English Professor Named National Humanities Center Fellow

Noah Heringman
Kristi Galloway
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science

Noah Heringman, a professor in the English department, and his family will pack their bags this summer and travel from Columbia to the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina to spend a year at the National Humanities Center (NHC). Heringman was selected as a fellow of the NHC from a competitive field of 362 applicants.

During his time at the center, which he describes as “a writers retreat for scholars,” Heringman plans to work on his new book, Deep Time and the Prehistoric Turn. The book will look at the stretch of geologic history, which is commonly referred to as deep time, through the lens of 18th- and 19th-century speculations about human prehistory. The first part of his project will analyze the writings of shipboard naturalists from the Endeavour to the Beagle, while the second part will discuss the importance of these writings in the context of the current belief that we are in a new geological period, the Anthropocene.

The concept for this book stems from Heringman’s previous work, Sciences of Antiquity: Romantic Antiquarianism, Natural History, and Knowledge Work, and the riveting conversations he had with students during a course he taught on deep time and science. In the class, Heringman delved into the Anthropocene, a new name for our current period of time that marks the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.

Heringman sees evolutionary nostalgia as a cultural symptom of the Anthropocene. He explains, "The human longing for simplicity and oneness with nature is not new, but that longing is taking new forms in contemporary culture. Our nostalgia is driven by a new understanding of the place of our species in geological and evolutionary time." People are increasingly fascinated by humankind’s earliest ancestors. Popular fads like barefoot-style toe shoes and the Paleo diet express this nostalgia and may be a reaction to the understanding that humans have a lasting environmental impact on the earth. "This is all becoming much more salient as we are faced with the crisis of global warming," he says.

Heringman’s work will help shed light on deep time and the Anthropocene while sparking a contemporary conversation about the future of our species and our planet. His research will be enhanced thanks to the resources available at the center. All fellows receive assistance finding books and articles as well as proofing and printing services. Beyond the physical benefits, Heringman will also have access to a wealth of knowledge and perspective from the other scholars.

“I am very excited to meet the other fellows. We come from a wide variety of disciplines such as anthropology, religion, philosophy, and more. I anticipate the conversations we will share over lunch,” he says. “I know they will teach me more about this topic, and my work will be richer because of it. This is a very special opportunity, and I am honored to be a National Humanities Center Fellow.”

All 41 fellows will work on an individual research project and share ideas in seminars, lectures, and conferences held at the center. Geoffrey Harpham, director of the National Humanities Center, said, "I look forward to welcoming the fellows of 2014–15. They are a distinguished group of scholars whose work represents the latest thinking in the humanities; it's a privilege for the center to support their research."


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