I’m Professor of Environmental Humanities and Deputy Director of the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney, Australia. I am a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and am also currently Co-Director of the Oceania Observatory of the Humanities for the Environment initiative (with Sophie Chao and Craig Santos Perez), and Co-Convenor of the Australian Environmental Humanities Hub (with Libby Robin).

My research and writing explore diverse ways of understanding and caring for the dead and dying—humans and nonhumans; individuals, collectives, and kinds—and the significance of these practices, historical and contemporary, for shaping ecological possibilities. This research is situated in the interdisciplinary environmental humanities and brings science and technology studies, philosophy, history, anthropology, and cultural studies into conversation with the natural sciences and ethnographic work with relevant communities.

One core focus of my work over the past decade has been the many philosophical, ethical, cultural, and political issues that arise in the context of species extinctions and human entanglements with threatened species and places. With Deborah Bird Rose, Matthew Chrulew, and colleagues, I founded and developed the multidisciplinary field of extinction studies to explore these themes. I have done so in three books: Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (Columbia University Press, 2014), The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds (Columbia University Press, 2019), and A World in a Shell: Snail Stories for a Time of Extinctions (MIT Press, 2022). These books have been translated into French and Japanese (with other translations in process) and have won or been shortlisted for a range of prizes including the Ludwik Fleck Prize of the Society for Social Studies of Science, the Gold Nautilus Book Award, and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (non-fiction, shortlisted).

My research has also placed a strong emphasis on public engagement and participation, producing a range of outputs in collaboration with and/or addressed to wider audiences (further information here). This work includes a trade book, numerous popular essays, programs of public events, and a range of different digital projects from an audio documentary and a museum trail to community storytelling archives.

I was the founding co-editor of the international, open-access journal Environmental Humanities (Duke University Press). I founded this journal with the late Deborah Bird Rose in 2012 as the first space dedicated explicitly to this emerging field. In 2016, Deborah retired and I co-edited the journal with Elizabeth DeLoughrey. In 2020 we handed it over to new editors and it continues to thrive

My research has been funded by competitive grants from the Australian Research Council (FT160100098; DP240102689; DP220101258; DP150103232; DP110102886), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany), the British Academy, and other funding bodies. In 2023, I received a Humboldt Research Award for my career contributions to date. From 2021-2023 I was a member of the Australian Research Council College of Experts.

I have held a variety of fellowships and visiting positions. From 2017-2021, I held an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT160100098) at the University of Sydney, and from 2014-2016, I was a Humboldt Research Fellow (Experienced Researchers) at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. I have also held appointments as a Professor II in the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities at the University of Oslo (2020-2022, 0.1FTE), and as a SOAR Prize Fellow at the University of Sydney (2022-2023). I have been a visiting scholar at the University of California at Santa Cruz (2005, 2010), the Environmental Humanities Laboratory at the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden (2014), the Department of Anthropology at MIT (2018), and the Centre for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa (2018).

I completed my BA (honours) in philosophy and religious studies at the Australian National University (2003), and my PhD in the Fenner School of Environment and Society, also at the ANU (2007). From 2011-2017 I helped to establish and then worked with the Environmental Humanities group at the University of New South Wales, where we set up Australia’s (and one of the world’s) first undergraduate qualifications in the Environmental Humanities and the world’s first MOOC in this emerging area.

More information on my research/publications is available here and on my teaching here.

Email: thom.van.dooren [at] sydney.edu.au