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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 in Seminar Room 2. All are welcome!

Organised by Harriet Mercer, Claire Oliver and Richard Staley.

Lent Term 2023

19 January

Johan Gärdebo (University of Cambridge and Uppsala University)
Overcoming the jobs vs climate divide? Perception among Swedish trade unions on just transition policies

Since the Paris Agreement 2015, a 'just transition' has been central to attempts, and hopes, to bridge a jobs vs. climate divide as part of decarbonising industrial society. But what are the imperatives for a just transition of the workforce? And what are the nationally defined development priorities for the creation of decent work and quality jobs? Through interviews with Swedish trade union representatives from Sweden's three largest industrial emitters (steel, petroleum refining, cement) along with representatives at the central level, this study illustrates contrasting interpretations of what constitutes a just transition towards a low-emission society. From these findings, we will discuss some implications for transition policies in general.

2 February

Joyce E. Chaplin (Harvard University)
The Franklin stove: how to learn to stop worrying and love coal

The famous American colonist Benjamin Franklin invented a stove, is a sentence in which everything is true and yet not the whole truth. The invention in fact involved multiple stoves, created in several places, information about which circulated internationally, well beyond Franklin's American home. Those broader dimensions indicate that Franklin was engaged in a classic 18th-century project of improvement. He had originally defined this project in terms of conservation, the efficient burning of American wood. But over time, he modified his device to burn coal. That concession validated the 18th-century transition away from an organic economy; because someone from North America did this, preaching the value of fuel efficiency from a land still rich in trees, the switch to coal seemed extra intelligent. As we reverse course, finally abdicating fossil fuel energy, understanding how those fuels were made so attractive in the first place could be useful.

16 February

Erling Agøy (Needham Research Institute, Cambridge)
Early science or popular superstition? Chinese weather prognostication through the transition to modernity

As a country of farmers and with an elite who were perhaps more strongly aware of their reliance on agriculture than anywhere else in the world, Imperial China developed a rich and complex system of predicting the weather through observing phenological signs. Deeply steeped in traditional Chinese culture, weather prognostication also relied on detailed local meteorological knowledge. Even so, modern meteorology originated in Europe and like other aspects of modern science was introduced to China in the 19th–20th centuries. Through the 20th century and beyond, traditional culture was both reviled and celebrated in the People's Republic. Much pre-modern knowledge was at one point declared 'superstition', while state-supported scholars next searched through classical texts to uncover any trace of a 'scientific tradition'. How did the weather prognostication tradition fare in these circumstances? Using two different approaches to investigate research writings (how was weather-knowledge evaluated in scholarly research?) and popular literature (do weather prognostications appear in reimaginations of pre-modern Chinese society?), my presentation will try to give some indications to the answer to this question.

2 March

Works in progress writing workshop