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.
Please set your timezone at https://www.chstm.org/user
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Monday, February 6, 2023 11:30 am to 1:00 pm EST
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.
Monday, March 6, 2023 11:30 am to 1:00 pm EST
Monday, April 3, 2023 11:30 am to 1:00 pm EDT
"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.
Monday, May 1, 2023 11:30 am to 1:00 pm EDT
"Imagining A ‘Peatlandian Humanities’ for the ‘Lungs of Humanity’: An African Carbon Sink in the Congo Basin and the Climate Emergency"
Frank Blibo, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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)."
February 7, 2022
We will discuss four articles from a forthcoming special forum in Environmental History (April 2022):
Germán Vergara & Emily Wakild, “Extinction and Its Interventions in the Americas” (forum introduction)
Peter S. Alagona & Alexis M. Mychajliw, “Southern California's Three-Bear Shuffle: Survival, Extinction, and Recovery in an Urban Biodiversity Hotspot”
Reinaldo Funes Monzote & Etiam A. Pérez Fleitas, "In Grave Danger: A Brief Environmental History of the Cuban Crocodile"
Elizabeth Hennessy & James P. Gibbs, "When De-extinction Really Happens: The Revival of the Floreana Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos Archipelago"
Two of the authors, Emily Wakild and Elizabeth Hennessy, are planning to join us for the discussion.
December 6, 2021
We will discuss a new article that was awarded the Rainger prize (for early career scholarship in the earth and environmental sciences) at the recent History of Science Society virtual meeting:
Whitney Barlow Robles, "The Rattlesnake and the Hibernaculum: Animals, Ignorance, and Extinction in the Early American Underworld," William and Mary Quarterly 78, no. 1 (January 2021): 3-44.
The author will join us for the discussion of this prize-winning article, and we will also have the opportunity to discuss her noteworthy public/digital history work, including a recently launched digital exhibition that she created with some students at Dartmouth, The Kitchen in the Cabinet: Histories of Food and Science, which can be found at https://kitcheninthecabinet.com/.
At the beginning of our gathering, we will also briefly hold the annual meeting of the Earth and Environment Forum of the History of Science Society, which has the same topical purview as this working group.
November 1, 2021
We will discuss two articles from a recent special issue of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (vol. 50, nos. 1-2, 2020), which was a special double issue for the 50th anniversary of the journal:
Matthias Dörries, “Hot Climate, Cold War”
Melissa Charenko, “Reconstructing Climate: Paleoecology and the Limits of Prediction during the 1930s Dust Bowl”
The first of these is a brief historiographical overview of the history of climate science that has been published in the journal, which has published several notable articles over the years. The second of these is a standard original research article, which just by coincidence happened to be published in the same issue of the journal. These articles will help us launch a discussion about the history of climate science as an example of a prominent topical subfield within the history of earth and environmental sciences that has great potential for engaging in wider public discourse and policy debates.
I am pleased to say that the author of the second article, Melissa Charenko, who is now an assistant professor at Michigan State University, is planning to join us for the discussion.
October 4, 2021
For our first session of the year, we will revisit the special focus section of Isis from 2005 on the Generalist Vision in the History of Science (vol. 96, no. 2, pp. 224-251), in order to open up a discussion of how well the contributors' call for scholarly work that speaks to a wider audience has been realized during the past 16 years, in the history of earth and environmental sciences. Participants should (re)read the introduction to the focus section by Rob Kohler, and are encouraged to (re)read the other three thought provoking and stimulating essays too, which are all relatively brief, by Paula Findlen, Steve Shapin, and David Kaiser. Each participant will then be invited to introduce themselves, and each attendee will be encouraged to highlight a work (article, book, etc.) by some other scholar in the history of the earth and environmental sciences during the past 16 years, which serves as a successful example of speaking to a wider (scholarly and/or public) audience beyond niche specialists. We will then use this opening discussion as a springboard for spending the rest of the year discussing the problem of how historians of earth and environmental sciences can address not only wider audiences within the scholarly community but also contribute to public engagement around pressing environmental crises such as climate change and biodiversity loss.
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).
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.
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).