Past Event

What Fire Does: A Conference

April 19, 2017 - April 28, 2017
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Event time is displayed in your time zone.
Brown University, Providence, RI

Each year, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society sponsors an interdisciplinary program under the title of “Earth, Itself,” designed to stimulate conversations and collaborations across the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts. What Fire Does will be held primarily from April 18-28, 2017, and will focus on the productive, creative, destructive, and transformative powers of fire. The creative arts are the ‘fire arts’—particularly ceramics and glass—with exhibitions and performances conducted in collaboration with RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). The keynote speakers will be Stephen J. Pyne (Arizona State University) and Pamela H. Smith (Columbia University).

Academic panels, lectures, and symposia, to be held across departments, will include the unintended consequences of firefighting and soil contamination; fire on ice—the role of fire in early human migration and settlement in the Paleolithic period; and, in collaboration with the John Carter Brown Library, an afternoon panel on the Americas and the generative power of fire. Brown students will be composing pieces for the 2017 WaterFire festival, with its premiere at 2017 Commencement (May 27).

The program is open to students and faculty, policymakers, community members, and others who care about the environment. Please explore the website to RSVP. Contact [email protected] for further information.

Pamela Smith's keynote speech can also be found as a separate event page

Keynote Speakers:

Stephen J. Pyne is one of the world’s foremost experts on fire. A MacArthur Fellow and a former professional firefighter with the National Park Service, Pyne is the author of more than twenty books about the social and environmental history, and the management, of fire. He has dedicated his life to the study of humankind’s complex and multi-faceted relationship with fire, through wide-ranging books, lectures, documentary films, consulting work, and interviews.

A small sample of his books includes Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire (1982), Fire on the Rim (1989), Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia (1991), World Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth (1995), Tending Fire: Coping With America’s Wildland Fires (2004), Awful Splendour: A Fire History of Canada (2008), and Between Two Fires: A Fire History of Contemporary America (2015). Pyne is Regents Professor in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Arizona, and when he is not traveling the world studying and discussing fire, he teaches environmental history, the history of science and exploration, and nonfiction writing.

Pamela H. Smith is Seth Low Professor of History and Director of the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University.  Her books are The Business of Alchemy (1994); Merchants and Marvels (ed. with Paula Findlen, 2002); The Body of the Artisan (2004); Making Knowledge in Early Modern Europe (ed. with Benjamin Schmidt,  2008); Ways of Making and Knowing (ed. with Amy R. W. Meyers and Harold Cook, 2015); and The Matter of Art (ed. with Christy Anderson and Anne Dunlop, 2015).

She is currently directing a large collaborative research and teaching initiative, the Making and Knowing Project, to reconstruct the vernacular knowledge of early modern craftspeople from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including hands-on work in a laboratory.