Sciences, Humanities and Researching Problems of the Environment (SHARPEN)

Funder: This collaborative project is funded by an AHRC Science in Culture Exploratory Award to J.A. Mendelsohn (Imperial College Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine / CHoSTM) 

Researchers: E.J. Milner-Gulland (Imperial College Conservation Science) and Simon Pooley (CHoSTM).

Period: February 2012 – July 2012




Today it is widely recognised that ‘the environment’ consists of systems both natural and cultural. Understanding and affecting these systems successfully will require collaboration across the sciences / humanities divide. This is urgent in areas like species conservation: despite 40 years of concerted international conservation action and advocacy, rates of biodiversity loss today are higher than ever. Yet in the effort to develop needed knowledge and methods, it has proved difficult to reconcile disciplinary differences. This project aims to address this urgent practical and intellectual problem in a novel way. These interdisciplinary relations and their problems will be studied empirically through a review of existing interdisciplinary efforts as well as by comparing scientific and humanistic studies of the same environmental problem for their differing assumptions, approaches, and conclusions.

Work programme

CrocThe project aims to generate an empirical basis for suggesting how science / humanities cooperation can fruitfully be undertaken in the future. This will be done by analysing and evaluating interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and some single-discipline studies (c.1950-2010) of environmental problems and interventions that encompass both social and ecological dimensions. The survey will focus especially on (1) biodiversity conservation, (2) llivestock epidemics in natural environments; (3) indigenous land-use practices in natural environments.

The research review will develop and answer a set of questions about these studies. Questions to include: What combinations and ways of combining approaches or critical perspectives have been tried? Which categories of problem have attracted cross-disciplinary collaboration? How have approaches differed in assumptions and conclusions? What approaches and/or projects have worked well, and why? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of single-discipline studies of the same environmental problem?

Objectives in answering these questions are to: (1) produce a typology of interdisciplinary approaches to researching and understanding environmental problems and interventions; (2) create an annotated bibliography of case studies; (3) suggest how to carry out interdisciplinary studies of environmental problems and interventions that build on and benefit research in both the sciences and the humanities.