Benjamin Goossen

Postdoctoral Researcher, Institute for the Formation of Knowledge, University of Chicago

2022 to 2023
Research Fellow

The Year of the Earth (1957-1958): Cold War Science and the Making of Planetary Consciousness

My book project, The Year of the Earth, explains how environmental science helped to concentrate wealth and power in the Global North following the retraction of European empires. I show how the invention of Earth as an imagined set of physical systems was essential for new forms of empire and tactics of wealth accumulation. To tell this story, I focus on the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY), the first global study of our planet as a unified environment. The IGY involved tens of thousands of scientists and citizen volunteers from most countries. Its organizers (a remarkable team of rivals representing both sides of the Iron Curtain) publicly depicted their program as vital for global economic development. But acquiring comprehensive environmental data—including data related to “extreme” regions like the upper atmosphere, deep ocean, north and south poles, and outer space—allowed the Cold War superpowers and their allies to exercise global military and commercial force while claiming to support decolonization across the Global South.