5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Historians and the Anthropocene

Climate denialism comes in many forms.  While most historians understand that the planet faces severe environmental challenges, few consider its impact on our profession. Professors Julia Adeney Thomas and John McNeill will argue that both Earth history and human history have now entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene, a time in which humankind exerts a dominant influence over basic features of the global environment and consider what that means for the practice of history. McNeill explains why some geologists find "the Anthropocene" a compelling concept and explores the new relationship between earth science and history, focusing on the peculiarities of periodization in history vs geology.  Thomas speaks to the issues of historical agency and history's political function arguing that Anthropocene history is not the same as environmental history.

Julia Adeney Thomas teaches history at the University of Notre Dame. Her publications include Reconfiguring Modernity: Concepts of Nature in Japanese Political Ideology (winner of the AHA John K. Fairbank Prize), Japan at Nature's Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power, and more than forty articles including "History and Biology in the Anthropocene: Questions of Scale, Questions of Value" in the AHR and "The Uneasy Alliance between Scientists and Non-Scientists in the Neoliberal University" in Environmental History.

John McNeill is a historian at Georgetown University and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Union of the Geological Sciences.  His most recent books are The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (with Peter Engelke) and Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (winner of the AHA Beveridge Prize).

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.



  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center
  • Eric Arnesen

    Professor of History, The George Washington University