New Rice University center is first to connect human sciences, energy, environmental research

A new center at Rice University will merge the fields of human sciences with energy and environmental research.

DOMINIC BOYER

Conveniently located in the country’s energy capital, Rice’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) will be the world’s first research center that focuses on understanding the relationship among humans, energy and the environment.

“As part of Rice’s ongoing commitment to world-class initiatives in energy and environmental research, we believe the humanities and interpretative social sciences are well-positioned to inaugurate a vibrant, dynamic and robust new center that symbolizes the qualities, the distinctiveness of this institution and our aspirations in this area,” said Rice Provost George McLendon.

The center will be part of Rice’s Energy and Environment Initiative (E2I), a universitywide effort that supports interdisciplinary research and draws experts from every corner of the university to work with Houston’s energy industry to overcome barriers to the sustainable development and use of current and alternative forms of energy.

Professor of Anthropology Dominic Boyer will serve as CENHS’s founding director. “A common purpose unites us in the center: the effort to leverage all the intellectual resources of the university to help investigate the causes and consequences of the impact of human life on this planet and to discover ways of making the footprint of human society less heavy,” Boyer said. “We have just taken a significant step forward with Rice’s decision to found the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences.”

The center is an outgrowth of Rice’s Cultures of Energy initiative, which was established in 2011 as an interdisciplinary platform for promoting humanities research and teaching related to energy and the environment. It was established with seed funding from Rice’s Humanities Research Center and is currently supported by a Sawyer Seminar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Boyer said the CENHS mission will be determined collectively by faculty, students and administrators in the months to come. The center’s work this year in the context of the Sawyer Seminar grant has already generated a number of research clusters, Boyer said, including a partnership with the Rice Arts Initiative to sponsor energy and environmental art on campus and in Houston. Additional inaugural research activities include an investigation of the social and material infrastructures upon which modern life depends and considering how they might change; the development of a distinctive philosophical and ethical approach to today’s energy challenges; an analysis of the aesthetics and imaginations of catastrophe, present and past; and exploration of the resiliency and activities of communities as they respond to energy development and its environmental implications.

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