Blue Humanities Initiative

At a time of extreme weather, melting icecaps, rising sea-levels, maritime pollution and oceanic biodiversity loss, Blue Humanities is one of the most exciting and important areas of emergent research in disciplines ranging from history to the visual arts to cultural and literary studies. The oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface; for centuries they have carried the traffic of global exchange, for good and for ill; they begin and end the hydrologic cycle that shapes the climate of the planet; and they have inspired adventure and awe down the ages. From Homer to Winslow Homer, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner to Melville’s Moby-Dick, they have shaped many of the greatest works of human imagination. And in a world of ecological fragility, all of us need to learn from the old ways of sailors, navigators and oceanic peoples such as the Polynesians for whom the sea is a home.

In collaboration with the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, which has recently become part of ASU’s Global Futures Laboratory, ASU’s Hawaii-based Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, and in partnership with researchers at King’s College, London, the Blue Humanities initiative will bring the expertise and passion of scholars in the College of Liberal Arts to our understanding of the relationship between humankind and the ocean, past, present and future.

Library Links

Initiative Director: Sir Jonathan Bate

Photo of Jonathan Bate

Jonathan Bate is Foundation of Professor of Environmental Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Global Futures. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University, where he was formerly Provost of Worcester College. A world-renowned Shakespeare scholar, he has also published award-winning biographies of three great English poets of the natural world: William Wordsworth, John Clare and Ted Hughes. His books Romantic Ecology and The Song of the Earth are widely regarded as pioneering and highly influential works of ecocriticism. In 2015, he became the youngest person ever to have been knighted for services to literary scholarship.

The Coast of Bohemia: Water and Survival in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Join us on February 23 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at RBH 196 (ASU Tempe) for "The Coast of Bohemia."

"If Bohemia still lies by the sea," writes the twentieth-century Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann, "I'll believe in the sea again." This blue humanities lecture about "The Winter’s Tale" dives into the poet’s gap between “lies by” and “I’ll believe.” The theatrical waterscape of Shakespeare’s fantastical coast of Bohemia brings together the disparate forces of imagination and material reality. Questions of stability and change dominate both the micro-structures of individual passages and the macro-structures of the play as a whole. In this mixed environment, the purpose of playing becomes survival in a fluid environment. To endure shipwreck and abandonment requires managing errancy over time. Error itself becomes both the play’s essential romance principle and its animating survival strategy. Shakespeare’s transformation of the “deserts of Bohemia” into a fertile seaside provides the watery substrate of the play’s utopian countermovement. A focus on the materiality of water – which the play represents in tears, in waves, and in the sea – enables a reconsideration of Shakespeare’s understandings of Art and Nature, which turn out to depend upon dynamic concepts of both Error and Time. Emerging at length on what Bachmann terms a “doubtful sea,” "The Winter’s Tale" transforms blue humanities tropes such as shipwreck and alienation into representations of collective endurance.   


Steve Mentz

Steve Mentz is Professor of English at St. John's University in New York City. He has published widely in the blue humanities and environmental criticism, including the books "Ocean" (2020), "Break Up the Anthropocene" (2019), "Shipwreck Modernity" (2015), and "At the Bottom of Shakespeare's Ocean" (2009). Works in progress include "An Introduction to the Blue Humanities" (forthcoming from Routledge), and the creative-critical poetry collection, "Sailing without Ahab" (forthcoming from Fordham University Press). His poetry chapbook, "Swim Poems," appeared from Ghostbird Press in 2022. Even in 2023, he still sometimes tweets @stevermentz and blogs at the Bookfish. 

The Rights of Nature and the Crime of Ecocide

13 October 2022, 17:30 to 20:00 (This event will also be livestreamed).

Science Gallery London, Guy’s Campus, London 

Philippe Sands and Jonathan Bate discuss climate change and biodiversity loss in this inaugural ASU-KCL Environmental Humanities lecture.

Does nature have rights?

Should there be a crime of ecocide, environmental destruction, to set beside genocide and crimes against humanity in international law?

Few questions could be more important in our age of cataclysmic climate change and biodiversity loss. In this lecture, Professor Sir Jonathan Bate will trace the history of the idea of “the rights of nature” back to the revolutionary period of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and Professor Philippe Sands QC will explain the work of the international panel of legal experts, which he co-chaired, to develop a legal definition of ecocide.

Discussion between the authors will be followed by an audience Q&A session. A drinks reception in the atrium of the science gallery theatre will take place afterwards.

The lecture is organised by King’s College London (KCL) Faculty of Arts & Humanities and Arizona State University (ASU), generously supported by the Aurora and Tedworth Trusts. It marks the beginning of a major collaboration between King’s and ASU in the field of Environmental Humanities.

This event will be live-streamed. To receive joining instructions, please choose the 'live-stream' option when registering for your ticket.

International Site:




The first in a series of international symposia in which we bring Humanities perspectives on the ancient elements of earth, air, fire and water to address the environmental crises of our modern times …


London 13.00 / AZ 05.00 – Welcome to Attendees

London 13.10 / AZ 05.10 – Panel 1 – Air in Altered Perception

Tony Milligan, ‘Ground Biases’ [Remote]

Stephanie Howard-Smith, ‘Nothing in the air: Anosmia’

Clare Brant, ‘Air Underwater: Practicalities and Poetics’

 London 14.40-15.00 Tea Break

London 15.00 / AZ 07.00 – Panel 2 – Air Myths

Katy Swancutt, ‘Cosmologies: The Air is Thick with Spirits and Forces of Nature’ [Remote]

Jonathan Bate, ‘From Evelyn to Ruskin: The long history of London Air’

 London 16.00 / AZ 08.00 – Panel 3 – Air Politics

Jonathan Gray, ‘Reflections on Air Data’

Rowan Boyson, ‘The Commonwealth of Air: A History of Air Rights’

 Comfort break

 London 17.15 / AZ 09.15 – Round-table discussion, led by Paul Readman.