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.
Group Conveners
Frederick Davis
Mark Hersey
Jeremy Vetter

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Consortium Respectful Behavior Policy

Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to conduct@chstm.org.

Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • April 1, 2024

    In anticipation of the total solar eclipse across North America on April 8, we will discuss the history of solar eclipse expeditions and experiences. Readings will include: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, "The Social Event of the Season: Solar Eclipse Expeditions and Victorian Culture," Isis 84, no. 2 (1993): 252-77; Steve Ruskin, "'Among the Favored Mortals of the Earth': The Press, State Pride, and the Eclipse of 1878," Colorado Heritage (Spring 2008): 22-35; review of and excerpts from David Baron, American Eclipse (New York: Liveright, 2017).

  • March 4, 2024

    We will discuss a work in progress by Laura Clerx, Boston College and Consortium Research Fellow, "'An article almost as necessary as cash': Engineering Economy in the Early Republic"

  • February 5, 2024

    "Twilight at Noon?: Paul Crutzen, Albedo Enhancement, and the Historical Foundations of Geoengineering" 
    Gerard Fitzgerald, Visiting Scholar, The Greenhouse Center for Environmental Humanities, University of Stavanger, and Lecturer, Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
    In 2006, the atmospheric chemist Paul Jozef Crutzen (1933-2021) published a pathbreaking and controversial paper in the journal Climatic Change entitled “Albedo Enhancement by Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: A Contribution to Resolve a Policy Dilemma?” Crutzen, who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland "for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone," devoted his scientific life to studying the complex relationship that certain molecules play in shaping our planetary atmosphere. Any balanced historical study of the evolution of human efforts toward geoengineering must touch upon Crutzen’s work in general, and his 2006 paper. My paper examines Crutzen’s work leading up to the 2006 publication, and how his research career on topics such as planetary ozone levels, climate change, nuclear winter, and even his “introduction” of the term “Anthropocene” in 2000 played a role in shaping how he came to see the possibilities for stratospheric geoengineering to recalibrate the reflectivity of the Earth’s atmosphere.  

  • December 4, 2023

    We will be reading and discussing five short (500 word) summaries of research, based on an ASEH panel from 2022, which the authors -- Faizah Zakaria, Theresa Ventura, Claire Perrott, Adam Bobbette, and Daniella McCahey -- have expanded upon for an upcoming Isis focus section on twentieth-century volcanology. The beauty and violence of volcanoes have made them into a long source of human fascination. But while much attention has been paid to earlier eruptions like Vesuvius, Tambora, and Krakatoa, the relationships between volcanoes and history in the twentieth century has received less historiographical attention. This truly interdisciplinary group of scholars, who will be joining us for the discussion, include an agricultural historian, a historian of science, a historian of religion, an environmental historian, and a historical geographer, based in four countries and focusing on many different regions. Yet all have found the shadows of volcanoes looming, to one extent or another, over their work. 

  • November 6, 2023

    Fraser Livingston, Introduction to "Losing Longleaf: Forestry and Conservation in the Southern Coastal Plain" and Chapter VI, "Frankenstein Forests: Federal Forestry and Longleaf Conservation in the Twentieth Century"

  • October 2, 2023

    'Whither the Sub-Tropics? Medical Geography and Geographic Imaginaries of a Shifting Climate"
    Elaine Lafay, Rutgers University

  • 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.