What Science Does to the Environment

I noticed a fascinating Call For Papers this morning on h-net for a conference on “Science, Space, and the Environment,” sponsored by the Rachel Carson Center in Munich and scheduled for thus July 17-18 at London’s Science Museum.

Here’s the pitch: “Although the sciences have provided critical resources in environmental debates, their own role in environmental change has been little studied. This conference will explore how the sciences have affected the physical environment.”

The organizers seem to have negative impacts on the environment foremost in their minds, but there are clearly other directions one could take such an inquiry. Don Worster’s Nature’s Economy imagined science to have split personalities when it came to nature: the “Arcadian” strain of science produced knowledge that helped humans understand, love, and live with nature; the “imperial” strain led to domination and abuse. Forgive me a pun, but I imagine that the history of scientific agriculture would provide particularly fertile ground for thinking about the positive and negative impacts of science on our environments.

I’ll post the full CFP after the break. Perhaps it will inspire one of our readers.

Call For Papers: Conference: Science, Space, and the Environment

Location: Smith Centre, Science Museum, London
Date: Tuesday/Wednesday July 17-18, 2012

Sponsor: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich

Organizers: Helmuth Trischler, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and
Society, Munich; Ludmilla Jordanova, King’s College London Department of
History; Simon Werrett, University of Washington Department of History/
Science Studies Network, Seattle; Science Museum, London.

Although the sciences have provided critical resources in environmental
debates, their own role in environmental change has been little studied.
This conference will explore how the sciences have affected the physical
environment. How have scientific practices and ideas impacted on nature
– for example do practices such as voyages of exploration or natural
history collecting exploit plants and animals and their environments?
Does scientific activity cause pollution, depletion of resources, or
other forms of damage to ecosystems? How are such practices to be
evaluated, and how are they related to scientific and other ideas of
nature and the environment, e.g. notions of conquest, mastery, or
interrogation. How should scientific ideas about the environment be
related to the impacts of scientific research on it? In particular
papers should address scientific activities involving the circulation of
knowledge and materials. A growing body of work in the history of
science has explored the issue of circulation, examining how physical
specimens, books, people, and materials related to science have been
made to move around the globe in the service of producing or
disseminating scientific knowledge. What has been the environmental
significance of such circulations? How has the movement of people,
plants, animals, and scientific instruments, books and personnel
affected environments, e.g. on voyages of exploration, in processes of
establishing colonial scientific institutions, or in undertaking
imperial cartography or surveying? Papers which aim at fostering current
theoretical debates on how to link the conceptual approaches of history
of science, environmental history, and spatial history are particularly

Please send a detailed abstract of 500 words and a short CV, no later
than December 31, 2011, to Simon Werrett werrett@u.washington.edu.
Successful applicants will be notified by January 31, 2012. Applications
and papers must be written in English. Travel and accommodation costs
will be reimbursed by the organizers. The conference will be based on
discussion of pre-circulated contributions. These should be between
6,000 and 8,000 words including footnotes, and must be submitted by May
10, 2012. Selected contributions will be considered for a publication
following the meeting.

For further information on organizational issues please contact Simon
Werrett (werrett@u.washington.edu)

The Rachel Carson Center is a joint initiative of LMU Munich and the
Deutsches Museum and is generously supported by the German Federal
Ministry for Education and Research.


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