By Yuan Julian Chen
In the past weekend (April 28-30), leading scholars on water studies from all over the world gathered at the John Hope Franklin Center for a three-day, closed-door workshop, “Histories and Society in the Hydrosphere.”
Water is a keystone component of the natural world and is intimately linked to human societies and human bodies in a multitude of forms and ways. In this workshop, speakers examined water in different forms, from ice to humidity, from ocean currents to bottled waters, from atmospheric moisture to body fluid, and so forth. They closely studied how these different forms of water interacted with human society, both collectively and individually, and how we could better understand the histories of human societies through the lens of the hydrosphere.
This workshop also contributes to the Climate Commitment initiative of Duke University. Many themes addressed in this three-day event -- heatwaves, hurricanes, rising sea levels – are closely related to the complex process of climate change. Participants of the workshop not only addressed these issues from the historical and philosophical perspective, but also supplemented the lively discussions with forward-looking concerns and recommendations for contemporary society.
The genesis of this workshop was the article “Oceans as the Paradigm of History” published by Professor Prasenjit Duara, Oscar L. Tang Family Distinguished Professor of East Asian Studies and the Director of GAI and APSI, in 2021. Planned and organized by Professor Duara and Dr. James Wescoat, Aga Khan Professor of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this workshop is a continuation of the fruitful discussion of the “Hydrological Cycle and Historical Societies” held on Zoom last year in February. Works presented at these two workshops will be selected and compiled into a volume that will transform the field of water studies.
For more information about this event, including abstracts of the papers presented at the workshop, visit https://sites.duke.edu/terrestrialhistoriesinthehydrosphere/