"Bedlam at Botany Bay offers readers a strikingly original re-reading of early colonial Australia. Beautifully crafted and deeply empathetic, this is a book with genuine literary and scholarly merit. It makes a significant and invigorating impact on the field of Australian history, and deserves to be read and discussed for many years to come." – Judge's Comments, New South Wales Premier's Awards 2020
"A brilliant and compassionate study. Vivid true stories spill out of these pages, illuminating colonial society with the myriad flares of private suffering." – Tom Griffiths AO
"by insisting that we should examine trauma and madness in their wider social contexts, by voyaging into emotional history and the predicaments of both the insane and the people who cared for them, James Dunk has opened promising new ways to understand the histories of empires and colonies." – Grace Karskens
This article traces a genealogy for the various strands of contemporary psychology which are concerned with global environmental change, including conservation psychology, ecopsychology, and other subfields and interdisciplinary concentrations. Focusing on a network of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other researchers based at a research center founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1982, the article explores what those who first turned to the psychological causes and implications of climate change and other kinds of global environmental disruption had learned from their studies of nuclear-era psychology. The explorations of these researchers and practitioners in systems psychology, depth psychology, and political psychology, elicited by the first truly planetary crisis of the modern world, the threat of general nuclear war (which, apart from the enormous damage done at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and during weapons tests, remained largely theoretical), were applied to a new planetary crisis which was already unfolding: global environmental degradation. As they completed this pivot from the nuclear threat to the environmental crisis, at the end of the Cold War, using the language of the psychology of survival, these researchers displayed the form and function of what might be called a planetary psychology-of psychological theory and practice which broaches the planetary context of the individual psyche.
Dunk, J. (2022). Psychology as if the whole earth mattered: Nuclear threat, environmental crisis, and the emergence of planetary psychology. History of Psychology, 25(2), 97–120. https://doi.org/10.1037/hop0000208
Essays & literary reviews
Essays and other writing
(In preparation) James Dunk and Phil Walker-Harding, ‘Gaming Climate Change: Play, Affect and Crisis Habits,’ for Slade.
'Languages of Loss and Renewal: A Wordweave' (an audio poem with Freya MacDonald, Christine McFetridge, Cameron Muir, Anastasia Murney, Lynda Ng, Kate Stevens, and Jamie Wang), Emotional Ecologies, Network in Canadian History & Environment, 25 July 2023.
'Narrowneck: A Communal Photo Journal' (with Christine McFetridge, Cameron Muir, Anastasia Murney, and Jamie Wang), Emotional Ecologies, Network in Canadian History & Environment, 25 July 2023.
Interview with environmental anthropologist Sophie Chao, more-than-human worlds (August 2022).
'Designing Australian Games in an Ecological Crisis’ (with Meredith Walker-Harding and Phil Walker-Harding), Sydney Environment Institute (5 July 2022).
‘Writing Life No. 16: An Interview with Warwick Anderson,’ Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology, 10 February 2022.
‘Writing the Environment: Encounters, Transformation, and Perspectives in Multispecies Storytelling,’ (with Sophie Chao and Hannah Della Bosca), Sydney Environment Institute (6 October 2021).
'Reaching Across Disciplinary Boundaries to Consider Ecological Futures,’ Sydney Environment Institute (19 August 2021).
‘Unease and Disease: Redrawing the Boundaries of Colonial Madness,’ Griffith Review 72: States of Mind (May 2021): 149–58.
‘Planetary Health Histories,’ interview with Warwick Anderson, James Dunk and Marcos Cueto for História, Ciências, Saúde – Manguinhos blog (October 2020).
‘How Doctors Convinced the World the Planet Was Worth Fighting For,’ The Conversation (26 August 2019).
'Mad by the Millions: Mental Disorders and the Early Years of the World Health Organization by Harry Yi-Jui Wu (MIT Press, 2021),’ Australian Book Review, no. 434 (September 2021).
‘Psychiatry and its Discontents’ by Andrew Scull (University of California Press, 2019), Australian Book Review, no. 421 (May 2020).
‘Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Communicated Disease’ by Simon Chapman and Fiona Crichton (Sydney University Press, 2017), Australian Book Review, no. 415 (October 2019), pp. 27-28.
‘The Environment: A History of the Idea’ by Paul Warde, Libby Robin and Sverker Sörlin (Johns Hopkins, 2018), Australian Book Review, no. 408 (January 2019).
‘The Memorandoms of James Martin: An Astonishing Escape From Early New South Wales’ ed. Tim Causer (UCL Press, 2017), Australian Book Review, no. 397 (2017).
‘Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time’ by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield (Oneworld Publications, 2016), Australian Book Review, no. 388 (2017), p. 49.
“A vision of past savagery that lies maddeningly between truth and fiction”: James Dunk reviews Sarah Drummond’s 'The Sound', Rochford Street Review, no. 19 (September 2016).
'Finding Sanity: John Cade, Lithium and the Taming of Bipolar Disorder', by Greg de Moore and Ann Westmore, in Australian Book Review, no. 386 (2016), p. 66.
'The Profilist' by Adrian Mitchell, in Australian Book Review, no. 378 (January-February 2016), p. 47.
'Seasons of War' by Christopher Lee, in Australian Book Review, no. 370 (March 2015), p. 60.
'The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon' by Laure Murat, translated by Deke Dusinberre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), in Australian Book Review, no. 369 (March 2015), p. 58.
BA (Adv Hons I) PhD (Sydney)
2022– Research Fellow & Janet Dora Hine Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney
I am currently a full-time researcher in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney, and a collaborative fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute, where I co-lead the Ecological Emotions Research Lab with Associate Professor Paul Rhodes. I sit on the SSPS Research Committee and am the School ECR Representative on the Faculty EMCR Committee.
2018–22 Research Fellow, School of Humanities, University of Sydney
I was a research fellow in the School of Humanities at the University of Sydney, working on histories of planetary health, depth psychology, and human ecology.
2013-18 Research Assistant/Research Associate, University of Sydney
I managed the the laureate research program Race and Ethnicity in the Global South, led by Professor Warwick Anderson.
Australian History Prize, NSW Premier's History Awards 2020 (Bedlam at Botany Bay) [$15,000].
Charles Perkins Centre Exceptional Contribution Award, 2019 [$2000].
Jill Roe Prize, Australian Historical Association, 2016.
Grants and Fellowships
ANU Australian Studies Institute Visiting Fellowship, 2023 [$5,000]
Co-Chief Investigator, ‘Young People and Climate Distress: Developing Clinical Tools for the Climate Crisis,’ Collaborative Fellowship, Sydney Environment Institute, 2022 [$32,000]
Co-Chief Investigator, ‘At a Loss for Words of Loss: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives on New Earth Lexicons,’ School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry Project Grant, 2022 [$4,867]
School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, Research Support Scheme, 2022 [$7,509]
Harvard Mobility Scheme Grant, Office of Global Engagement, University of Sydney, 2019 [$8,108].
AHA-Copyright Agency Early Career Mentorship Scheme (with Catharine Coleborne, University of Newcastle), 2018 [$1,500].
EU Erasmus+ Mobility Grant, 2016 [EUR 2,780].
Memories of the Future
a planet burning hot, breathing ragged
To heal our planet we must know it more deeply.
Seven Sydney historians and a local musician shared stories in word and song of places that have formed us, to re-enchant the world and lay down memories for the future
Hans Pols, Tending to the Nation: Medicine, Nationalism and Decolonisation in the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia, manuscript submitted to Cambridge University Press [Editor]
Warwick Anderson, Barbara Brookes and Miranda Johnson, eds. Pacific Futures: Past and Present, in preparation for University of Hawai’i Press [Copy-editor]
Warwick Anderson and Ricardo Roque, eds., special issue of the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies [Copy-editor]
Warwick Anderson and Ian R. Mackay, Intolerant Bodies: A Short History of Autoimmunity (Durham: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) [Proofreading and Index]
Psychology as if the whole earth mattered
Towards a planetary mental health
IN THE FACE OF DEVELOPING ECOLOGICAL CRISES, argued Anthony McMichael in 1990, the real driver of action would be human health, and those who wished to protect it would need to learn to ‘anticipate the future’. That perspective has given way to planetary health, a complex, globally framed epidemiology – or a human ecology pressed by crisis conditions into urgent focus on health outcomes. The new field looks to build a sufficient evidence basis for the radical reconfiguration of agriculture, energy, transportation, housing, and other systems in a deteriorating planetary environment – to protect human health by preserving the health of natural planetary systems. While advocates emphasise the significance of mental health within their framework, early projects and outcomes under its rubric have concentrated on physical health. One reason for this may be that the systems thinking which underpins the field has led to profound challenges when applied to psychological problems.
This historical project traces the emergence of ‘planetary mental health’ formulations from the 1980s, when psychiatrists and psychologists active in the medical antinuclear advocacy movement formed their own organisations. They studied not only the potential psychological effects of nuclear war (as their peers did with bodily effects), but the psychology of living under its threat, especially as it presented in children. Some, inspired by developments in systems thinking, went further, investigating the psychological factors which had produced and continued to sustain weapons of such unruly power, diagnosing forms of psychopathology, or ‘nuclear madness’. As the Cold War drew to a close, these researchers applied the frameworks they had developed to the ecological crisis revealed by the landmark UN World Commission on Environment and Development, and begun to map the health effects of deteriorating planetary systems. Drawing on the interdisciplinary insights of human ecology, psychological researchers presented a challenging hypothesis under the banner of ‘ecopsychology’ which prefigured later discussions of the ‘anthropocene’. Humans, they argued, by imagining themselves separate from other species, had developed a fundamental psychopathology, of which the destruction of their ‘life-support systems’ was a deadly symptom and testament. So too the anxiety, despair and ‘solastalgia’ which appear increasingly endemic in the anthropocene are symptoms not only of environmental deterioration but of that fundamental dislocation.
This project will compare the planetary health and global mental health frameworks with these insights from human ecology and ecopsychology to explore the vectors and boundaries of the systems thinking which has become increasingly dominant in biomedical thinking since the mid-twentieth century, and the disciplinary resistance to overarching questions – about human selves and the species – which have emerged both from the study of deep evolutionary time and from the modelling of deteriorating futures.