The University of Cambridge is launching two new climate-focused graduate programmes, exploring the past and potential futures of the interaction between the planet and humanity, to train a new generation of creative and innovative leaders to respond to our most pressing global challenge.

The two Master's programmes, in Anthropocene Studies and Holocene Climates, will welcome their first students in October 2020 and will be hosted in the Department of Geography. They are among the first Master's degrees in the world to study the connected issues of global change, past, present and future from such a cross-disciplinary vantage point. Students on both programmes will complete a common course in interdisciplinary thinking and analysis.

The programmes will provide students with deep insights into the processes and outcomes of global change in the past and equip them with the tools to understand and question the processes of human and planetary change and transformation taking place now and into the future.

Applications to both programmes are now open, and potential students can find out more at the upcoming postgraduate open day on Friday, 1 November.

The MPhil in Anthropocene Studies will provide students with the knowledge and skills to study, explore and critique the implications, tensions and challenges inherent in the idea of the Anthropocene: the proposed ‘age of humans’ which reflects the enormous impact of humanity on our planet.

What does it mean for humanity to be considered a geological force? Who might promote, and who might resist, this proposed language signifying the age of humans? How might this idea change how people think ethically about the environment, themselves and their actions in the world? How can the sciences, social sciences and humanities each contribute towards understanding the profound challenges that the Anthropocene signifies?

The Anthropocene Studies programme is led by prominent geographer and climate change scholar Professor Mike Hulme. He established the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in 2000 and is the author of the book ‘Why We Disagree About Climate Change’.

“The academic discipline of geography is perfectly placed to scrutinise the contested idea of the Anthropocene … and to do so in a fresh and holistic manner,” he said. “Geographers recognise and value the multiple ways people come to create and know their worlds and we explore the interactions between human life and environmental change that lie at the heart of the Anthropocene provocation.”

The Holocene Climates MPhil, led by Professor Ulf Büntgen, will develop students’ expertise at the interface of climate and history in a new way, beginning from the premise that exchange and dialogue across different disciplines should be normal practice.

The programme will focus on the generation, interpretation and integration of different forms of evidence of past climate change and variability, addressing questions such as: How and why has climate varied during the Holocene? How have such changes and subsequent environmental factors interacted with ecological and societal processes and systems? How might this evidence of past climate change guide today’s responses to future change?

Together with his colleagues, Professor Büntgen conducts fieldwork all over the world, researching the causes and consequences of changes in the Earth’s climate system across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales.

“With its academic expertise, sub-disciplinary breadth and state-of-the-art laboratory infrastructure, Cambridge’s Department of Geography offers a unique opportunity to address a multitude of interrelated questions associated with the entanglements of the volcano-climate-human nexus throughout the Holocene,” he said. “Due to their conceptual understanding of the complexity of past climate variability and human history, geographers are in the pole position to reach out to other disciplines within the natural and social sciences and even the humanities.”

The two programmes will enhance students’ careers, whether inside or outside academia, public or private sectors, national or international organisations, or in developed or developing world contexts. The degrees are designed to accommodate students with a wide range of first-degree backgrounds and are open to international, EU and UK students.

Cambridge researchers are working across the sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences to develop solutions to climate change. In addition, the University is shortly due to launch Cambridge Zero, an ambitious climate change initiative bringing together the wide range of climate-related research happening at the University.


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