Too Many Americans: Overpopulation and the Crisis of Abundance


Location: B001 Geddes Hall

Angela Allan

Professor Angela Allan examines a unique moment in the history of the cold war. While the threat of nuclear annihilation still loomed overhead, a new global threat emerged as Americans became increasingly anxious about a growing world population and shrinking resources, as scientists like Paul Ehrlich and Garrett Hardin predicted catastrophic effects. These fears forced Americans to reassess their conception of “the American way of life,” politically, economically, socially—and for the purposes of this talk—culturally.

Thinking about the crisis of abundance as an inevitable conflict between people and things, Allan look at attempts to escape this sense of tradeoff. Even if these futures still looked grim, they helped set the stage for more contemporary conversations about climate change.

Angela S. Allan is the Assistant Director of Studies and a lecturer in History & Literature at Harvard University. Her work focuses on the literature, culture, and politics of the late 20th century; portions of this work have appeared in Studies in American Fiction and the Cambridge volume, American Literature in Transition, 1960-1970. She is also currently working on another project, a cultural history of the apocalyptic speculation that exploded around fears of overpopulation and “the limits to growth” in the late 1960s and 1970s—an anxiety that just as quickly disappeared in the 1980s—and their resurgence under climate change. Her writing also appears in The Atlantic.

A reception will follow the lecture.

Sponsored by the Department of American Studies, Institute for Scholarship in the Arts, Department of History, and the Minor in Sustainability.

Originally published at

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