Knowing the planet: Environment, technology and development in the 19th and 20th centuries

Knowing the planet: Environment, technology, and development in the 19th and 20th centuries’

Ismay Milford (Leipzig), Corentin Gruffat (EUI), Corinna Unger (EUI) (European University Institute)
European University Institute
Takes place
In Attendance
From - Until
26.01.2024 - 26.01.2024
Ismay Milford, Research Centre Global Dynamics, Universität Leipzig

Workshop, European University Institute (Florence), 26 January 2024.

Knowing the planet: Environment, technology, and development in the 19th and 20th centuries’

This one-day workshop will interrogate the relationship between environment and technology in developmental projects, practices, and discourses during the 19th and 20th centuries. While histories of environment and histories of technology have each moved in exciting, interdisciplinary directions in recent years, there has been little work analysing the relationship between environment and technology in global history. Meanwhile, there is growing recognition of the entanglements between empire and environmental exploitation, and the origins of environmentalism in (post)colonial societies, but we lack understanding of competing ideas and how they played out. Histories of development are expanding their remit beyond self-described, large-scale projects of the 20th century, inviting a longer term approach that could address these issues. All these scholarly shifts are important to a deeper historicization of environmental knowledge in the context of global climate crisis.

Bringing together case studies from different geographical settings across the 19th and 20th centuries, the workshop will ask:
- What role has technology played in the production of environmental knowledge?
- What role has environmental knowledge played in the politics of ‘progress’?

We interpret all three key terms – environment, technology, development – expansively. Pushing back against a distinction between human-made technologies and the non-human environment, we emphasise co-production, the role of less tangible technologies (techniques, systems, tools) and anthropogenic environments. Equally, ‘development’ here encompasses projects and discourses relating to societal ‘improvement’ or ‘progress’ in all guises. To assess the usefulness of relevant concepts, we seek contributions from broad vantage points and intend to avoid the reproduction of Eurocentric interpretations of environment, technology, or development. We thus welcome critical, multi-disciplinary perspectives on the applicability of these concepts in different spaces and languages; we hope to bring different historiographies into conversation.

Proposals may address (but need not be confined to) the following:
- Changing approaches to specialist, ‘expert’, and ‘local’ knowledge about the planet
- Versions of, and challenges to, the pervasive notion that technology produces environmental knowledge, which results in progress
-Techniques as technology; statistics, data, and their production; scholarly disciplines
- ‘Low-tech’ technologies, tools, and material culture
- Race, gender, class, and inequality in the making of environmental knowledge
- Concepts of optimisation, efficiency, innovation, standardisation, incommensurability, and their histories
- Alternative environmental epistemologies; imaginations of past and future in the environment-technology nexus
- Actors in the making of environmental knowledge: technicians, scientists, and clerks; business, finance, and entrepreneurs; institutions, organisations, and the state
- Envirotechnical systems, environing technologies, anthropisation through technology

Practical information:
We plan for a one-day workshop, in person, at the European University Institute, Florence, taking accessibility concerns into account.
There will be limited funding available to cover costs; participants without access to institutional funding will be prioritised.
Please send proposals consisting of a title, short abstract (max 400 words), and one-page CV (or short biographical statement) as a single pdf file to AND by 15 May 2023. We will respond to all applicants by 30 June 2023.
We are considering developing a publication based on workshopped papers. We will ask presenters to pre-circulate short papers (2000 words), where possible, ahead of the workshop.
We look forward to reading your paper proposals!
Queries can be sent to Ismay Milford.

Contact (announcement)