Desert Humanities Initiative



Read our origin story

Here is the background vision and thinking that has made Desert Humanities possible. This is part of a document written by environmental faculty at ASU who proposed this initiative in the Fall of 2018. . . .

Read our mission

Deserts are demanding and pose large questions to us—questions that invite large ecological solutions. A domain of extremes, the desert challenges its inhabitants to imagine what a good life consists of; how to practice a sustainable and equitable mode of living that life, paying careful attention to the long history of human cultures attempting just that; and the relation of art and story to the creation of both. . . .



Desert sounds vinyl album and salon

Working with international artists and designers Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney of Foam we are hosting a desert ecology listening salon at Hayden Library. Maja and Nik traveled the desert in two years of site visits with ASU’s D.A.R.E. team collecting artifacts and sounds. From these experiences, they have created a desert sounds vinyl album and series of accompanying images for the salon. Further books, maps and images are supplied by the Hayden Library and its archives. We look to develop this project further with the Global Drylands Center to create an ongoing curated experiences drawn from faculty research. Additionally, we will be collaborating with ASU’s Listen(n) project team for further sonic immersions. Thanks goes to GIOS, IHR, the Center for Philosophical Technologies for assisting in funding this initial salon and thanks to Hayden Library and its dedicated staff for space and creative research. Dates: Talks by Tim Morton and Maja Kuzmanovic & Nik Gaffney at the MU Pima Room 4:00-5:30pm Monday September 23rd followed by a reception at the salon in Hayden Library room C55. The salon will be open September 23rd to December 7th.

Nibi Walks and praying for the waters

In collaboration with the Museum of Walking, we are fortunate to learn from Sharon Day about Nibi Walks and the walking practice of praying for the waters. In 2019-2020, Sharon Day will be our inaugural Desert Humanities Fellow and will visit us several times throughout the year to engage in conversation about water practices. In Spring 2020 she will lead a walk that begins at the headwaters of the Rio Salado and ends at the confluence of Gila River. This practice of carrying the water with prayer has its roots in the Ojibwe culture. Throughout her time with us we will learn about nibi (water) walks and the sacred practices for living with water. The Museum of Walking (MoW) is an educational resource committed to people, land, action, and site through the everyday act of walking. Mow is lead by ASU artist Angela Ellsworth who is this year’s ASU DH Fellow leading this project. Dates: to be determined. One visit Fall 2019 and one Spring 2020.

Desert Attunement Symposium

How do we listen to the desert? And what is it telling us? This symposium explores imperatives which the desert gives to those dwelling within it. Faculty from across humanities and art disciplines and practices at ASU pair with resonant outside researchers to discuss what it means to develop a lifestyle that is in harmony with our desert surroundings. Proposed dates February 13-14.

Desert Portal chamber orchestra

Laura Kaminsky is writing a new musical composition for a chamber orchestra on the theme of resilience in desert environments tied to a body of work by visual artist Rebecca Allan. They have worked as a team on a number of compositions with accompanying visuals. Thanks to IHR and CLAS for the funding and connections. Dates: The performance will be in April 2020 with a location to be determined.

Works in Progress lecture series

We have amazing humanities faculty at ASU working in a range of desert related projects. This works in progress series is an opportunity for faculty to try out new material and inform others in the ASU community about the work. The structure is flexible but most likely two to three twenty minute talks followed by conversation.

Understanding Food course at ASU

In Spring 2020 Joan McGregor is teaching a food course which will coordinate her own work in the area with the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, local chefs, and the Humanities for the Environment Dinner 2040 project. The teaching brings together local and global food systems alongside questions of ethics and sustainability in our desert environment. McGregor is teaching a related course in Fall 2019 for the Humanities Lab with Julianne Vitullo. Dates: Spring semester 2020


Desert Legends captured in craft books

We are producing small craft books as objects with Heather Green and the Printmaking program in the School of Art and using a risograph press method. The book content is faculty lead. Anyone working on a desert project broadly conceived can ask to create one and will work with our design team to produce it. Ideally there will be several authors and perhaps artists as well involved in each volume. Templates are being developed in Fall 2019. Total word count of a book is around the length of an article but varies depending on each project. We will have sample zines to help authors develop their ideas for style, writing style, and overall design. Dates: ongoing.

Desert Legends Podcast

This is an intermittent podcast series of short conversations about any research produced by faculty at ASU that fits with themes of Desert Humanities. So, if faculty have a recent article or book out on desert themes, they can promote it through a recorded 20-minute conversation with another faculty member. We have an audio editing team to help polish the final product. Desert Humanities events and activities will also be podcast episodes. Dates: ongoing.

Desert Humanities Online Reader

Humanities faculty select texts they think are important for understanding desert humanities and write a brief introduction to the text. For those who wish, they can also do a short video. These will serve as teaching resources for the ASU community so that others can find engaging desert humanities material and have the guidance of our faculty in understanding the texts. (Coming soon.)


A Modest Library


Desert Humanities is developing a modest collection of books and essays related to desert themes. Faculty who have published on these topics are invited to contribute their work to the collection and any other resources they find useful. (Coming soon.)





The desert is all around us and desert humanities is activated by the faculty and their work. The Desert Humanities does have a physical space on ASU Tempe campus: Ross Blakley Hall 173 within the Institute for Humanities Research. The room is available for faculty use and includes a small library of desert materials and related faculty research. The room can also be booked in advance for meetings and events related to environmental humanities.