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Karen Holmberg

Research Scientist and Co-Director of the Gallatin WetLab
(212) 998-8488
1 Wash Pl, Room 712

Office Hours
Thursday (10-12 by appt), (2-4 by appt)

B.A., Anthropology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1995
M.A., Anthropology, Columbia University, 1999
M.Phil., Anthropology, Columbia University, 2001
Ph.D., Anthropology, Columbia University, 2009

Karen Holmberg is an archaeologist who specializes in volcanic contexts to examine the long-term experiences humans have had with environments that change unpredictably. She is interested in how the past can aid understanding of the environmental challenges and crises of the 21st century, particularly in the Global South. Holmberg is currently working on two book projects. The first, Mephistopheles on Mauna Loa: The Role of the Volcano in Climate Change, examines the role of the volcano in the haunted landscapes and global connections of the Anthropocene. The second book project, Personal Narratives of the Equinoctal, merges climate fiction, non-fiction, ethnography, and memoir to explore senses of place and belonging in contexts of radical environmental change.   Holmberg is the Principal Investigator of a National Geographic funded project in Chaitén, Chile, that studies a rock art cave complex in Patagonia under a volcano that erupted unexpectedly in 2008. The transdisciplinary project examines the cultural heritage and geological heritage of the rock art caves in relation to modern houses preserved by the 2008 disaster. Scientific data are sought but a concomitant goal is to help provide a sustainable economic base for local residents as they continue to resettle the town.   Holmberg received her PhD from Columbia University after which she taught at Brown and Stanford Universities. Her doctoral work was funded by Fulbright, Mellon, and Wenner-Gren awards. She is the recent recipient of a Creating Earth Futures award from the Geohumanities Centre of Royal Holloway University and the Leverhulme Trust for an art-science collaboration, Imaginary Explosions. She has also received a Make Our Planet Great Again award to collaborate with the Laboratoire de Géographie Physique at the Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris for the project, "Geoknowledge, environmental change, and volcanic eruption: the use of the past to inform the future."

Teaching and Research Interests

environmental change, volcanism, archaeology, human-environment intersections, disaster, the sublime, rock art, art-science collaboration, environmental humanities

Recent News

Karen Holmberg was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Chaiten Museum in Patagonia opening March 2020 integrating her archeological data and commemoration of the 2008 Chaiten Volcano eruption, as well as art created during therapy sessions with
residents forced to evacuate due to the eruption. The museum will also showcase virtual and augmented reality from her field projects’ photogrammetry data and live streaming volcanological data from the crater.

Holmberg was an invited Ambassador of the March for Science in February 2020.

Karen Holmberg’s article, “Inside the Anthropocene Volcano,” was featured in the volume, Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, x-x, October 6, 2020) Karen Holmberg contributed the chapter, “Risky Business and the Future of the Past: Nuclear Power in the Ring of Fire,” to the volume, Going Forward by Looking Back, edited by Felix Reide and Payson Sheets, (Berghahn Books, x-x, September 2020)