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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


The Anthropocene (Climate Histories) offers alternating sessions in the related fields of climate history and Anthropocene studies. Meetings will involve a mix of invited speakers and reading group sessions held on Thursdays at 1pm–2pm on Zoom, unless otherwise specified. All are welcome!

Organised by Harriet Mercer, Claire Oliver and Richard Staley.

Please email the organisers for unlinked materials and Zoom links – or

Easter Term 2022

This term the Anthropocene (Climate Histories) reading group and seminar has a varied programme that begins with a presentation from Katharine Anderson and continues with an invitation to share work in progress, a discussion of environmental humanities with scholars from the University of Pennsylvania and a panel here in Cambridge on climate and colonial histories.

28 April, 1pm

Katharine Anderson (York University), 'Planetary Signals: the Ocean-atmosphere on a Global Scale in the 1920s'
The understanding of the oceans and the atmosphere in the 1920s was marked by distinctive combination of geopolitical re-orientation and fascination with technological novelty. Both the geo-political and the technological imagination spurred intense interest in the possibilities of detecting features of the natural world on the largest possible scale. With a reading of two examples, a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle titled 'When the World Screamed' (1928) and the reporting of Marconi's postwar investigations of signals on the yacht Elletra, this paper examines contemporary preoccupations with sensing and globalism. Both examples are part of older patterns that linked weather, communications and the vertical perspective, but I am interested in using them to consider how these traditions intensified after World War 1. I suggest that such literally sensational accounts of the global, like the methods of physical analysis of the Bjerknes school (Friedman 1989), connected the layers of the ocean-atmosphere more and more tightly. This is a (preliminary) section of a work-in-progress called The Modern Ocean which examines the way that new technologies, international ideals and scientific practices changed the way that oceans were studied and imagined in the 1920s and 1930s.

12 May, 1pm

Writing the Anthropocene: an invitation to share work in progress
Are you writing on a theme related to the Anthropocene? Would you like to share a work in progress and receive feedback? If so, then you may like to join our upcoming workshop on 'Writing the Anthropocene'. The workshop will shift the Climate History/Anthropocene Seminar's usual focus on thinking and reading, to the process of writing – of composing titles, structuring arguments, and crafting prose. To participate in the workshop, we ask you to share a work in progress such as a draft chapter, dissertation in progress, essay, or book proposal, and we also ask that you be prepared to read another participant's work. We will pair people up to read each other's work and we will also set a creative exercise for providing feedback. If you'd like to take up our invitation to share, please send your work in progress plus one to two things you'd like to get out of the workshop by 28 April to or

19 May, 2pm

Nandiate Badami, Pooja Nayak and Bethany Wiggin (Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, University of Pennsylvania), 'Environmental Humanities: Critical Affordances after Critique'

  • Dr Bethany Wiggin – Amidst ecological crisis, what can critique do? Might it be a humanistic counterpart to slow science (Stengers)? Can critical practices engender relations for regenerative futures? In answer to these thorny questions, I introduce two public environmental humanities projects at the intersection of critique and advocacy and argue that the future of the humanities lies in their capacity to engender participatory, collaborative research communities.
  • Dr Nandita Badami – This presentation reflects on an ongoing project to think 'emically' with two terms commonly associated with environmental policy discourse: adaptation and mitigation. Drawing on collaborative works-in-progress with scholars in the field, I offer thoughts on how we might adopt and critically expand these policy concepts, to cast 'mitigation as method' in the Environmental Humanities.
  • Pooja Nayak – How might the methodological range available through the environmental humanities inflect ecological concepts in productive ways? In this reflection, I draw on the process of observing an animal communication experiment to underscore how such an approach is useful in situating a concept like 'biodiversity' and thinking with its contradictions. This, I suggest, offers productive ways to think beyond a 'contestations' framework towards tracking multiple forms of 'value' that arise within such multispecies contexts.

26 May, 2.00–3.30pm, Hopkinson Lecture Theatre + Zoom (hybrid event)

Has climate change escaped colonialism? A panel discussion with Vinita Damodaran (University of Sussex), Martin Mahony (University of East Anglia) and Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge)

What connections have historians discerned between climate change and colonialism? Are these connections consigned to the past or do they linger in the present-day? Join us as we discuss these questions and more with leading experts in the fields of climate history, history of science, environmental humanities, and the history of the British Empire.