Historians on Planetary Futures: Prof. Libby Robin

Romanian postage stamp, commemorating the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games
"Posta Romana", Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/de/ROM_1979_MiNr3625_mt_B002.jpg

Join the Centre's Professor Emerita Libby Robin for her seminar, '"World-mindedness" and the Local: National Parks for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics'.

The idea of “the environment”, a multi-faceted new understanding of the natural world, emerged in the 1940s. It was an integrating idea with deep origins in western thinking “whose time had come”, joining together conservation, preservation, agriculture, water management and waste disposal. The environment emerged out of natural resource management, wise use philosophies and natural history, putting them together in new ways. It was both planetary and highly local, and its definition was broad and inclusive, yet its regional manifestations depended on the ecologies, concerns, and expertise locally, with a few exceptions that defied national political borders (such as international “flyways” created by mass migrations of birds and marine environments).

In Australia, post-war reconstruction was practical and often rural. By the mid-1950s, new ideas about whole landscape management, including national parks, were filtering through international scientific networks. National parks required new alliances between local, State, and federal governments, and these came together for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, when conservative forces led a conservation movement that looked very different from 1970s environmental activism. This historical story suggests ways for environmental and climate activism in the 21st century to become less polarized, more inclusive, and more effective.

This seminar is part of the series, Historians on Planetary Futures, convened by Dr Jarrod Hore for the New Earth Histories research program and the Laureate Centre for History & Population, UNSW. 

The future of the planet is an overwhelming problem, which stretches and confounds the limits of human conception. In our climate-changed present attempts to confront this topic have swelled with an understandable sense of urgency and a compelling ethical force. Inspired by this, Historians on Planetary Futures presents perspectives that explore the interrelated ecological, biopolitical, and existential challenges that face humans across multiple temporal and physical scales. The series will broach new histories of the planet and its future that explore the nature of spatial, temporal, and disciplinary boundaries, the connections between politics, humans, and earth processes, and the traditions, opportunities, and difficulties of thinking about the future.

The historians in this series bring a set of concerns and questions that broaden and deepen our collective conversations about possible futures of the planet Earth and the entanglement of such visions with the viability of human habitation. What pasts prefigure planetary futures? How have planetary futures been produced and reproduced by discrete projects of world-making? When and why do planetary futures revolve around the question of human population? Do planetary futures ever slip out of anthropocentric frames? How have world, earth, and planetary histories overlapped and how have they diverged?

By asking questions like these historians might traverse the threshold between planetary pasts, presents, and futures, and strike a balance between the urgency of our times and what Donna Haraway calls the ‘sublime indifference’ induced by despair of what’s to come.

All seminars will be broadcast over Zoom. Register for each talk to receive the link in advance.

Date & time

Tue 22 Feb 2022, 10am


Centre for Environmental History


Updated:  20 January 2022/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications