Greater Chicago in the Anthropocene: A Conversation about Environmental Equity, Social Justice, and Climate Change

Jack Tchen

Saturday, April 17, 2021, 10:00 AM - 10:30 AM

Type: Roundtable Discussion


This roundtable discussion embraces the conference theme of “Pathways to Democracy” by exploring civic culture in and around the Chicago region both before and during the current climate crisis. Chicago and the Great Lakes region have a long history of progressive organizing. This tradition is even more relevant today as the city and its hinterland, along with the rest of the world, grapple with increasing political, economic, and environmental inequalities caused by climate change. “Greater Chicago in the Anthropocene” will convene historians, nonhistorian academics, and nonacademic organizers, writers, and activists to discuss and debate how both the successes and failures of Chicago’s progressive tradition might inform and encourage public participation, social justice, and environmental equity now and in the future.

Session Participants

Chair and Panelist: Michael David Innis-Jiménez, University of Alabama
Michael Innis-Jiménez is Associate Professor at the University of Alabama. His research focuses on Chicago’s Mexican immigrant and Mexican-American steel mill communities; the centrality of culturally distinct immigrant food and foodways to ideas of “authenticity,” community, and belonging in Chicago’s Near West Side; and the last century of Latinx immigration to, and life in, the urban U.S. South. His monographs include: Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940, (NYUP, 2013), and Made in Chicago: Mexican Food, Tourism, and Cultural Identity, under contract with the University of Texas Press. 

Panelist: Elizabeth Grennan Browning, Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute
Elizabeth Grennan Browning is a U.S. historian specializing in environmental history and cultural history in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Midwest. She is the Midwestern/Indiana Community History Fellow at Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) in Bloomington, and adjunct faculty in the Department of History. Her forthcoming book, “Nature’s Laboratory: Urban Environmental Reform, Human Nature, and Social Control in Chicago, 1880-1945” examines how Chicago’s public intellectuals relied on environmental thought in an effort to stem the tide of labor radicalism. Browning’s current research and public history work at the transdisciplinary ERI focuses on histories of environmental health and environmental justice in the Midwest.

Panelist: Rosa Cabrera
Rosa M. Cabrera became the director of the Rafael Cintrón Ortiz Latino Cultural Center at UIC in the spring of 2011. She earned her Doctorate in Anthropology and Bachelors of Arts in Design from UIC. Prior to joining UIC, she was at the Field Museum where she led the “Cultural Connections” program, a partnership of more than 25 ethnic museums and cultural centers in Chicago that formed the Chicago Cultural Alliance in 2006 under her leadership. Between 2009-2011, she was part of a research team in a project with nine Chicago neighborhoods to better understand how diverse residents, including Latinxs in Pilsen could be engaged in the Chicago Climate Action Plan. She is currently working on the Humanities Action Lab "Climates of Inequality" project, which includes a traveling exhibit that amplifies local stories of environmental justice. The local story of La Villita, developed by UIC students in partnership with Alianza Americas, reveals how environmental injustice, immigration, and policing intersect in this neighborhood.

Panelist: Harold Platt, Loyola University Chicago
Harold L. Platt is professor of history at Loyola University Chicago. He is the author, most recently, of Sinking Chicago: Climate Change and the Remaking of a Flood-Prone Environment (Temple University Press, 2018).  His previous books include City Building in the New South: The Growth of Public Services in Houston, Texas, 1830-1920 and The Electric City: Energy and the Growth of the Chicago Area, 1880-1930. He is also the editor of Cities and Catastrophe: Coping with Emergency in European History.  He has twice won the book-of-the-year award from the American Public Works Association.

Panelist: Sylvia Hood Washington
Dr. Sylvia Hood Washington is Chief Environmental Research Scientist at Environmental Health Research Associates, LLC. She is an environmental epidemiologist, environmental engineer and environmental historian with 30 years of research experience working on the impact of industrial pollution on human health and ecosystems using qualitative and quantitative analyses. Dr. Washington was recently trained as a Climate Reality Leader with an interest in communicating climate change to environmental justice communities in the Great Lakes region. She is a published author and the creator and editor-in-chief of the first international environmental health disparities journal, Environmental Justice. Dr. Washington consults regularly with environmental law firms as well as grassroots community groups to help them understand the history of industrial operations, transportation systems and the impact of municipal planning on human health and environmental health disparities.