Invention and innovation: The long term

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm EST (GMT -05:00)

Speaker: Sander van der Leeuw

A video of van der Leeuw’s talk is available below or on our Vimeo page.

Dr. Sander van der Leeuw


In the last 20 years, researchers have come to the conclusion that we cannot study the evolution of societies separately from those of their environments. Over time, the two have become closely intertwined, so that we can now speak of the ‘Anthropocene’ ­ the period in which humans have such an impact on their environment that the latter no longer follows its own dynamics. In the evolution that led up to this situation, we can distinguish three major phases in which humans invented major new ways to process matter, energy and information, as well as widening and deepening their interaction with the environment. The paper outlines this development, and then discusses some of then underlying drivers and their implications for our modern world, and the role of innovation in it.

Presenter bio

Sander van der Leeuw is the 2012 United Nations Champion of the Earth for Science and Innovation. His expertise lies in the role of invention, sustainability, and innovation in societies around the world. He and his research team investigate how invention occurs, what the preconditions are, how the context influences it, and its role in society. An archaeologist and historian by training, Van der Leeuw has studied ancient technologies, ancient and modern man-land relationships, and complex systems theory. He has done archaeological fieldwork in Syria, Holland, and France, and conducted ethno-archaeological studies in the Near East, the Philippines and Mexico. Since 1992 he has co-ordinated a series of interdisciplinary research projects on socio-natural interactions and modern environmental problems. The work spans all the countries along the northern Mediterranean rim. Van der Leeuw is an external professor of the Santa Fe Institute and a corresponding member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. He teaches courses on the ethnography of innovation.

Remote video URL