The Interdisciplinary Environmental Association (IEA) was conceived in the early 1990’s when an economist (Prof. Demetri Kantarelis, right) and a geographer (Prof. Kevin Hickey, left) at Assumption College MA decided to create an interdisciplinary course in environmental economics. While looking for supporting information for course design, they discovered that there was little published scholarship from which to draw, and that peer-reviewed journals and other professional outlets afforded little opportunity for scholars to step beyond their field and experiment with a new, broader approach to environmental issues. Profs. Kantarelis and Hickey, suspecting that there were other scholars with similar interests in interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues but no outlet for presentation or publication, initiated the IEA in the spring of 1994 to identify and organize these individuals. Initial interest was created through a massive internet campaign, which Prof. Kantarelis referred to as an “Internet Bottle” cast out into the world, in the Fall of 1994. While expecting some modest response from like-minded colleagues scattered around the globe, they instead received over 1400 responses to their query of interest within a few days.
The first International Interdisciplinary Conference on the Environment (IICE), organized by Profs. Kantarelis and Hickey and their staff during a Spring sabbatical, was held in Boston in June of 1995 and included over 100 attendees and 70 papers representing 18 foreign countries and 14 disciplines. This initial group of participants became the core of the IEA, with subsequent members drawn primarily through word of mouth, the internet, and the conference. Indeed, the initial conference proved to be so successful that a second IICE was organized for June 1996 in Newport, RI, where again over 100 participants attended. Sensing a broader interest than they initially expected, succeeding conferences were experimentally moved beyond driving distance of Assumption College to Baltimore MD and Washington DC, with 34 different countries represented at the conferences within the first three years. By 2000, the IEA had hosted its first IICE outside the United States (in Montreal, Canada), and in 2001 hosted an IICE on the west coast (in San Francisco CA), picking up new interest as the organization gained further exposure.
The original mission of the IEA was “first, to bring together all disciplines so that environmental knowledge is enhanced though interdisciplinary communications; and second, to inform the educated lay public about the research, current concerns, plans, and prospects for a cleaner future”. The goals of the organization are to enhance understanding of environmental issues by educating each other in an interdisciplinary format, and to present disciplinary perspectives of environmental problems to people outside those disciplines, and especially to those outside academia, in a clear, understandable fashion. This remains a strong determinant in all papers accepted by the IEA for presentation at the IICE or for publication in its peer-reviewed journal Interdisciplinary Environmental Review (one of the few journals where papers must pass peer review from both within and from outside an author’s primary discipline).
While initial interest was almost overwhelming for the two professors and their nearly non-existent staff, the attendees of the first conference were primarily a mixture of environmental scholars and educated non-academics, as well as activists and environmentalists. Within a few years, the academically rigorous nature of the conference (including responding to pointed discussion and feedback from people with a myriad of regional and disciplinary perspectives) tilted the attendance and membership increasingly away from the more casual latter group, constricting numbers. Today, the IEA is primarily an organization of academics and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives, though all are dedicated to approaching environmental issues from interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary viewpoints. A hard blow came in the wake of events following the September 11 attack in 2001, when new visa restrictions alarmingly limited the numbers of international attendees, especially from Africa and Asia. Visas and travel remain an issue for the IEA, an organization that has always desired a strong international presence, but the organization continues to attract attention and gain new members both in the United States and abroad; a testament to what can be accomplished by a few individuals with a little bit of vision and determination.
Click here for a brochure outlining the origins, goals, and programs of the IEA. This brochure may be printed and distributed to potentially interested colleagues.