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November 23, 2009

Historians David Christian and John R. McNeill to Present “The Anthropocene: Are We There Yet?” on Dec. 10

Historians David Christian and John R. McNeill, in a lecture at the Library of Congress, will discuss how rapidly increasing human impact on the biosphere is changing the way scholars and experts view human history.

Christian and McNeill will present "The Anthropocene: Are We There Yet?" at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 10, in the Whittall Pavilion on the ground level of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. This event, sponsored by the Library’s John W. Kluge Center, is free and open to the public. No reservations are needed.

Christian, a professor of history at Macquarie University in Sydney, is a distinguished visiting scholar at the Kluge Center. McNeill is the interim director and professor at the Mortara Center for International Studies, Georgetown University.

Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, in 2002 argued in the science journal Nature that the world in about 1800 entered a new geological epoch, the "Anthropocene," a period of global environmental change.

In 2008, a distinguished group of scholars supported Crutzen’s theory by announcing that sufficient evidence of stratigraphically significant change had emerged for recognition of the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch, and the concept should be considered for formalization by international discussion.

According to Christian and McNeill, what distinguishes the Anthropocene from the preceding epoch, the Holocene, is the fact that humans have begun—without understanding what they are doing—to transform the chemistry of the atmosphere; the range, variety and distribution of plant and animals species; the nature of the water cycle; and fundamental processes of erosion and sedimentation. Man has become the first single species in 4 billion years powerful enough to transform the biosphere.

This line of thinking, according to Christian and McNeill, encourages scholars and experts to rethink the role of the human species on the planet. They suggest it is no longer reasonable for scholars in the humanities to keep ignoring the relationship between humans and the biosphere.

Christian and McNeill will also discuss the ideas of William Ruddiman, who has argued that humans have been transforming global climates not just for 200 years but for almost 8,000 years, triggered by the intense farming of early agrarian ancestors.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world's best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another to distill wisdom from the Library's rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, with nearly 142 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site, in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill, and through its award-winning website at Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may also be accessed via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at

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PR 09-241
ISSN 0731-3527

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