Environmental Humanities Lab

The HRC’s Environmental Humanities Lab is a convening ground centering humanistic inquiry in a broader field of transdisciplinary environmental scholarship. We understand Environmental Humanities as an interdisciplinary mode of inquiry that seeks to understand, interpret, and diagnose how social and cultural relationships with the natural world are mediated by texts, media, art, history, and embodied experience. In 2022-23 year, the Lab’s projects center questions of environmental “modes of study.” From exploring the philosophical significance of ecologically-oriented loose parts play, to Black- and Indigenous-led community agricultural projects to re-evaluations of universities’ many roles in perpetuating the climate crisis, we are exploring both practical and speculative infrastructural transformations that can lay the foundations for meaningful social and ecological transformations.

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Environmental Humanities Lab

Meet the Team

Jesse Goldstein

Jesse Goldstein, Ph.D.


Jesse Goldstein is an associate professor of Sociology, and author of Planetary Improvement: Cleantech Entrepreneurship and the Contradictions of Green Capitalism. His work explores the cultural political economy of rich world environmentalism, from biomimicry and other techno-fixes to the logics of settler futurity and green Keynesianism.




Kai Bosworth

Kai Bosworth, Ph.D.


Kai Bosworth is a geographer and political ecologist, and assistant professor at the School of World Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University. Bosworth is the author of Pipeline Populism: Affective Infrastructures of Grassroots Environmentalism in the 21st Century, which examines the possibilities and limitations of pipeline opposition movements in the central United States in grounding the popular politics of climate justice.

Current Projects

Students at Climate Circles event

Climate Circles

Project Directors: Jesse Goldstein and Selma Ait-Bella

Building on the Climate Psychology Association’s “Climate Cafe” project, this team is developing a version of the climate cafe specifically tailored for student-run spaces. Our Climate Circles, which we have been hosting at the Pace Center, offer a calm and safe environment for folks to share stories and process varying emotions such as climate grief, climate anxiety, and other related, hard-to-identify feelings around the climate crisis. Upcoming Climate Circles will be announced here and through the Billion Worlds Lab, as part of their Free School initiative. Students interested in either attending or learning how to facilitate Climate Circles can do so through the Billion Worlds Lab VIP program, and all who are interested in attending or hosting a future Climate Circle (we are happy to train new facilitators or work with your organization/department!) can contact Jesse Goldstein at jgoldstein2@vcu.edu.

A photo of children playing in a stream. There is a bike sitting on a rock, a trashcan in the stream, as well as hoses and pipes.

Loose Parts

Project Director: Corin Hewitt

This VA Humanities funded project explores outdoor adventure play through a series of community conversations and pop-up adventure play experiences. Through documentation of these play-events and accompanying workshops, the team is creating short videos about adventure play. Three play actions took place in 2023: “The Fountain” at Patrick Henry Elementary, “The Crater” at Blue Sky Fund, and “Small Fires” at Lois Harrison-Jones Elementary. Each play-action is carefully designed in collaboration with our community hosts and supervised by trained playworkers who are working with Hewitt as part of his VIP lab, “Being Material.” While the typical adventure playground has four essential components (a vacant lot, “junk” and materials, kids, and adult/teen playworkers), our approach overlays a fifth element: the work of contemporary artists. In our playspaces, children will respond to, ignore, deface, build on, or destroy a set of rotating "provocations" created specifically for each play-action. Each of our events provides a space for parents, teachers and the broader community to engage with project team members as well as visiting adventure play experts in facilitated dialog about childhood, creativity and play. If you're interested in this project, or the VIP lab, please reach out to Corin Hewitt at chewitt@vcu.edu.

Building made with different materials (brick, wood, concrete, metal).

Materials Index

Project Director: Emily Smith

This project investigates the nature, history and function of materials that shape our lives. The team is working with student researchers on a collaborative and experimental website, and is preparing for new initiatives. The group includes, Jeff Shockley (Business), Kristin Carleton (Interior Design), Corin Hewitt (Sculpture and Extended Media), and Radhika Barua (Mechanical Engineering). Students can contribute to this work via VIP labs in both Sculpture and Sociology. Inquiries can be directed to Emily Smith at smithea8@vcu.edu

People gardening at Sankofa Community Orchard

Reparative Land Justice Initiative

Project Directors: Duron Chavis, Meghan Gough, Susan Bodnar-Deren and Jesse Goldstein

This community-driven research focuses on questions around Black Food Sovereignty in Richmond, and community wealth building at minority led urban agriculture sites. For generations, farming has been used by Black people to build self-determined communities and to resist oppressive structures. Working in collaboration with community research partner Duron Chavis, founder of Happily Natural Day and a leading figure in Black food justice, this project asks, what grows in Black-led urban agricultural spaces, beyond food? This project includes a growing team of community co-researchers, as well as VCU professors Rohan Kalyan and John Jones. The project begins with storytelling interviews, and will evolve into a broader effort to build a community-values profile and counter-mapping meant to support Black-led urban agriculture spaces and to establish their centrality to both environmental and climate justice infrastructure. Students can work on this project through a VIP lab hosted in the department of Sociology. For inquiries, please contact Meghan Gough at mzgough@vcu.edu.

John R. Lewis

The John R. Lewis Memorial Lecture Series

In 2022, the Reparative Land Justice Initiative and the HRC helped facilitate the launch of a lecture series honoring the late John R. Lewis. John was a co-founder of Renew Richmond and a central figure supporting black urban agriculture in Richmond and beyond. Led by a community advisory committee, the series will host a leading figure in black urban agriculture for a public lecture and community workshop each year. Our inaugural lecturer was Malik Yakini, who presented “Growing Kale, Shifting Power and Building Food Sovereignty” on February 21, 2023. We look forward to a second event this coming Spring term. Inquiries can be directed to Jesse Goldstein at jgoldstein2@vcu.edu.

Past Projects

Upcoming Events

No upcoming events at this time. You can watch event recordings from our 2022-23 Environmental Speaker Series on Youtube.