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Sustainability Project Speakers

The Program in American Studies Sustainability Project and our collaborators will feature speakers on sustainability throughout the year, including internationally recognized scholars and journalists, public artists, elected officials, and Nobel Laureates.  

Fall 2011

Bill McKibben, Author of Eaarth
"Global and Local: Reports from the Fight for a Working Planet"
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Ingram Hall (Blair School of Music), 5:00 p.m.

Over the past twenty years, author, educator, and environmentalist Bill McKibben has proven one of the United States’ most outspoken and eloquent voices on the subjects of climate change and sustainability. His first book, The End of Nature (1989), was one of the first books about climate change written for a general audience, and much of his subsequent work has addressed the economic and social dimensions of this profound environmental change. Hope Human, and Wild (1995) delves into the environmental history of places around the globe to provide examples of cultures “living lightly” on the Earth, while Enough (2004) ponders the social and existential dilemmas of “posthuman” technologies such as genetic modification, and Deep Economy (2008) examines the economic assumption that “more is better” to argue for investment in what McKibben calls the “wealth of communities” and the “durable future.” His latest book, Eaarth (2010), contends that as climate change continues to shift our expectations for the global environment, we will have to transform our paradigms of community in order to survive.

McKibben is also an activist: in 2006, he helped lead a five-day march across the state of Vermont which has been called one of the largest climate-change demonstrations in history. He went on to become a founder of, a group which has been on the forefront of raising awareness about climate change while making extensive use of new media as an organizing tool—a story documented in Stop Global Warming Now, a 2007 handbook co-authored with a group of Middlebury College students who helped start the campaign. His distinguished career in journalism, with contributions to the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, and Grist, has been recognized through many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lyndhurst Fellowship, and a Lannan Prize for non-fiction writing in 2000, in addition to honorary degrees from a number of colleges across the country. He is currently a scholar in residence at Middlebury College.

Laura Dassow Walls
"Alexander von Humboldt’s American Horizons" 
Thursday, September 29, 2011

Laura Dassow Walls is William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. Professor Walls’s work focuses on American Transcendentalism, literature and science, ecocriticism, and environmental literature. On her approach to literature and science, Professor Walls says, “To work on the humanities side is for some of us the right place to ask these layered and complex questions. So I ended up in an English department, but I am often drawn back to science writing. The result is I’m always interested in finding ways to heal the breach between the humanities and the sciences.” Her most recent book, The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (University of Chicago Press, 2009) won the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize, the Organization of American Historians’ Merle Curti Award for the best book in American intellectual history, and the Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize from the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. Her current project, Writing the Cosmos: The Life of Henry D. Thoreau, for which she was awarded a 2010-11 Guggenheim Fellowship, takes Thoreau and those of his milieu out of U.S. nationalist contexts, situating them instead as cosmopolitan participants in a world movement for universal human rights.

Gabriel Warren
"Polar Probings:  Sculpture by Gabriel Warren
Opening Reception: Thursday, October 13, 2011, 5:00 p.m.
Exhibit Schedule:  October 13 - December 8, 2011
Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, Cohen Memorial Hall

Gabriel Warren creates sculptures using natural ice formations as source material. As noted by the artist, his sculpture is “intended to reflect the beauty of the natural sources from which they emerge… They represent my attempts to triangulate an understanding of a single natural phenomenon: ice.” Warren adds, “although ice is not the only source in the natural world for my sculptural probings, it is the dominant one and has been so for decades. Ice exhibits mind-numbing variability and variety on a visual plane, and, on a scientific one, understanding its behavior is key to understanding many other components of our world.”

Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery will present a number of works by Warren, each layered with meanings and references to the condition of the planet and based on his close observation of the way ice behaves, including an outdoor sculpture installation adjacent to Cohen Memorial Hall, the home of the Fine Arts Gallery.

Warren received his bachelor of fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design and has studied at the Tyler School of Art, Rome, Italy; Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts; the Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts; and the Externat Notre Dame, Grenoble, France. Dividing his time between his studio and residence in Rhode Island and his summer home in a primitive cabin he built on a sea cliff in Nova Scotia, Warren travels frequently to Antarctica, making his 1999 trip as the recipient of a National Science Foundation “Artists and Writers in Antarctica” grant. His art has been shown at the Peabody-Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts; Newport Art Museum, Newport, Rhode Island; Hunter College, New York, New York; and the Quay School of the Arts, Wanganui, New Zealand, among many other museums and galleries.  

This exhibition is being presented in conjunction with the campus-wide initiative on sustainability and is supported, in part, by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities and the Dean’s Office, College of Arts and Science.  

Gallery Hours:

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 12-4 p.m.
Thursdays until 8:00 p.m.
Weekends, 1-5 p.m.

The gallery is closed during academic breaks.

Limited metered parking is available in front of the building by the 21st Avenue entrance. Additional metered parking is available on 18th Avenue South, on the eastern edge of Peabody Campus. 

Van Jones  
"Rebuild The American Dream: Green Jobs & Beyond"
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Sarratt Cinema, Sarratt Student Center
(2011/2012 Harry C. Howard Jr. Lecture, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities)

Van Jones is a globally recognized, award-winning pioneer in human rights and the clean-energy economy. Van is a co-founder of three successful non-profit organizations: the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change and Green For All. He is the best-selling author of the definitive book on green jobs: The Green-Collar Economy. He served as the green jobs advisor in the Obama White House in 2009. Van is currently a senior fellow at the Center For American Progress. Additionally, he is a senior policy advisor at Green For All. Van also holds a joint appointment at Princeton University, as a distinguished visiting fellow in both the Center for African American Studies and in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Joe Bozich
A Sustainable Corporate Model: Changing Lives One Shirt at a Time
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Buttrick 102, 4:10 p.m.

Joe Bozich (VU class of 1985) has over 20 years of extensive manufacturing, sourcing, marketing and operations experience. Bozich founded Knights Apparel in 2000, and in 2007 Knights passed Nike as the leading supplier of college-logo apparel to American universities. Knights Apparel also holds exclusive rights with the NBA, NASCAR, and the NHL. In 2010, Knights opened the Alta Gracia factory in Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic. It now produces college logo apparel for more than 400 universities. Alta Gracia pays its 120 unionized employees a living wage that is more than three and a half times the standard minimum wage. It is the only apparel company in the world that pays its workers a living wage, embraces a factory union, provides a safe workplace, and welcomes unrestricted monitoring of its factory by an independent labor rights watchdog. Of this business model, Bozich contends, “We’re hoping to prove that doing good can be good business, that they’re not mutually exclusive.” In 2010, the Huffington Post named Bozich the 2010 “Game Changer” in style for his work with Alta Gracia.

This event is organized by Vanderbilt Students of Nonviolence and co-sponsored by the American Studies Sustainability Project.

Spring 2012

Lewis Hyde
Thursday, January 19, 2012  , 4:10 PM
Pre-Lecture Reception and Booksigning, 3:10 PM
Black Cultural Center Auditorium

Lewis Hyde is a poet, essayist, translator, and cultural critic with a particular interest in the public life of the imagination. His 1983 book, The Gift, illuminates and defends the non-commercial portion of artistic practice. Trickster Makes This World (1998) uses a group of ancient myths to argue for the kind of disruptive intelligence all cultures need if they are to remain lively, flexible, and open to change. Hyde's most recent book, Common as Air, is a spirited defense of our "cultural commons," that vast store of ideas, inventions, and works of art that we have inherited from the past and continue to enrich in the present. A MacArthur Fellow and former director of undergraduate creative writing at Harvard University, Hyde teaches during the fall semesters at Kenyon College, where he is the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing. During the rest of the year he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is a Faculty Associate at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Peter Gleick
Thursday, February 9, 2012 , 4:10 PM
Black Cultural Center Auditorium

Dr. Peter H. Gleick is co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California. His research and writing address the critical connections between water and human health, the hydrologic impacts of climate change, sustainable water use, privatization and globalization, and international conflicts over water resources. Dr. Gleick is an internationally recognized water expert and was named a MacArthur Fellow in October 2003 for his work. In 2001, Gleick was dubbed a "visionary on the environment" by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 1999, Gleick was elected an Academician of the International Water Academy, in Oslo, Norway and in 2006, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. Gleick received a B.S. from Yale University and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He serves on the boards of numerous journals and organizations, and is the author of many scientific papers and seven books, including the biennial water report, The World's Water, and the new Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.

Elinor Ostrom
Thursday, March 1, 2012, 4:10 PM
Black Cultural Center Auditorium

Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom is the first woman to win the prize in economics, which has been awarded since 1969. Ostrom was recognized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons. “Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized,” the academy said. “Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories.” As a political economist, Elinor Ostrom has studied how institutions—conceptualized as sets of rules—affect the incentives of individuals interacting in repetitive and structured situations. Ostrom and her colleagues at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University developed the Institutional Analysis and Development framework, which enables them to analyze diversely structured markets, hierarchies, common-property regimes and local public economies using a common set of universal components. Large-scale studies of urban public economies demonstrated that systems composed of a few large-scale producers of services, such as forensic laboratories and training academies, combined with a large number of autonomous direct service producers (such as crime and traffic patrol) perform more effectively at a metropolitan level than a few consolidated producers. More recent empirical studies in the field and in the experimental laboratory have challenged the presumption that individuals jointly using a common-pool resource would inexorably be led to overuse, if not destroy, the resource.

David Bollier
Thursday, March 29, 2012, 4:10 PM
Black Cultural Center Auditorium

David Bollier is an American activist, writer, and policy strategist. He is Senior Fellow at the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, collaborates frequently with television writer/producer Norman Lear, and writes technology-related reports for the Aspen Institute. Bollier is also editor of On the Commons where he frequently writes. Bollier calls his work “focused on reclaiming the commons, understanding how digital technologies are changing democratic culture, fighting the excesses of intellectual property law, fortifying consumer rights and promoting citizen action.” Bollier co-founded the public interest group Public Knowledge and serves as a board member. In his own words: “I am an author, activist, blogger and consultant who spends a lot of time exploring the commons as a new paradigm of economics, politics and culture. I've been on this trail for more than ten years, working with a variety of international and domestic partners. Recently, I co-founded the Commons Strategy Group, a consulting project that works to promote the commons internationally. My work on the commons takes many forms -- as an author, conference organizer and frequent international speaker; as the host of an educational film, This Land Is Our Land: The Fight to Reclaim the Commons; as the Croxton Lecturer at Amherst College where I taught “The Rise of the Commons” in 2010; and as an expert witness for the “design commons” in a trademark lawsuit; among other initiatives. I was Founding Editor of and a Fellow of On the Commons from 2004 to 2010. I have written ten books; the most recent three deal with the commons. My first book on the commons was Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Commons Wealth (2002), a far-ranging survey of market enclosures of shared resources, from public lands and the airwaves to creativity and knowledge. Then I extended this analysis in my 2005 book, Brand Name Bullies: The Quest to Own and Control Culture, which documents the vast expansion of copyright and trademark law over the past generation that has enclosed our cultural commons. In 2009, I published Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own, which describes the rise of free software, free culture, and the movements behind open business models, open science, open educational resources and new modes of Internet-enabled citizenship. While on the trail of the commons, I have worked with American television writer/producer Norman Lear, since 1984, on a variety of non-television, public affairs projects. I am also Senior Fellow at the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, and co-founder and board member (2001-2011) of Public Knowledge, a Washington policy advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the information commons. I live in Amherst, Massachusetts, a place that knows a lot about commoning and so inspires a passionate hometown loyalty.”