Sustainability and Stewardship

ISHA Fall 2002

In our time questions of ‘sustainability’ and ‘stewardship’ have come to the fore with unprecedented intensity.  The past century has seen a dramatic increase in the power of humans to reshape our environment and that of our descendents, whether through depletion of natural life forms and resources, the introduction of toxic and other substances, or simply the accumulated stresses of an expanding world population.  That, in and of itself, provokes any number of questions.  How will the forces underlying these developments be balanced?  How far do we have a duty beyond the interests of our species to steward the environment we have inherited?  What should the ratio be between sustainability and economic development, whether aggressive or otherwise?  How do uneven and inequitable forms of economic development affect sustainability in different parts of the country or the world?  Or, framing the question somewhat differently, are there ways in which economic development and sustainability might be harmonized?  We are interested too in how we understand these problems.  How do scientists ‘map’ sustainability, and what kinds of paradigms and projections do they use?  What are the strengths and limitations of these paradigms, and what other forms of understanding might by applicable? 

Questions related to the theme within human society and culture come to mind.  For instance, in an increasingly homogenized global environment, how will cultural diversity be sustained?  We are aware that whole languages have become extinct in the past, and that more are threatened today: why has this occurred, and what are our commitments and responsibilities there?  How do we ‘steward’ the memory of the past – bequeathing not only a meaningful record to our descendants, but a meaningful way of approaching the record?  How do marginalized groups sustain their own place and sense of the world?  Artworks too need stewardship – as do movie industries in various countries, faced with the homogenizing capacities of Hollywood.  Have literatures or other cultural forms proposed, even implicitly, models of regeneration we might follow?  What of key institutions – universities, schools, medical systems, welfare programs – that need sustaining: what will meaningful stewardship mean there in the twenty-first century?

‘Sustainability and Stewardship’ is a topic that can be approached from many different directions, and our call for applications resulted in a wide set of stimulating responses, drawn variously from the disciplines of economics, history, community health sciences, plant and soil science, landscape architecture and regional planning, anthropology, educational policy, English, and natural resources conservation. Here is a list of participants in the seminar, with a short description of their projects. Please feel free to contact them.


James Boyce 
Department of Economics
‘Sustaining Agricultural Biodiversity’. 

Judith Davidov
Department of English

David Glassberg
Department of History
‘Managing the Sense of a Bioregion’. 

Daniel Gerber
Community Health Studies

John Gerber
Department of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences

Elisabeth Hamin
Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning
‘Sustainability, Equity and Protected Landscapes’.  

Francis Juanes
Department of Natural Resources Conservation

Sangeeta Kamat 
Department of Educational Policy, Research and Administration

Brooke Thomas
Department of Anthropology