John Ruskin: Prophet of the Anthropocene, University of Notre Dame

February 7, 2020, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, USA

On February 8, 2019, the 200th anniversary of John Ruskin’s birth, the BBC published a feature asking “Was John Ruskin the most important man of the last 200 years?” The question is entirely warranted. John Ruskin, Victorian art critic turned social commentator, was an early analyst of the damage done to the earth by industrialization, and placed questions of beauty at the heart of all his writings on science, architecture, urban environments, painting, economics, education, and what we now call ecology. Deeply trained in scripture by his evangelical parents and in classics by his education at Oxford, Ruskin was a champion of the most innovative British painters of the nineteenth century, an activist deeply committed to the education of the working class, and a utopianist, whose plan for a Guild of St. George tried to model a community that would honor both the earth’s and the human worker’s need for connection and replenishment. Leaving behind an enormous body of writing, Ruskin continues to influence art history, architecture, literary studies, political theory, ethics, environmental studies, and schooling. This conference, convening on the weekend of his 201st birthday, will explore how his legacy continues to challenge the disciplinary divides that separate art from science and ethics from economics; and how his critique of Victorian capitalism and industrialization can address our own concerns today.

The conference will engage not just with Ruskin’s writing, but with the very wide impact Ruskin’s ideas continue to have in the world.  William Morris began the Arts and Crafts Movement largely animated by ideas Ruskin popularized. Mohandas Gandhi famously credited Ruskin’s Unto the Last with beginning his life’s work. Countless schools and centers for continuing education have been influenced by his writing on working-class education and by the practices he advocated as Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford University. The Guild of St George which Ruskin founded as a utopian community designed to reconcile the worker to nature continues to operate today, alongside the Ruskin in Wyre Project, a philanthropic project committed to the intertwined projects of Forest Preservation and handicraft production. His house and gardens in Cumbria, Brantwood, have not only been beautifully restored, but continue to be a site of where Ruskin’s ecological principles are put into practice.  Participants include scholars who have studied these projects, and those who continue to be active in them. The conference will be accompanied by a small exhibition in Rare Books and Special Collections. Our Library holds a large collection of early Ruskin imprints, reflecting his importance for the young University of Notre Dame.

On the evening of Ruskin’s birthday, February 8, Clive Wilmer – poet, Cambridge professor, and Master of the Guild of St George – will offer the inaugural Ruskin Birthday Address. This Address will be an annual event, focused on the Anthropocene and the humanistic response to it.

See more information here.

Posted: January 17, 2020