Anthropology professor Anna Tsing wins $5 million Danish research award

Professorship funds transdisciplinary research into environmental challenges

Professor Anna Tsing
Anthropology professor Anna Tsing is creating a program that will encompass the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts.

UC Santa Cruz anthropology professor Anna Tsing is one of six international scholars to win a $5 million Niels Bohr Professorship from the Danish National Research Foundation.

The professorships are for five years and were established to bring senior international scholars to Denmark to host research programs “characterized by novelty, creativity, and excellence.”

The award will support Tsing's research and teaching both in Denmark and at UC Santa Cruz. Tsing will establish a transdisciplinary program that will encompass the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts in an exploration of what has been called the "Anthropocene." Anthropocene is that geologic epoch defined by human disturbance of the earth’s ecosystems.  

Tsing calls her program  "Living in the Anthropocene: Discovering the Potential of Unintended Design on Anthropogenic Landscapes." It will include conferences and fellowships for graduate students, post-docs, and colleagues. The project will sponsor a public conference next May at UCSC titled,  "Imagining Life and Death in Difficult Times." Science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin will be a featured participant along with more than a dozen other scholars. 

The conference will also be the kickoff of the "Bateson Initiative," a program the UCSC anthropology department is establishing to honor the work of Gregory Bateson, the English anthropologist who taught at UCSC in the 1970s. "It will continue the intellectual tradition of creativity that Bateson pursued in his life," Tsing said.

Tsing will spend next fall quarter at Aarhus University, then teach in winter and spring at UCSC. She will spend academic year 2014-2015 at Aarhus, Denmark's second oldest university. Founded as a public university in 1928, it is located about 120 miles west of Copenhagen and is now Denmark's largest university with 43,600 students after a merger with the Aarhus School of Engineering.

Tsing spent six months at the university in 2010 while on a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Social Sciences Dean Sheldon Kamieniecki congratulated Tsing on the professorship and said it "will provide great opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at UCSC and will bring many advantages to UCSC's interdisciplinary research in the social sciences.

"It is a wonderful program that we're very much looking forward to," he said.

Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1922 for his contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, He was also a philosopher and a promoter of scientific research. Tsing said Bohr was known for working with a diverse group of thinkers who created an atmosphere that resulted in unexpected discoveries.

She said she hopes to continue the tradition of working across academic boundaries. "We need to revitalize conversation between the human and natural sciences," she said.   “One way to do this is through developing common tools of observation.”

"Scholars still have a lot to learn about noticing," she said, "but for this we need the resources of all the disciplines."

"If we want to address the massive environmental challenges of our times, we must do a better job of noticing who lives with us on human-disturbed landscapes, and under what conditions," she said.

Tsing's previous research followed the wild mushroom called matsutake from forest to marketplace. The matsutake, a delicacy in Japan, grows in forests, such as in the Pacific Northwest, that have been disturbed by previous human activity.

Tsing is an internationally renowned anthropologist and in 2011 was the recipient of the Martin M. Chemers Award for Outstanding Research in the Social Sciences Division. She joined UCSC in 1987.