Amitav Ghosh Visits Yale-NUS College

Yale-NUS College and Environmental Studies students and faculty recently enjoyed a week-long visit by world-renowned critic and novelist Dr. Amitav Ghosh, who was at the College from 15 to 18 January to participate in a series of events and discussions, culminating in a Presidential Speaker Series lecture titled “Can the Non-Human Speak? Other Beings in Myth, Literature and Ethnography.” Among the events was a lunchtime discussion with Environmental Studies majors and members of environmental student organizations, visits to two environmental humanities courses, and an interdisciplinary conversation with Yale-NUS faculty.

Dr. Ghosh is the author of critically acclaimed novels including The Shadow Lines, The Hungry Tide, and The Ibis Trilogy, a collection of historical fiction that includes Sea of Poppies, which was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize  and awarded the 2008 Vodafone Crossword Book Award, the 2009 India Plaza Golden Quill Jury Award for Best Book as well as the 2012 Tagore Literature Award. His most recent non-fiction book, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, was published in 2016 and awarded the inaugural Utah Award in the Environmental Humanities in 2018. His writing has been translated into more than thirty languages and published in myriad newspapers and magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The New Republic.

While on campus, Dr. Ghosh held a discussion with an interdisciplinary group of faculty, visited two environmental humanities courses (“Foundations of Environmental Humanities” and “Oceanic Frameworks: Shifting Currents in Literary Studies”), and hosted a Q&A specifically for ES students and members of Yale-NUS’s environmental student groups. During these events, Dr. Ghosh spoke about the idea that climate change is a crisis of culture; the relationship between the novel, narrative, and climate change; the emergence of the environmental humanities around the world; the value of the term “the Anthropocene” to understanding and addressing contemporary environmental problems; the central role that Asia now plays in the causes and consequences of climate change; and the likelihood that climate-exacerbated migration will further destabilize the global world order.

During the Presidential Speaker Series lecture, Dr. Ghosh shed light on the portrayal of non-human consciousness in various narrative traditions. Noting the importance of the existential question “Can the non-human speak?” in the Anthropocene—the ongoing epoch in which humans act as the dominant world-shaping force—he led the capacity audience through a history of the erasure of non-human animals in the modern world, and cautioned that our present ecological crisis is many ways a consequence of human beings silencing and instrumentalizing nonhuman animals and entities.

Dr. Ghosh’s visit was generously sponsored by the Yale-NUS College President’s Office, and was hosted by Assistant Professor Matthew Schneider-Mayerson (Environmental Studies) and Associate Professor Mira Seo (Literature).