History of Earth and Environmental Sciences

The Earth and Environmental Sciences Working Group explores the interactions between humans and their environments from a variety of different disciplinary perspectives in the humanities and social sciences. Meetings are held monthly to discuss a colleague’s work in progress or to discuss readings that are of particular interest to participants.


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Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • May 1, 2023

    As a final wrap up discussion for the year, we will discuss opportunities for working group members to publish in several scholarly journals, including editorial representatives from the new Animal History journal (Dan Vandersommers, Susan Nance), as well as longer established journals: Environmental History (Mark Hersey), Isis (Alix Hui), and Agricultural History (Tom Okie). We will discuss not only the current landscape for journal publishing, but also -- as a part of our annual theme this year on Small Stories with Big Significance -- how to frame the larger significance of specific projects for the audiences of each of these journals.

  • April 3, 2023

    "Engineering on Trial: The 1920 Nile Projects Controversy and Epistemologies of Measurement”
    Anthony Greco, University of California, Santa Barbara
    This work-in-progress explores how medieval Arabic literary traditions, Egyptian nationalist engineers, and British physical scientists shaped the methods of hydraulic science in the Nile Valley of 1920. The physical and social networks which produced and circulated hydraulic data on the Nile reflected the complex relationship between science, colonialism, and national liberation. 

  • March 6, 2023

    We will discuss a recent article that was awarded the Rainger prize (for early career scholarship in the history of the earth and environmental sciences) at last November's History of Science Society meeting:
    Claire Isabel Webb, "Gaze-Scaling: Planets as Islands in Exobiologists' Imaginaries," Science as Culture 30, no. 3 (2021): 391-415.
    As part of our conversation, we can also discuss the special journal section on Island Imaginaries that this article was a part of, and the editors' introduction has been included in the advance reading, after Webb's article: Mascha Gugganig & Nina Klimburg-Witjes, "Island Imaginaries: Introduction to a Special Section," Science as Culture 30, no. 3 (2021): 321-341.

  • February 6, 2023

    Catherine Dunlop (Montana State University)
    The readings this week approach the theme of “Small Stories with Big Significance” through the lens of the mistral, an iconic local wind that blows through the southern French region of Provence.  The three articles invite readers to think about the connections among regional weather, culture, and identity in the modern world.  These pieces all draw from material in Catherine Dunlop’s book manuscript Windswept:  The Mistral and the Making of Provence, forthcoming with University of Chicago Press, 2024.

  • December 5, 2022

    We will discuss selections from two related and recently published books:
    Laura J. Martin, Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2022), introduction and chapter 5, which examines the practice of ecosystem science through radioecology, destruction as a method of study, and other disturbances.
    Paul S. Sutter, Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies: Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015), introduction and chapter 5, which examines the larger implications of a very local story about soil scientists and conservationists interpreting a site of dramatic landscape transformation.
    The two authors will open the discussion with comments on each other's books.

  • November 7, 2022

    "'A Great Responsibility': Biodiversity Crisis in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew"
    Isobel Akerman, Cambridge University
    This paper examines the integration of biodiversity crisis into the research, governance, and outreach of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It explores the environmental, political, and institutional context of Kew in the late 1980s and 1990s, and uses Kew’s 1998 public exhibition ‘Plants + People’ as a case study to question how and why environmental knowledge was made to move between a relatively small group of botanists and a wider cohort of publics.

  • October 3, 2022

    Jeremy Vetter (University of Arizona), one of the working group's co-conveners, will discuss one of his ongoing projects, Agate: The Biography of a Scientific Field Site, building on previous journal articles to explain how he is working to turn it into a book, and to reconceptualize it in the process. This will serve as an opening example of our intended theme for this academic year in this working group -- "Small Stories with Big Significance" -- and we will also discuss this theme in more general terms. We will encourage other group members to consider sharing their own research later in the year that might fit within this theme:
    Small Stories with Big Significance. Even as more specialized subfields emerge such as ecology, climatology, ocean science, energy, paleontology, and agricultural science, what big questions and issues unite all of us as historians of earth and environmental sciences? How can we use specific and unabashedly local or smaller-scale case studies in specific places and subfields to address these questions? How can the rapidly worsening environmental crises in which we find ourselves that seem to unfold on a global scale, such as climate change or biodiversity loss, be illuminated by histories of specific places and projects? What leverage do these specific histories of science give us? What are the strengths and weaknesses of embracing localized case studies? How might microhistories of science in the climate crisis, and of other environmental challenges, go beyond “big history” to re-embrace small stories as well, but with a challenge to make them speak to larger questions?

  • May 2, 2022

    We will discuss podcasting as a means of reaching wider audiences in the history of science and environmental history, drawing on the experiences of three podcasters, who have all agreed to join us for the conversation:
    Sky Johnston, 90 Second Narratives, https://skymichaeljohnston.com/90secnarratives
    Kate Carpenter, Drafting the Past, http://draftingthepast.com
    Sean Kheraj, Nature's Past, https://www.seankheraj.com/category/podcast, http://niche-canada.org/naturespast/

  • April 4, 2022

    Emily Pawley (Dickinson College) will discuss her recent alternative sabbatical leave projects that involves public facing work on connecting history with activism on climate change and racial justice, especially her work as part of the Environmental Historians Action Collaborative (EHAC).

  • March 7, 2022

    We will discuss two related items by Carlos Haag (PhD candidate at York University): a published paper, "The English Hunger for Desolate Places: The Royal Society Mato Grosso Expedition, 1967-1969," and a draft of another paper on the same topic, "The Royal Society of London Expedition to Brazil: Science and Empire in the Cold War (1967-1969)."

Group Conveners

  • frdavis's picture

    Frederick Davis

    Frederick Rowe Davis is Professor and Head and the R. Mark Lubbers Chair in the History of Science in the Department of History at Purdue University. His research interests lie at the intersection of the history of earth and environmental sciences, environmental health, and environmental history. He recently published Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology (Yale 2014).


  • MarkHersey's picture

    Mark Hersey

    Mark Hersey is Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University and co-editor of Environmental History. His research interests lie in the fields of environmental, rural, and agricultural history, with a particular emphasis on the American South, especially Alabama and Mississippi. He is the author of My Work Is That Of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver.


  • jvetter's picture

    Jeremy Vetter

    Jeremy Vetter is Associate Professor of History at the University of Arizona. His research is at the intersection of environmental history and the history of science and technology in the American West. He is the author of Field Life: Science in the American West during the Railroad Era (Pittsburgh, 2016).


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