The Feinberg Series | Planet on a Precipice

2020-2021 Feinberg Series, Planet on a Precipice. Black text on white background, with Abstract grey and black image
Wednesday, September 30, 2020 - 6:00pm
Wednesday, October 7, 2020 - 6:00pm
Wednesday, October 21, 2020 - 6:00pm
Thursday, November 12, 2020 - 6:00pm
Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - 4:00pm
Monday, February 1, 2021 - 12:00pm
Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 6:00pm
Monday, March 22, 2021 - 6:00pm
Online via Zoom, Facebook, YouTube and Soundcloud

The Institute for Social Science Research is proud to co-sponsor the UMass Amherst History Department's 2020-2021 Feinberg Series.

The UMass History Department’s 2020-21 Feinberg Series will host nine major public events featuring internationally renowned scholars and movement leaders speaking on the theme, Planet on a Precipice: Histories and Futures of the Environmental Emergency. Events address the historical origins of ecological destruction and mass extinction; the implications of these phenomena for human and nonhuman survival and ways of life; the role of human politics; the connections between the environmental emergency and histories of capitalism, colonialism, genocide, and white supremacy; human entanglements with the nonhuman world; and the past, present, and future of resistance movements. 

The series seeks to deepen our understanding of this singularly important set of problems and to envision constructive paths forward. Speakers will include organizers from the climate movement, writers, artists, filmmakers, and a wide variety of scholars and policy experts. Fall 2020 events, and potentially Spring 2021 events, will occur remotely. Attendees may register on the series website: All events are free and open to everyone. 

The series kicks off on Wednesday, September 30 at 6:00 PM with the keynote lecture by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a scientist and author of the bestselling book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Drawing upon both scientific and Indigenous knowledges, this talk will explore how we might use the gifts and the responsibilities of human people in support of mutual thriving in a time of ecological crisis. This event is a joint keynote with the Creative Women Leading Climate Action Symposium, which is presented by the Arts Extension Service (AES) and partners, with financial backing from the AES Entrepreneurship Initiative, Massachusetts Cultural Council, UMass Sustainability Innovation and Engagement Fund, and Women for UMass Amherst. 

On October 7, acclaimed author Mike Davis will deliver the UMass History Department’s Annual Lecture, titled “Allende versus Rockefeller: The 20th Century’s Two Conflicting Templates for the Control of Infectious Disease.” Davis had long warned of a global pandemic prior to 2020, citing the ways that global warming, deforestation, private control over drug research, and other factors intensified that danger. He is the author of the 2005 book The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, which was updated and reissued amid the COVID-19 pandemic as The Monster Enters. This event is co-presented by the UMass / Five College Graduate Program in History with support from Five Colleges, Inc. 

Other series events will feature a broad range of academic and non-academic speakers, including co-founder Bill McKibben, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, economist Robert Pollin, Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash, and many others. Events will address the extinction crisis through the lens of land snails in the Hawaiian Islands (10/21); theimplications of the November 3 elections for confronting the climate emergency (11/12); the history of natural resource extraction and how the Earth itself has responded (11/18); the role of young people in the movement against climate destruction (2/1); the U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship in the wake of Hurricane María; the prospects for “ecofascism,” disaster capitalism, and other authoritarian responses to ecological chaos (3/4); and the relationship between global capitalism and viral pandemics (week of 3/22). Several additional workshops and a year-long course for K-12 educators will offer opportunities to discuss series themes in smaller groups and apply historical lessons to classrooms and diverse other settings. 

Brian Ogilvie, Professor and Chair of the UMass History Department, notes, “As we search for ways to address our environmental emergency, the study of history is crucial. The 2020-21 Feinberg Series seeks to enhance our historical understanding of the emergency – both its roots and the clues from the past that might help us better comprehend and confront it.” 

“We are facing planetary crises of unprecedented scope and magnitude,” observes Edward D. Melillo, Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Amherst College. “Now, more than ever, we need to look to our past to help chart a course toward a more sustainable future. The 2020-2021 Feinberg Series is an important step in that direction.” 

“We inhabit a time which is haunted by the past and equally fearful of the future,” comments Malcolm Sen, Assistant Professor in the Department of English at UMass Amherst. “The prospect of living demands a deep awareness of what has gone before; without it we cannot foretell what is to come. This year’s Feinberg series promotes the kind of intellectual vigilance required to build habitable and just futures.” 

The biannual Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series is made possible thanks to the generosity of UMass alumnus Kenneth R. Feinberg and associates. Each series focuses on a pressing contemporary issue in historical perspective. The previous series, Another World Is Possible: Revolutionary Visions, Past and Present, was attended by several thousand Massachusetts residents. 

The Feinberg Series is offered by the History Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in collaboration with more than three dozen community and university partners. All events are free and open to the public. Media interviews with participants are available upon request. 

For a complete schedule of events see

Contact: Jessica Johnson, 413/545-6760,