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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, generally held on Thursdays at 1pm–2pm in Seminar Room 2. All are welcome!

Organised by Fiona Amery, Alexis Rider and Richard Staley.

Easter Term 2024

2 May

Dalal M. Alsayer (Kuwait University)
Everywhere a village: the mudbrick experiments of A.E.S. Alcock and Rockefeller's International Basic Economies Corporation (IBEC), circa 1940s–1960s

In the years after World War II, architects, engineers, and businesses began experimenting with locally sourced mud, lime, and/or cement mix bricks to provide cheap, easy to construct, mass housing for the so-called 'underdeveloped world'. In the desire to create a climatically adjustable, portable, and one-size-fit-all solution global home, experiments in both the form and the methods of construction emerged. This paper uses several critical case studies to explore how the brick as a material, the bungalow (the global colonial home) (King, 1984) as a model, and the village (Sackley, 2011) as a universal site were packaged as the colonial tools for rapid modernization. Primarily using the work of A.E.S Alcock and Rockefeller's International Basic Economic Corporation (IBEC), this paper traces how different actors found and invented the global village, populating it with bungalows constructed from mudbricks, with the aim of transcending climate, geography, and society. A.E.S. Alcock's work in Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) with sandcrete (a sand-cement mixture) and swishcrete (a cement mixture with soil known as 'swish') was repackaged as type of 'portable knowledge' (Mehos and Moon, 2011) in a series of handbooks (1953–60) for 'villagers everywhere'. Equally, the Cinva-Ram press, invented in 1956 by Chilean engineer Raul Ramirez, was taken on by IBEC as a solution to the pressing need for affordable, easily produced houses. While this paper does not examine the houses themselves, it uncovers the pervasiveness of the mudbrick bungalow as a model of development. Alcock and IBEC's approaches were folded into the UN and other agencies as tried-and-tested tools for 'development', finding a village and a villager in every landscape. Only through understanding the intertwined histories of the bungalow, the brick, and the village will we be able to acknowledge the colonial legacies of modernity that has left invented villages across the world.

16 May

Adam Lucas (University of Wollongong)
Slaying the demons with steam: power and productivity in the first Industrial Revolution

This paper presents work from a collaborative project currently in progress based at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The primary aim of the project is to test recent scholarship proposing that British industrialists moved 'away from the water' to steam-driven factories so they could concentrate production at the most profitable sites and during the most convenient hours. Focusing on the industry's heartlands in Northern England and Scotland, we are arguing that local geomorphological and political factors played a more significant role in the energy transition than has been recognized. Our research team has built a mills census for the period 1740 to 1900 based on detailed examination of historical maps, together with mapping of the river catchments and waterpower potential of all waterways in Scotland and Northern England. Our historical work has revealed a number of novel insights into the extent to which waterpower continued to be used during the period in which steam-power became more ubiquitous and ultimately the dominant source of motive power in British industry. This has also involved questioning some of the received wisdom about the first energy transition and what exactly that entailed in terms of applications, economic sectors and geographical factors.