ASU faculty who inspire: Sir Jonathan Bate

April 18, 2023 · 2 min read · By ASU Online
Foundation Professor of Environmental Humanities Sir Jonathan Bate discusses what brought him to Arizona State University, the value of online learning and the power of literature and the arts.

What do Shakespeare, ecocriticism and knighthood have in common? 

The answer: Sir Jonathan Bate, Foundation Professor of Environmental Humanities at Arizona State University.

With a joint appointment between the School of Sustainability and the Department of English, Bate teaches a wide range of literature with a special focus on the role that literary and cultural studies play in thinking about the environmental crisis, climate crisis and issues of sustainability.

Bate studied at Cambridge University in England and Harvard University. He also worked at several other universities before bringing his passion for teaching to ASU.

“I think if one communicates the power of literature and the arts, one really enables young people to see the world in a better way, in a different way,” Bate said. “That indeed is something that prepares their skills of critical thinking, good argument, good articulation and good writing. It also prepares them for the workplace. I’m very committed to the practical value of what we do as teachers.”

In this episode of Beyond the Screen, Sir Jonathan Bate discusses how ASU integrates humanities studies with sustainability and the environment, and the importance of communicating using arts and literature for students.

One of the attributes that shines through as a key to Bate’s success is his passion, not just for teaching, but also for the eclectic subject matter he studies. He has long taken a transdisciplinary approach to his studies and career, exploring thinkers, critics and scholars of different areas and in different disciplines.

“Shakespeare did live through a period of climate change, the so-called Little Ice Age of the 16th century. In several of his plays, the weather plays an enormous part in it. And that is the extraordinary thing about Shakespeare, that whatever your concern is at a particular time, you can find something in Shakespeare that’s relevant,” Bate said.

Bate has spent his career blending literature and the environment, a link he says is still relatively new and not widely known outside of the academic world. About 30 years ago, he wrote a book in which he coined the term ecocriticism, the idea of doing literary criticism, reading literary works from an ecological point of view.

He subsequently wrote a book about how poetry and the arts more generally can help us think about dwelling sustainably upon the earth. Bate said those books are now regarded as some of the foundations of what we call environmental humanities or literary and cultural ecocriticism.

“The work I do around environmental humanities I think is a really central example of how we do need that arts and humanities perspective as well as the STEM, the science, technology, engineering perspective. Because in the end, science is not going to solve all our problems. Human behavior is what is going to solve our problems,” Bate said.

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