Sverker Sörlin | History of Science Society | 2017 Distinguished Lecture

Sverker Sörlin | History of Science Society | 2017 Distinguished Lecture

so it’s a huge pleasure for me to
welcome our distinguished guest this evening on behalf of the program
committee and all our history of science society members assembled here I want to
say how very honored we are to focus all in that that you agreed to deliver the
Society’s distinguished lecture for 2017 professor sverker Sahlin is professor of
environmental history at the Royal Institute of Technology in in Stockholm
and a co-founder of the environmental humanities lab or laboratory which is an
initiative of the division of history of science technology and the environment
which is also at the RIT in Stockholm he’s one of the most and I actually
would say the most influential commentator in Scandinavia on
environmental policy and climate change and a leading participant in what he is
calling and what we will call in conjunction with him the environmental
term in the humanities and the social sciences he’s probably best known to us
as a pioneer in drawing attention to the historiography of the Arctic and for his
scholarship on the geophysical field sciences especially Glaciology,
environmental sustainability, politics and governance and I am longing for him
to explain the image that we have shown here at some points. Swaggart is an
acclaimed public intellectual in Scandinavia a critic and writer of
literary nonfiction and essays his most recent book was on the Anthropocene and
he’s won many prestigious prizes including the August Strindberg Prize
for his two volume history of European science and ideas 1492
to 1918 that’s a heck of a stretch to cover and he’s held visiting positions
in Berkeley, Cambridge UK, Princeton, Cape Town, Oslo, and the University of British
Columbia in Vancouver and he’s currently director of a center of excellence. It’s
called a North Fork center of excellence for resource extraction and sustainable
Arctic communities which he leads with 15 partner institutions drawn from the
universities, museums, and other Institute’s from seven countries. H is
work to those who invited him and I do urge you to address it if you don’t
already know it, his work is truly compelling including studies on the
emergence of environmental prediction, the strategic and technological value of
the circumpolar north, the impact of the International polar year in 2007, and
postcolonial pressures on indigenous communities all of which and more are
reflected in the many advisory boards and special projects that he leads or
participates in. He’s had a long-term interest in the formation, the both
historical and present-day formation, of environmental expertise how people come
to believe that there is expertise which we know is an issue today or what could
be called the roles and functions of knowledge in environmentally informed
modern societies and he also serves as a policy analyst and advisor to government.
So that’s astonishing and we are deeply impressed by what you have to think and
I just want to mention to our audience among smokers books
particularly on northern themes there’s narrating the Arctic there are North… a
book called North escapes and science geopolitics and culture in the polar
region he’s recently working on a project that tracks how Arctic climate
change travels through media and politics. So we could have no better
guide to the troubling themes of climate change and the geopolitics of the
circumpolar north than our distinguished lecturer tonight. When we first
corresponded about the invitation I promised him an audience deeply
appreciative of environmental matters so don’t let me down. It’s a real pleasure
to welcome professor Sverker Sörlin to deliver the 2017
history of Science Society Distinguished Lecture: Greening the Great White
Encounters of Knowledge and Environment and the Northern Turn in the History of
Science. Please. (Applause) well thank you very much I will have to
say a few words myself as well after this long introduction some of your
things you mentioned I’ve almost forgotten. The…the image I promised to say a couple
of words about that. Actually I use it often as a kind of an icon for for our
division at the Royal Institute in Stockholm because it’s so unexpected for
historians to work in the field and also in this particular kind of field which
is actually Naples where we have some studies of waste management there’s lots
of garbage there and there’s lots of mafia and it’s not me in the uniform I
can tell you. Dear fellow historians over the last couple of years I’ve felt more
and more as if my work on history is turned into a kind of defence work–a
protection of virtues and principles as if I realized I held a kind of secret
like the members of that lonely crowd in Farenheit 451 who’d gather among the
trees to mumble texts they learn by heart because all the books they owned
and kept and loved were burned. I think no not so much about single facts or news
that have been faked although that is disheartening enough, I’m talking about
the deeper undermining of reason and sheer decency there’s ongoing and sadly
linked to power. That is I believe why our work is if possible, even more
important now than it was ever before I need to say no more you know already
what I’m thinking about.. the question is how can we take that mission on? How
could we do more without compromising what we already do and have learned to
do well? and that is why really I would like to move north for this talk because
I think there is something that we can see perhaps more clearly there but let
me before we move just add that on a similar occasion as this one in back in
2010 at the American Society for environmental history
meeting in Portland, Oregon that year, the dinner speech was given by the respected
cartoonist Jack Ohman of The Oregonian later a Pulitzer Prize winner with a
Sacramento Bee. This is one of his images. He told us that half of his colleagues
across the US had lost their jobs and that many newspapers were closing down
still he managed to crack some jokes very sourly but they were very good. A
public sphere without cartoonists means that citizens have lost one of their
sensory tools with which they make sense of their time and place. Back home I
wrote a very sad column about it in my own paper the Stockholm Daily Dagens Nyheter, there still still I couldn’t have dreamed about the public sphere would
become in just seven years. In distinction from cartoonists most of us
still have jobs although we are under hot pressure in many countries and by
the US Congress whenever they discuss budgets to the NSF and NIH and in many
ways I think we have to start seeing ourselves that also as cartoonists as
belonging in the community of friction makers and sense makers. My take on the
ongoing northern turn in the…in the humanities, is that the north is a good
place to address questions of fundamental importance and I mean both
for the world we live in and for the writing of history some of the largest
issues today are to do with scales and agency. We share the value that history
should be loyal to agency of people but we can also see how history increasingly
plays out at scales and with ramifications that move far beyond our
ordinary archival bandwidth of observation. There is a nervousness
around these issues debates are raging, manifestos written and rebutted, the
northern turn happens I think because as if by a subterranean impulse we have
realized that things are visible in the north
that could help us sort these issues and not just there but anywhere on the globe
and we also sense that in our time we really should have something to say
about the large issues. Cognitive science is mapping the brain in super projects.
Resilience science is taking on global sustainability. Economists are, I hope,
finally starting their inevitable breakup from the neoclassical paradigm
along with our 20 list care for patterns of detail, we should as historians also
respond to the hunger and thirst for meaningful narratives that could assist
our troubled navigation. So the northern turn reflects I believe a much deeper
longing in our profession to do more. Greening that.. the great white may seem
an awkwardly ambiguous and strange title though. Green is good of course,
but is it good if the white goes away as we know is what happens— ice and snow are melting but it’s also true that environmental protection has never been
more active. Enormous areas of land are turned into reserves. Here is a map of
the situation in Svalbard in Greenland and particularly the Svalbard image
speaks miles I think. The situation in Russia is similar down on the right hand
side, It’s not a very good map though, where among the 101 nature reserves or Zappo veneks
several in the north have been created in the last 25 years among those, the
great Arctic reserve in the Krasnoyarsk region, according to Russian sources, the
largest reserve of Russia and Eurasia as well as one of the largest in the world
covering 42000 square kilometers the size of the Kingdom of
Denmark .Alaska too has massive reserves next door to the North Slope oil fields.
Canada same thing, and not on the map though but in
my own Sweden by far the largest parks and reserves are in the north. In fact a
research project in my own department at kth is entitled ‘The Greening of the
Poles’ led by Peter Roberts our colleague. so as you hear like so many good things
my title is stolen. It’s also stolen from a Canadian volume ‘Rethinking the Great
White North’ It’s subtitle contains the words “race”
and “whiteness” it links science with color in an interesting way in one of
the chapters Stephen Bocking argues that whiteness and I quote “maintains an
analogical relationship with science” end of quote. He talks of and I quote again “a
neglect of the specific contexts of racialization including scientific
institutions and disciplines” end quote and he says this after a careful analysis of
both nature conservation and anthropology and other fields. Catriona
Sandilands in the same volume studies the ecologization of national parks and
observes what she calls an erasure of human presence from these areas. Go
greening can be just another version of whitening of nature– an imprint of the
scientific southern culture on the north and its populations so by this act of
linking to color and environment in my title I wanted to say something that I
believe is central to the ongoing northern turn in in their history of
science and related fields and I will give you some evidence of
this turn in a moment namely that it is also an act of reinterpretation of the
kind of work that science does in the north and elsewhere. Science is no longer
that beacon of truth and technology advancing in what explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson once called ‘The North Ward Course of
Empire’ volume from 1922 . In an unforgettable moment of climate
determinism where even civilization whitened and elevated as it pressed on
toward lower mean temperatures and as you may note on the top end of that
curve we find his own and native Winnipeg of course as the epitome of the
human Enterprise on earth this curve is so very cool I never give a talk without
it I can tell you. The northern curves today are very different reminding us
rather of our various sins and shortcomings foreboding in their icy
imprints what Torontonian Jane Jacobs in the title of her last book in 2004
prophetically called the Dark Age Ahead. Arctic sea routes are quite simply less
utopian now than they were in Steffanson’s days. Now a story that
highlights how ice precisely made it to the era of our current anxieties flared
up in American and world media in the spring of 2016.
It was sparked off by an article in the top-rated journal progress in historical
geography on feminist Glaciology by a group of historians at the University of
Oregon and I would like to remind you that I am NOT a spokesperson of Oregon
it just happens to pop up the second time in my talk here and even in Sweden
as they say in this country and otherwise widely respected actually not
in this country I meant the United States but it’s so easy to be a little
bit confused when you travel for… so I start again even in Sweden an otherwise
widely respected columnist and author repeated the climate denialist slander
about this piece and what the twittering right conceived as NSF’s senseless funding of it. What cribbed her this columnist I think was the rendering of
ice the most universal substance of all water in its most elevated places in
high mountains and at the poles that this element of sheer purity had
politics. Ice is physics – free of opinion and I think her position she didn’t know
how to pop these things I’m sure, but still her position confirms Stephen
Hawking’s analysis that we just heard Glaciology must remain white and in
crafting a response to her in the Dagens Nyheter, I read a book by the
Argentinian political scientist Jorge Daniel Taillant, you see it here ‘Glaciers:
The Politics of Ice’ from 2015 based on his UC Berkeley PhD. The company Barrick
Gold’s wanted to mine in the Andes and use dynamite and soot for melting, to
clear off the glaciers that hindered them from reaching the treasures below
–the gold. The issue was brought to the Argentinian Parliament and a law
actually to protect the glaciers was indeed passed in 2010 and in fact a
similar law existed already in France- the law de Montaigne from 1985 and in
Italy, glaciers are a Commons under the Water Legislation since 1921.
Now as Mark Kerry the leader of the Oregon team and others have demonstrated
in their research on the Andes on Himalaya and other regions, fresh water
supplies from glaciers are important for small mountain communities but also for
big things like watering of rivers across the Northern Indian subcontinent
much of the work to take care of water for drinking, washing, household animals,
is carried out precisely by women. Needless to say this hated peace became
the most read and cited article in progress of human geography last year.
What is noteworthy in this story is how quickly a seemingly small subject-
study of glaciers- turned into a prairie fire of argument on climate change,
gender and power relations, the use and abuse of science and science funding,
post-colonial legacies, and of course the future of the planet and that last thing
said without irony. The critics were simply terribly uninformed of the ways
Glaciology has changed. It is now so much more here striding up the hill is Ninis Rosqvist, a Stockholm University geographer and leader of the Tarfala
Research Station which holds the world’s longest record of glacial data from 1946
one year older than that of Juneau ice shield in Alaska. The photographic
documentation of the glacial retreat in this region goes back to 1910 and is now
part of a completely instrumented glacier and these pictures of long-term
environmental change are I think the cryosphere versions of Keeling’s Mionaloa
record of atmospheric co2 the iconic curve that you saw a moment ago
and one day Ninis said to herself isn’t it strange that we have collected all
these data over all these years and never thought of what it might mean to
the people who live here. So she engaged and involved the local Sami in the
region in data collection and in actually setting research agenda I happen
to know this because we worked fairly closely together Nina’s and I over
several years and she is now a national celebrity on TV with her work and and
cited in the news media and wins prizes for her innovative research. On the other
hand the Sami were always partners since the 1940s when they started working for
the station then in construction as builders and maintenance workers… and
maintenance workers in many dimensions and even earlier they served as mountain
guides to scientists in the tradition of loyal and trustworthy field assistants
that Jane Kamerini brought out so well in her Osiris paper in the 90s on Wallis
and Olli in the Malay Archipelago. I explored this subject in my own work
with further examples from Glaciology in Greenland and Iceland where the founder
of the Tarfala Station, Stockholm geographer Hans Allman very skillfully
collaborated with local residents in Greenland and in Iceland. I have a couple
examples here from Iceland. So early climate change knowledge was co-produced
in the field by Sami Inuit and Icelanders. Hans Ahlmann was one of the
major players of glaciology in the first half of the 20th century. He even
had his own very special theory of global warming which he called polar
warming he thought climate change happened but only at the poles and for
reasons he couldn’t really explain but he wanted to research further through
careful measurements of the retreat of glacial circumpolar areas and in
Antarctica for which he organized a famous Norwegian British Swedish
expedition the NBS X in 1949 to 1950 – it included participants from South
Africa and the United States and has proven by later research to be a far
more political undertaking actually than its own self portrayal suggested. Ahlmann
turned out to be a political animal himself finishing his career as the
Swedish ambassador to Oslo after having demonstrated his capabilities as a
science diplomat in bringing no less than two exiled Scandinavian scientists
back from the US where they had played seminal roles during the war years.
Harald Ulrich Sverdrup who headed Scripps Institution of Oceanography for more
than a decade, finally gave in to his friends’
wooing and returned to set up the Norwegian Polar Institute in 1948 under
Havald Langer as foreign minister who incidentally had served as an assistant
during Ahlmann’s work on Norwegian glaciers a couple of decades earlier and
on the small image you can see that we’re Sverdrup is trying to catch up
with his Swedish friend Ahlmann during field work in Svalbard on skis is an
unusual situation, usually the Norwegians are ahead. The year before,
in 1947, Carl-Gustaf Rossby was persuaded by Ahlmann to leave the Institute of
meteorology at the University of Chicago to set up shop in Stockholm while
maintaining close ties with Chicago, Woods Hole, and the Princeton Computer
Project. This may seem a side story most of which is well covered already by
Christine Harper, Paul Edwards, and Jim Fleming, but it may be added I think that
under Rossby, Stockholm quickly rose to global significance in what would soon
turn into computer-based climate change science with very strong
bearings on the North. The Scandinavians got interest in the co2 hypothesis and
Rossby, tireless broker, and man of ideas, made his collaborators organize an early
Scandinavians co2 measurement network. While at the same time they also beat
the Americans in producing the first American weather predictions in 1955
with a computer built well at KTH in Stockholm my own institution. The leader on the workshop floor of these exercises was Rossby’s graduate student,
Burt Pauline who thirty years later, would become the founding president of
the IPCC probably known to many of you here and during their years together in
the 50s, Rossby and Pauline served as president and secretary respectively of
the Swedish Committee for the International Geophysical Year with very
much activities near the poles in 1957-58. This Stockholm lineage goes
deep when Rossby left stockholm for the U.S.
Weather Bureau in 1924, he was simply fed up with his counterpart in Stockholm. He
did so with a letter from … from this man
Svante Arrhenius who in 1896 had made the first calculation of global warming
through atmospheric co2 not because he believed in any human forcing of climate
for at least hundreds of years but because it was interested in how ice
ages could form and at the tail end of the same lineage we find another Nobel
Laureate, Paul Crutzen, who in 1958 came with his young wife from the Netherlands
to the small Swedish city of Gävle, fear you haven’t heard of Gävle, but it’s a very
small city, because it found a job there as a construction engineer he was
building bridges but he had barely arrived in Gävle when he saw an ad for
a job as a programmer at Stockholm University he applied and he got hired
his supervisor turned out to be bad Pauline and kurtsyn somehow couldn’t
help getting interested in atmospheric problems like ozone and ended up winning
the prize in chemistry a subject he had no degree in and a reason this rambling
stock on tail actually is not a side story is that Christian is not credited
with the invention of the concept of the in prophecy a word I assume that you
have heard and a word that is central actually for me in my reading of the
northern turn only that it wasn’t just Christians invention when historians
started to learn about this new concept which was very early in to eat in fact
John McNeil at Georgetown University was co-authoring articles with Christian and
other Earth System scientists more than a decade ago so when this was known we
did what historians usually do we historic iced it as Clarins blackened
the Berkeley geographer had started doing already in the nineteen
50s and the outcome of that work I may say was that many very many had talked
about an era of human hegemonic agency on the planetary scale for a long time
but perhaps more importantly than finding the roots of the concept we also
found that there was another way of telling the history of science informed
by this concept since say the days of Leo names and theories ideas and
elements like ice and snow and places like the Arctic that had been at the
margin far trusted canon were now moving closer to center stage almond for sure
is among those sea ice measuring Russian oceanographers such as Zubov and Connie
Povich or indeed of Vladimir Vernadsky with his biosphere concept or a guy
Stewart Callendar the British steam engineer who ventured in 1938 to propose
human burning of fossil fuels as the chief driver of a global warming now
considered a landmark article but who has written was written off for many
years as an amateur actually Allman called him so himself backed by no
institution or academic prestige calendar had worked on spare time using
fragile data now under the surface a new storyline has been forming that we can
now see more clearly and all through it had this very special relation to the
North to ice to the great white and at least potentially to the greening of it
which is the moment to now return to this image and we saw before and the man
in the middle with a little beard his name is Antoni Dabra Wolski nothing in
his timid of us reveals it but he was a passionate polish naturalist with a
lifelong love affair with ice and snow that’s why is in this picture
he had been jailed and sent to caucuses for his rebellious politics joined later
the Belgian Belgian the Gallic expedition to Antarctica in the last
couple of years of the 1900s 1800 and loved every minute of the dark and the
cold when it could do pioneering work on crystallography ice crystallography he
fled his country again during the first world war to Stockholm actually where he
worked away on his major 900-page tome the natural history of ice published in
Polish in which he launched the concept cryosphere from the greek cryos cold and
that was in 1923 in the following years Dabra Walski just like calendar
encountered the solidifying Anglo Scandinavian establishment of Glaciology
which I must say was not very interested in his new concept and later in the
first issue of the new journal of Glacia lacy ology after the war in 1947 Jarod
Seligman famous for his 1936 book snow structures and ski fields said of his
Polish colleague that his work was commendable but that cryosphere had been
in no starter glaciologists didn’t cry or at least they didn’t want to have a
word that made him think about it almond otherwise an anxious person in the field
we have many evidence of that took the same position
no cryosphere no cry it took until the satellites came up in the early 1970s
for cryosphere to make it and do a decisive breakthrough when the white
could be visualized from above and proved to be really really grand a
quarter of the northern hemisphere in January so some big words here biosphere
cryosphere and propo scene can be stitched together into a story of ice
and snow and environmental change that connect a number of points to some of
the most major concerns of our time and we do well to keep them alive when we
the past so as you can hear I’m blasphemous enough to argue that we
should indeed allow ourselves to engage history backwards sometimes we should
use the anxieties and the Roth’s a righteous effect in the moment of
disaster to return to the history we thought we knew and revisit it and
always find a new history there that has a reason that he told boundaries is yet
another important word on that level and a category in its own right used in a
quasi Malthusian fashion in the limits to growth report in 1972 and returning
forcefully but with a totally different logic in the 2009 nature article on
planetary boundaries the illustration is from that piece I was actually one of
the 29 co-authors most of the others were about system scientists it was a
very special experience indeed not least at 24 hours of its making the news
around the world in September 2009 I happened to be in Santa Barbara that day
with several other of the authors for a meeting and I as the others made various
statements over the email and all of a sudden I saw my name popping up on the
screen in Mother Jones that magazine I always admired it was literally only
minutes after I had said these words on my type keypad that was out there
without knowing that I would and it was also terrifying terrifying experience of
the forces that are at play in the globalization of science communication
so mixed feelings but my point is that this Earth System science way of
translating planetary data into a set of boundaries in this case for ozone ocean
acidification biodiversity atmospheric co2 9 in total that this act is also an
technology an environment technology producing the environment as a social
and historical category in a process that has been ongoing throughout the
period of modern environment and I’m just a theory Singh
this concept environment technologies in work I do with my close colleague Nina
forms back in Stockholm anyway my story here as a background from a forthcoming
book with Johns Hopkins University Press co-author with two close colleagues Paul
ward in Cambridge and Libby Robin at Anu it is actually a conceptual history of
the environment itself an old word very old word whose meaning changed after the
Second World War an event I think of very great significance and our symbolic
year of choice for that transition was 1948 the year of two rallying out cries
using the concept in the modern sense by ecologist William fucked and
conservationist Fairfield Osborn was also the year of peak oil presented here
graphically in an apocalyptic book by physicist Harrison Brown a few years
later it was also the year of Norbert wieners cybernetics and if you read the
book you can go on and find more evidence for 1948 I stopped here we
found that the concept of environment was doing a fabulous work of integration
across a range of science fields making connections between people as different
as Jevons latke Vernadsky dobrovolsky that I just mentioned Wiener Julian
Huxley and some also of the Arctic scientists we had in fact collected much
of the evidence in a previous volume of sources with Yale providing what we call
the genealogy of our current Earth System science but it’s equally
important to see how much of this integrative work on environment was
carried out not in the lab or not in the field but in a growing number of
conferences and in diplomatic contexts it was negotiated it was talked about it
was talked into being chief of those became much later the UN Stockholm
conference on the human environment in 1972 but long before that prepared in
1948 the UNESCO meetings at Lake had proven an early arena for the
concept crafting with which gathered the right people at the right time
other than key meetings followed in Princeton in 1955 assembling again many
of the big names in the geosciences like called Sauer Charles don’t wait but also
Lewis Mumford of course who was everywhere more meetings were held as
the environment grew as an issue of importance in the United States with a
report to the president in 1965 already featuring climate change as a serious
issue now from so simple a beginning became
communities of knowledge that gathered around this concept as one that made
work for them that they could use both internally in their sciences and
externally in working with the non-academic world of policy and
solutions so environment was an extremely useful concept above all in
this work I think we understood much better
why environment became arguably arguably one of the key concepts of the previous
century up there with democracy and economic growth and again no irony at
all and this is when we can return again to the greening and the white it is an
important dimension of the environment in the 1950s that it was very much used
by the US military I’ve learned from some of my American colleagues over the
years Rondo Jake Hamlin that the environment was also the
three-dimensional space of warfare as in this 1946 Time magazine illustration in
addition environment was also the immediate sphere of action surrounding
the soldier or the pilot I’m among those lucky ones who have spent time in the
archives of the Harvard fatigue laboratory the collections of the period
1927 through 1947 the lab was dismantled in 47 just as the conceptual shift that
I mentioned occurred it was still about environment shaping man
the soldier not the other way around but when the environment expanded to be
everything from the sea floor to the stratosphere it became something else
and the terraforming or cryo forming of the Arctic started taking place the US
military get the Tula station in northwestern Greenland with camp century
in the ice sheet nearby book that is just out by Henry Nielsen and Christian
wietfeldt at Oris University Denmark explores the full detail of the bizarre
world of snow and ice engineering at the same time it can’t be separated from the
multinational work on ice core drilling at the tarfful a station in Sweden that
I mentioned before there was no planning for a third world war
but Atlas Copco the Swedish technology giant drilled a hole into the glacier
purely for research purposes of course only at the Kirin AA geophysical
Observatory nearby were high politics allowed to enter with the US military
paying almost half of their budget for Sputnik observations and the monitoring
of Soviet nukes testing in the special kind of distributed research strategy
that John kriegie elucidated in his 2006 book on American hegemony and the
post-war reconstruction of science in Europe actually a clear-cut example of
that happening there in the Swedish north
thar fella had another politics they had climate politics an anthropogenic
climate change as anthropogenic climate change became the scientific norm from
the 1970s the tarfful a community of scientists were still steadfastly on
their natural variability hypothesis in the spirit of Allman who remained
largely on the same position when he died in 1974 as when he rejected
calendar several decades earlier or as Robert Millikan when he wrote in his
1930s book alleged sins of science that we mere humans shouldn’t be anxious but
and I quote him sleep in peace with the consciousness
that the creator has put some foolproof elements into his handiwork and that man
is powerless to do it any Titanic physical damage here with the Alberta
tar sands in the background just to illustrate why we can’t agree with
Milliken today for the people who once lived at Tula and in Northwest Green and
I were forcefully moved by the Americans to connect some 30 miles further north
it was especially hard to agree with Milliken if they ever thought about that
their community of 700 in the northernmost human settlement in the
world has been studied carefully by Danish anthropologist kissed and Astrup
over many years has troops work has nothing nostalgic to it it is a very
modernist story of how people keep adapting to change and how they are as
connected to the worldwide web here as anywhere else and they share the same
concerns as all the rest of us but it is also a story of how much more cumbersome
life has become because of climate change on the edge of time as she calls
it also the title that Marvis book you see on the right hand side of
uncertainty and danger on weaker and more erratic Isis with shorter hunting
seasons less travel which means less conviviality a less friendly arctic to
live in during my years as president of the Swedish Committee for the 4th
international polar year a decade ago indeed mimicking the mission of Ross P
and bullying a half century earlier a spooky thing for historian I can tell
you I got the opportunity to get deeper into the full range of research going on
in what had always been the white and pure but was now increasingly becoming
dirty and impacted as by new mines and prospecting for oil and gas I was
impressed during those years to learn how much good an important work that was
carried out by Arctic humanities and social science
scholars who in fact made up 1/3 of the entire research effort during ipy
compared to zero zero percent in the igy fifty years earlier that was a pure
science undertaking historians were also around in the ipy piling up an ever
larger body of work that has kept growing since multiplying the previous
singular contributions by traveler and a very small handful of other Arctic
historians before the 2000s but now this change has changed rapidly the issue
agenda of the northern turn has helped catalyze new research practices among
historians as well I think of myself and my closest collaborators over the last
decade not as odd and exceptional as we sometimes go to the field but rather as
templates of responsible scholars in this era of hopeful sadness and
necessary defense work but disturbingly climate change is not only an impetus
for people like ourselves but also to the forces that wanted to increase
resource exploitation Trump is now reopening the fossil fuel extraction in
Alaska that Obama reduced Putin certainly never even reduced them little
Norway doesn’t seem very keen to let fossil fuels stay underground in the
Arctic and only God knows the mind of Justin Trudeau at times he doesn’t seem
to know himself I think but I still gave him the benefit of the doubt
a true interdisciplinary teacher geographer engineer fighter a da Vinci
kind of CV maybe also left-handed I don’t know that is also why I am
suspicious of the greening that is mostly about nature reserves created as
boundary zones to protect the extraction and of one of my main preoccupations
right now as you heard is a major center of excellence on
extractive industries and sustainable Arctic communities Rex a key greening is
a politics of nature and resources science does tremendous work in the
Arctic but also is serving roles in what we may call green washing a bit like
Canada the country that had too much geography in premier Mackenzie Kings
famous statement to the British Parliament in 1936 we can say about the
entire Arctic region that it is it still has too little history and that I mean
as written history certainly no less in other respects
I got an immediate sense of the problem as I was recently asked to write the
Arctic oceans chapter for the Cambridge oceanic histories that is just about to
appear I accepted assuming there wasn’t much to say but precisely that proved to
be the towering challenge to write about this vast great white and it’s human
relations four million inhabitants five percent of the globe how could it be
done and why is it now being done with such newfound energy my answer to this
question is about agency an extraordinary agency that must think
that we that must be increasingly recognized as historical but also about
traditional agency and let me spend my remaining minutes on agency and how the
northern turn is helping us we articulate it in our time agency was
always an issue certainly with so few inhabitants in this vast space so when
we stopped doing Arctic science history as one goddamn expedition after the
other we looked for other manifestations of agency on the ground typically of the
presence of state and science nature reserves settlements infrastructures
encounters with indigenous knowledge and performative installations or
octants if you want to use that word such as precisely research stations or
just scattered surveyors this work has built let’s admit that a powerful
narrative and make science itself an actor often serving the national
interest and it proved significant as a research line that some of us pursued
for a good couple of decades linking science to the wider history of
geopolitics these two publications that I just showed you here the previous book
here and this fairly recent article here from 2002 and 2014 our results of that
still productive line of northern history but it is already I think being
superseded now by trajectories of new work dressing agency in new ways and
this is probably about perspective seeing in the relatively small Arctic
region the fate in a sense of the entire world
linking agencies inside the region with those elsewhere some work does that and
I here again show you a number of recent books that deal with these issues
hysterics work already mention Julie Crick shanks on cultural encounters
around glaciers in the 18th century Pacific Northwest
Sheila Grant’s work in Canada on forced relocations and issues of justice these
are Piper’s on the use of science by mining companies to evade nature
protection in subarctic Canada Paul Joseph sands work on Russian Arctic
science to mention a few or andrew stools on the deconstruction of the
superficial so-called new Arctic narratives published only last year
these books I think together speak to cultural social and environmental issues
anywhere although they focus on the Arctic now let me return to stools and
freezing the Arctic which says it in the very title Arctic history used to be
Exceptionalist of a frozen place whereas it were
things happen differently or not at all when in fact they do happen it always
happened there at the bottom the same history as everywhere else with lots of
human agency in fur trading in reindeer herding in military planning these are
stories we are familiar with from wherever cultural encounters take place
so students work I think is an imaginative amalgamation of histories of
politics Authority indigenous knowledge science environment on the Canada Alaska
border it’s all about method about ethics his is an intimate history based
also on being there listening an informant tells them and I quote
don’t bring back a hollow story end quote and still takes this to heart
you should bring something back that is of use to the community
now if stool is on the right track here and he surely is how could we then
explain the northern turn if what we need is to D exceptional eyes the north
and right in a sense of normal history of agency and power is the new history
of the new north just a fad that he argues but not quite I think while I
very much agree with Andy’s public history position I think we have to
separate the methodological response what stool calls a transnational
environmental history of science which is spot on
we must separate that from the reasons for the northern turn that I believe are
even wider and deeper and even more thrilling and we must consider both I
think and do more so let me here invoke the word Weltanschauung and for a third
time this evening without irony because I would argue what really makes it
possible to conceive of a northern turn is a historiography that will take us
further in our ambitions of scaling and connecting different kinds of
histories and to identify in this work of human human agency of our time and
day that also appears on other levels adding to but not reducing the so to
speak ordinary agencies that still rightly talks about and we make all
these extraordinary agencies agencies that we have as a global collective
however divided these agencies are visible on geological scales perhaps
this is why so many people visit Iceland these days after the financial meltdown
and the arrival of the improper scene Icelandic tourism is up 400% in a decade
it’s an enigma like a new religion the president of Iceland is our colleague
he’s an historian and he is concerned he gave a talk in Leeds recently that I
heard when he presented himself as roaming the slopes of his volcanoes
asking the tourists worried questions and observing in despair endless queues
to under sized filled toilets when someone asked him who he was he replied
I’m the president of this country yeah it was quite as funny in Leeds I must
tell you Iceland’s allure is about geo power the
geo power of humanity hence this pilgrimage I think this is my
theory of Icelandic tourism that you’ll get this pilgrimage to the small country
of deep time it’s a country small country of deep time of a jewel verne
world of connections I may be wrong of course but Iceland seems to offer this
strange sense of belonging to an emerging geo humanity one may think of
laxness novel Christianity under the glacier if you didn’t read it do
miracles come and go like disasters like streetcars almost in Iceland
but our interpretive schemes are changing it’s no longer Christianity
under the glacier there is something else there may be something about new
mega narratives locating human agency even in the Geo stories and we see that
very clearly I think in the Arctic without these narratives no northern
term they are now becoming part of what we call history actually to invoke John
dawn know history is an island they are part of the main and even some of the
very big issues that we didn’t deal with before we are now dealing with as
history these narratives are making the planet graspable as with sabina healers
masterful analysis of spaceship earth and biosphere to published a couple of
years ago this is more than globalization it is the stitching
together of the separate spheres the geosphere the atmosphere the biosphere
the cryosphere into this limited planet and that’s why you need these concepts
from the 20th century largely jerome ASCO the chicago anthropologist talked
about it as the age of fallout here depicted in an early presentation of the
spread of radionuclides for the mike and bravo tests planet is becoming graspable
to the right is a rendering of the so called teleconnections of only last year
the super earth systems that we humans now affect connecting the poles and the
monsoons at least if we are to believe the earth system scientists I have no
personal opinion on this and just read the scientific journals so this is
Anthropocene iconography it spans our current age it has become terribly
visible in the Arctic it is the subterranean impulse again and this time
we feel it in the humanities this is extraordinary agency human
intentionality on the species scale making its impact on the planetary so
far without a functional politics instead producing madmen and fear so
is the history that lies in stocked waiting for us to theorize and research
as we pursue our northern turn and good for us
there were always scientists around in all possible roles in these processes as
protagonists but also as the storytellers where the Earth System
science community is among the most perceptive these days so I will end this
talk on one of my favorite ideas bad pedagogy I should of course have started
with it but it’s basically about the various modes and arenas of narration or
jars if you like where this new veldt are showering is taking place I don’t
have time for a full investigation here but let me just loo to a few things it’s
big science storytelling in popular culture for example films movies
inconvenient truths it’s big history David Christian style it’s new
mega-projects linking archeology and climate science like I hope the acronym
it’s a new human Earth history emerging and it’s part of our job to engaging
writing it not necessarily or not even primarily by doing the job of the earth
science storytellers they do their job very well themselves by on their own but
by understanding what they are up to how they pursue their groundbreaking project
and this shouldn’t be new to us we belong there not least because
historians of science will always in a sense provide the ultimate scaling which
is telling the story of how all these components work together forming the
Nouvelle – I like certain and Kure and others did before us but we will of
course do it differently we can no longer just look from the outside on the
rotating spheres the agency I’m talking about is acting now it in its impacts
are imminent we are responsible we are vulnerable
together which i think is why we aspire to do more thank you you


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