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On exhibit July 16 – October 13, 2013
Perkins Library Gallery, Duke West Campus (Click for map)
Public Hours: Monday-Friday, 8am–7pm; Saturday, 9am–7pm; Sunday, 10am–7pm
Hours may vary during the summer months. Please check our posted library hours for more information.

 

About the Exhibit 

In an instant of geologic time, human beings have exploded into a geologic force, altering the planet’s oceans and fresh waters, atmosphere, soils, plants, and animals.

Our effect on planetary conditions and processes has been so significant, in fact, that many people believe we have crossed the boundary into a distinctly new geologic epoch—from Holocene to Anthropocene—a period in Earth’s history primarily characterized by the growth and impact of the human species.

A new exhibit in Perkins Library considers the human record on planet Earth and asks visitors to consider the implications of labeling our geologic epoch the Anthropocene.

Illustration by Theodor de Bry (1591), showing indigenous Americans in Virginia hand-cultivating and planting fields with maize. One theory holds that the Anthropocene began with the rise of agriculture some 8,000 years ago.

Illustration by Theodor de Bry (1591), showing indigenous Americans in Virginia hand-cultivating and planting fields with maize. One theory holds that the Anthropocene began with the rise of agriculture some 8,000 years ago.

You may not have heard the term Anthropocene before, but you will. It has been taken up enthusiastically across a variety of academic and artistic disciplines. It has inspired major critical and artistic works as well as international museum exhibitions.

Originally coined by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen, the term follows a relatively recent turn in society that has seen human beings increasingly acknowledged to be an integral part of nature.

A proposal to rename our geologic epoch is accordingly being considered by a working group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the scientific body that sets global standards for expressing the geologic history of the earth. The working group includes one of the curators of this exhibit (Professor Daniel Richter of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment) and represents the culmination of intense scientific debates in books, conferences, and exhibits such as this one. A decision on whether to adopt the term is expected in 2016.

black rhino

Skull of the near-extinct Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis). Another theory traces the origins of the Anthropocene to the Stone Age extinctions of large animals that began some 50,000 years ago and have continued ever since.

The widespread recognition that we have had a global-scale impact on the environment is relatively new, as is the idea that we have a special responsibility to the future and to other life forms. Recording the Anthropocene represents an attempt to acknowledge the scale of our impact on the planet and to face the implications of that realization. What difference do you think the adoption of the term Anthropocene would make to you, and to all forms of life on the planet?

The exhibit was curated by a broad interdisciplinary group of Duke faculty, graduate students, and staff from a variety of departments across campus who share an interest in this topic.

For more information, visit the exhibit in Perkins Library, or check out the exhibit website.

 

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