The Environment comes to Universities: Legacies of the UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment met in Stockholm in 1972, bringing together scientists, international governance specialists and environmental activists in ways that redefined the environment itself. It continued earlier concerns about biological diversity, but that diversity became ‘human’ too, and included global governance, the safety of urban settlements and justice and development. Stockholm forged principles for an innovative meta-disciplinary approach to the study of environment and society together. This paper explores emerging intellectual and scholarly traditions in environmental studies, particularly in the decade following Stockholm. The ANU centre for interdisciplinary environmental research, the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies (CRES), is now fifty years old, continuing as the Fenner School of Environment and Society. There is still broad agreement that no single discipline is sufficient to understand multifaceted questions about environment and society. Yet the structures of scholarship supported within universities still struggle to include the practical and non-western challenges articulated at Stockholm. The ANU story provides an unusual case-study of transdisciplinary environmental scholarship in the collective service of science, governance and justice.

Libby Robin is a historian of science and environmental ideas, who worked at CRES/Fenner School for two decades. She has also been a Guest Professor and affiliate at the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory in Stockholm. Her recent books include The Environment: A History of the Idea (with Paul Warde and Sverker Sörlin) and What Birdo is That? A Field Guide to Bird People. The paper is part of her new project, For All People, which explores the role of conservative thinking in conservation practice.

Please note that the School of History seminars will run in-person only this semester.

Date & time

Wed 08 Nov 2023, 4.15–5.30pm


RSSS Auditorium, Ground Floor (Level 1), RSSS Building, ANU, 146 Ellery Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601


Professor Libby Robin


School of History


David Romney Smith


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