ERC grant to Environmental Historian Sverker Sörlin

Published Apr 20, 2018

Sverker Sörlin, Professor of Environmental History at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, is one of ten Swedish researchers receiving a grant from the European Research Council’s ERC Advanced Grants, which provides funding to senior researchers. The grant is to enable him to carry out a historical study into the emergence and development of environmental governance.

“It feels fantastic, and it’s a recognition of a research orientation towards modern environmental history linked to knowledge, policy and sustainability that we’ve focused on here at KTH. I’ve been involved in building up this field of research since the late 1980s, first in Umeå where I was given a professorship in 1993, and also internationally since that time,” says Sverker Sörlin.

The title of the study for which he is receiving an ERC grant is “The Rise of Global Environmental Governance: A History of the Contemporary Human-Earth Relationship”. He states that the grant is important because it enables a deeper historical understanding of one of the most important policy areas of our time: the management of the environment and consequently of the planet as a whole.

“An early event in this development was the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. But the roots go even further down to the emergence of the modern environmental concept just after the Second World War and to organisations such as UNESCO and ICSU (International Council for Science). It’s a pressing issue now that we are seeking for a widespread transformation into sustainable and fossil-free societies,” says Sverker Sörlin.

During this project, he and his research team hope to be able to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UN conference in 2022.

“Additionally, Stockholm plays an important part in this history. It was, and still is, an international hub for international environmental and climate efforts, both political and scientific. I’ll be looking into this more closely,” says Sverker Sörlin.

The European Research Council is awarding a total of around 650 million euros to 269 researchers in this round of funding. And where Sverker Sörlin is concerned, the grant will give his research team’s activities a substantial cash injection.

“ERC has announced we’ll be receiving the full amount, that is, 2.5 million euros. With internal matching grants from KTH, this amounts to well over 3 million euros. This gives you a great deal of freedom as research manager,” he says.

With this grant Sverker Sörlin’s department has now received ERC grants three years in a row (Starting Grant in 2016 and Consolidator Grant and Advanced Grant in 2017). Furthermore, KTH has received ERC grants in the social sciences and humanities three years in a row, which is quite remarkable for a technical university.

“This is very unusual. I can hardly imagine that it´s been the case within the humanities field anywhere else, that a single department has received so much funding from the ERC, at least not in the Nordic countries,” says Sverker Sörlin.

He points out that his department has long been working on strategically developing this original research environment for environmentally oriented humanities research grounded in history.

“What’s really unique is that we’ve succeeded in getting our fantastic researchers to work together within topic areas and teams that provide new scientific insights and help tackle major social issues. And we’re doing it at a time when many people are coming to realise that in-depth, committed knowledge in the humanities is needed more than ever,” says Sverker Sörlin.

The unique profile of the department has is a reason for its international status, he states.

“This accelerated when we established the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory at the start of 2012 with the help of a donation from Carl Bennet (a Swedish industrialist). I think you could say that we’re among the departments in the world that are currently leading the development of environmental research in the humanities,” says Sverker Sörlin.

Håkan Soold

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