratives. In conjunction with the National Humanities Center's Beyond Despair project, He and her team members produced the pilot episode of a new environmental humanities podcast.

In a video following the students’ work, undergraduate student Margot Armbruster ’22 explained that the team’s goal was to create a podcast that would be “both familiar and really large and radical.” 

The eight-episode podcast series aims to highlight intricate connections between humans and nature, as well as inspire social change and positive environmental action among listeners. The podcast will feature a range of stories, both global and local, that will explore how the intersection of scientific and humanistic understandings of climate change can address environmental challenges beyond traditional narratives of inaction and despair.

We want people to become more invested in their communities, whether it’s the bees in our backyard, the local strawberry farmers or our neighbors across the sea. –Anna He

student working on the podcast
Margot Armbruster, Anna He, Sarah Heilman and graduate mentor Kathleen Burns discussing the podcast goals

The pilot episode of the podcast features Durham-based photographer Justin Cook, who has been following a historical plot of land affected by environmental change. Cook talks about his project exploring how environmental change is altering the physical landscape and impacting people’s identities, history and culture. 

Facts alone are not enough to change people’s minds. We need the stories, we need the emotion to help foster environmental change. –Anna He

About Story+

Story+ is a six-week paid summer research experience for undergraduate and graduate students interested in bringing academic research to life through dynamic storytelling.

Undergraduates work in small teams with graduate student mentors, in a collaborative and creative research environment. Students learn to conduct qualitative, humanities-based research (e.g., archival research, narrative analysis, visual analysis, ethnography) and to communicate their research through effective storytelling techniques. Final projects may take the form of writing, websites, exhibits, short films or other genres, depending on the project’s goals.

The Franklin Humanities Institute invites proposals from Duke faculty, archivists and other campus and community members for the Summer 2020 edition of Story+. Proposals are due by 5:00 p.m. on November 4.

Learn More

Video by Eric Barstow and Nonnie Egbuna for the Franklin Humanities Institute