Leah Aronowsky

Ph.D. Candidate Department of the History of Science Harvard University

2016 to 2017
Research Fellow

Configuring "Life" in the Biosphere, 1950-2000

My dissertation is a history of the concept of the biosphere, especially as it related to new ideas about "life" as a biogeochemical force and phenomenon. I focus on several groups of American environmental life and environmental scientists in the postwar era who sought to give material meaning to the chemical and physical exchanges across the earth's surface and atmosphere that comprise the biosphere, and to connect seemingly minor fluctuations in these exchanges with major past environmental events like climate change and the global nitrogen cycle. I show how, through these inquiries, the biosphere became a framework for analyzing the specific ways that life and living matter had historically affected the very conditions for life, and for forging a temporal and spatial relationship between "life" and rocks. In the context of recent debates surrounding the concept of the Anthropocene, one goal of my research is to shed light on how life--not merely in the human realm--has historically been configured as a geologic agent in the earth's history.